Erb’s palsy is an injury that affects the nerves of an infant’s upper arm. One of the most common causes of Erb’s palsy is shoulder dystocia, which can happen during a difficult delivery. Shoulder dystocia occurs when a baby’s head is delivered, but the shoulders remain stuck inside the mother’s body. An infant’s neck can be stretched to one side, causing temporary or permanent nerve damage. Erb’s palsy can also occur without shoulder dystocia.
Erb’s palsy can be prevented through the use of reasonable care during the delivery process. While some of the circumstances surrounding a delivery cannot be avoided, if risk factors for Erb’s palsy are present, a doctor has an obligation to act accordingly to keep both mother and baby safe. Following are the most common risk factors for Erb’s palsy:

  • Infant macrosomia—Macrosomia is defined as larger than 8 lbs 13 oz. Infants that are larger than average may be too large to get through the birth canal safely and easily. Larger infants are at a higher risk of shoulder dystocia during birth.
  • Instrument-assisted delivery—during a long labor, a doctor may decide to use a vacuum or forceps to gently pull the baby’s head through the birth canal during delivery. If these instruments are used incorrectly, it can lead to nerve damage
  • Excessive or abnormal maternal weight gain
  • Small maternal stature
  • Prolonged and difficult labor—labors in which the second stage of labor (the time when the mother pushes) is longer than an hour are especially risky
  • Pulling on the head or applying pressure—pulling on the baby’s head during the delivery process can stretch, tear, and injury the nerves in the neck which control the arm causing Erb’s palsy
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Maternal history—women are more likely to deliver a baby with Erb’s palsy if they have previously delivered other children with this concern.

A reasonable doctor should be aware of these risk factors and be prepared. Erb’s palsy can be prevented by proper prenatal care, a prepared and knowledgeable birth and delivery team, and timely intervention if problems arise. A failure to properly evaluate the risk factors and perform a timely C-section can lead to a permanent injury.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

If you believe your baby sustained a birth injury and are concerned that it may have been the result of medical malpractice, you need to consult with an experienced attorney. At Bonina & Bonina, P.C., we have over 50 years of experience helping New Yorkers injured by medical malpractice. Contact us online or call us 1-888-MED-LAW1 to schedule a free consultation. Home and hospital visits are available. Se habla español.