Shoulder dystocia or shoulder paralysis can happen during the birth process and can be permanent or temporary. A medical malpractice lawsuit can provide for the necessary medical treatments, surgeries, or physical therapy to help your child gain his or her best recovery.
Shoulder Dystocia, a Common Childbirth Complication
Shoulder dystocia is the term used to describe a complication – particularly during a difficult birth – when a baby’s shoulder gets stuck in the birth canal. The word “dystocia” means a slow or difficult labor or birth. Shoulder dystocia is typically discovered only after the labor has begun, and the complication tends to create problems for both mother and child.
There are certain factors that increase the risk of a birth injury causing shoulder dystocia, which should prompt care providers to schedule a Cesarean section or C-section instead of going for a vaginal birth. A C-section is when the baby is surgically delivered by making an incision in the mother’s belly and uterus.
When a care provider fails to properly evaluate the risks for shoulder dystocia or advise the family to schedule a C-section, shoulder dystocia may result in birth injuries and complications leading to irreversible trauma and potential disabilities.
If your child has suffered a birth injury due to shoulder dystocia, please contact an experienced West Virginia shoulder dystocia lawyer who can offer you more information about pursuing your legal rights.
What Are Some of the Risk Factors Which May Cause Shoulder Dystocia?
Some mothers are more likely to have babies who suffer from shoulder dystocia when they deliver because of the presence of certain risk factors. Here are some of the most common risk factors that may lead to shoulder dystocia:
The baby is very large. Shoulder dystocia may occur even when a baby’s weight is normal. However, when the baby is larger than average (a condition known as macrosomia), the risks are much greater.
- The mother has diabetes or is obese.
- The mother is pregnant with twins or multiple babies.
- The birth occurs after the due date.
- The mother has had a prior history of delivering a larger-than-average baby or has had shoulder dystocia occur during a prior delivery.
- The mother’s labor had to be induced.
- The mother received an epidural to dull the pain during labor. This is a medication that is administered through a tube in the mother’s lower back that numbs the lower body during labor.
- The obstetrician uses tools such as vacuums or forceps to extract the baby from the birth canal.
Birth Injuries That Are Caused by Shoulder Dystocia
Shoulder dystocia in itself is not an injury. It is a condition or complication that occurs during labor and delivery, which may result in a serious birth injury. In a majority of shoulder dystocia cases, the baby must be delivered in five minutes or less in order to prevent permanent injury or death. Here are some of the serious birth injuries that may occur as a result of shoulder dystocia:
Brachial plexus injuries: Injuries to the brachial plexus are the most common when a baby’s shoulder gets stuck in the mother’s pelvic bone. The brachial plexus consists of a network of nerves from spinal cord segments. When the upper nerves of the brachial plexus are injured during delivery, it causes a condition called Erb’s palsy, which affects the muscles of the upper arm as well as the shoulder blade. The extensor muscles of the wrist may also be affected. An injured child may have the humerus or upper arm bone pulled in toward the body. The arm itself may become permanently paralyzed as a result of nerve injuries.
When the nerves of the lower brachial plexus are affected, it results in a condition known as Klumpke’s palsy. In these cases, the elbow appears flexed and the forearm is supinated with the hand deformed like a claw. Children also have little or poor sensation in the palm of their hands.
Lack of oxygen: This is one of the most serious complications that occur as a result of shoulder dystocia. It may cause the child to become asphyxiated and suffer severe and irreversible brain damage. When the child is stuck in the birth canal, the umbilical cord may get trapped between the infant’s body and the mother’s pelvis. This may decrease the amount of oxygen the infant receives or may completely cut off the flow of blood between the mother and infant.
If the cord is not freed, there is a strong possibility that the child may get asphyxiated in a matter of minutes and the situation may prove fatal. Children who suffer brain damage in this manner may become afflicted with cerebral palsy, a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination or spasticity that leads to permanent disabilities.
Bone fractures and contusions: This is one of the most common injuries suffered by babies when their shoulder gets stuck in the birth canal. A fractured clavicle or collarbone is seen in about 10 percent of shoulder dystocia cases. Shoulder dystocia increased the risk of a collarbone fracture by 30 times. These types of fractures during C-sections are very rare. In roughly 4 percent of children who have this complication, the bone of the upper arm known as the humerus may also break.
Bone breaks typically occur when excessive force is applied by the obstetrician to free the baby’s shoulder from the mother’s pelvic bone. The pressure applied may cause bruises and contusions as well. These types of injuries serve as evidence to show that the obstetrician used more force than necessary to deliver the baby.
Can These Injuries Be Prevented?
The short answer to that question is: Yes. A doctor’s knowledge and competence play a critical role when it comes to birth injury prevention. Your doctor should know and understand the proper techniques that are to be used when dealing with shoulder dystocia. If your medical professional used incorrect techniques and/or excessive force to deliver your baby and this resulted in your child’s injuries, you may be able to seek compensation for the injuries, permanent damage or disabilities that your baby has suffered.
There are life-saving maneuvers that doctors can perform in these dire situations. For example, the Woods/Rubens Maneuver – where the doctor puts a hand inside the birth canal and rotates the child to help free the shoulder – may be used. Another popular maneuver is known as the McRoberts Maneuver where the mother’s legs are sharply bent at an angle that allows the baby’s shoulder to come free from the mother’s pubic bone. In some cases, doctors may also perform an episiotomy, which is a cut made between the vagina and the anus to give the infant more room to come out.
Compensation in Shoulder Dystocia Cases
If your child has suffered injuries as a result of shoulder dystocia during labor and delivery, you may be able to seek compensation on behalf of your child for damages including medical expenses, cost of future therapy and treatment as well as pain and suffering. Our West Virginia birth injury attorneys can help you compile your injury claim with all the evidence needed, bring in experts who can provide testimony in your case and assist you with securing the monetary compensation you need to take care of your child.
Please call our West Virginia Birth Injury Attorneys for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.