Erb’s Palsy is a condition that affects around two of every 1,000 children born which means there are up to 8,000 cases every year in the United States. It is a serious problem, but many children are able to recover fully. Erb’s Palsy is caused by damage to nerves in the arm and neck during delivery and can result in long-term mobility issues for a child’s alarms. It’s one of a number of different birth injuries that can affect your baby during childbirth.
The Causes and Effects of Erb’s Palsy
A variety of different things can cause Erb’s Palsy during delivery, and the resulting condition may be mild and easily overcome or severe and challenging in the long-term. It is more likely to occur with a very large baby and in a long, difficult labor. “Erb’s” refers to Erb’s point, a part of the neck where the nerves for the arms and shoulders come together to join nerves from the brain and spine. An injury in this area during birth that damages the nerves can result in lost feeling and mobility, pain and even paralysis in the arm and shoulder, depending on how seriously the nerve was damaged.
This can happen naturally if shoulder dystocia occurs. Shoulder dystocia is when a child’s head comes through, only for their shoulder to get stuck against the mother’s pelvis. Or perhaps the child gets stuck in some other way. That’s why Erb’s Palsy is more likely to occur with larger infants. One way or another, the child gets stuck and the doctor has to act to bring the baby out. The resulting damage and its severity depends on what the doctor does to deliver that baby.
Erb’s Palsy is more likely to affect a child in a breech birth as well when the child is coming out feet first. Pulling on the feet to put pressure on the child can cause damage. Any other sort of stretching or pulling on the head or shoulders of a child, even in a head-first delivery, can also exert unhealthy amounts of pressure on the child and lead to some nerve damage.
So if Erb’s Palsy is caused by pressure on the child during delivery, does that mean it’s avoidable? In that case, is it possible that my doctor is responsible for Erb’s Palsy in my case? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question. While Erb’s Palsy is often avoidable, sometimes it is not. Mothers with low-income and poor or no insurance are at higher risk, which does suggest that high-quality care and thorough neonatal care can decrease risk.
It is possible, however, that the injury to your child was entirely the fault of your doctor. In which case, you have the chance to pursue a medical negligence case. If your doctor applied pressure to get the baby out and didn’t pay attention to visible warning signs in your case, they may be at fault. If you have done your part in preparing for childbirth and coming in for neonatal care, your doctors should also have done their part by testing you for gestational diabetes, trying to find out the size of the baby, and otherwise looking for warning signs and preparing for possible contingencies. If your doctor failed to do their due diligence, that is a possible sign of medical negligence.
Treatment and recovery for a child suffering from Erb’s Palsy will differ depending on the degree of damage to the nerve. Nerves can be stretched, damaged or torn away completely. A simple, non-severe stretching in the nerve will likely be treated with physical therapy, and you can expect the child to make a full recovery. More serious cases may require surgical intervention, and it’s possible the child may continue to suffer some effects into the future.