Thanks to advances in the field of obstetrics, many of the birth injuries that were common as recently as even 10 years ago can now be avoided in childbirth cases here in Providence and throughout the rest of the country. Unfortunately, no amount of medical improvements can completely eliminate human error from the birthing process. Even the slightest misstep by a doctor, nurse, or other clinician during birth can have disastrous results on a newborn baby. One such result is a brachial plexus injury, which can result in a condition commonly known as Erb’s palsy.
The brachial plexus is a collection of nerves found around the shoulder area. Because of the unique stresses put on a baby’s body during the delivery process, these nerves are at an increased risk for damage. Large babies or babies delivered from a breech position are at an even greater risk of sustaining damage to this area, as are those whose shoulders become stuck in the birth canal during delivery.
The most common ways that doctors can inflict a brachial plexus injury on a newborn are by applying too much pressure on his or her raised arms when attempting a breech delivery or by pulling too hard on the shoulders during a traditional vaginal delivery. Unfortunately, the symptoms of Erb’s palsy typically aren’t manifested immediately after delivery.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, one to two of every 1000 babies born in the U.S. suffer a brachial plexus injury during the delivery process. The most common result of Erb’s palsy is limitation or loss of movement in the upper arm, with a select few also being affected in the lower arm. Injuries that result in nerve avulsion typically never heal, leaving the child to deal with the disability throughout his or her life.