A difficult birth may result from any one of a number of conditions, some of which your doctor should find ahead of time. Whether or not your doctor has prepared for the issue, once your baby is in the birth canal, a new danger may surface.
Erb’s palsy, or brachial plexus birth palsy, is a birth injury that may be preventable.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the brachial plexus nerve network runs between the neck and the arm. It is responsible for supplying feeling and mobility to the shoulder and everything below it. Damaged brachial plexus nerves cause weakness and paralysis (the definition of a palsy). The doctor who gave the condition its description, Wilhelm Erb, also gave it his name.
The stretching and tearing of the nerves typically happen when the baby is breech or the labor is long. If your doctor must use some means of force during the delivery, this may stretch your infant’s neck and cause this type of damage to the nerves.
You may notice your baby does not move an arm or hand, or the pediatrician may notice it when examining him or her. Tests such as x-rays or MRIs usually identify whether the issue is damage to the bones or joints, and a nerve conduction study or other tests may determine whether the muscles in the upper arm are receiving any nerve signals.
Stretched nerves often repair themselves, but tears, ruptures and avulsions generally require surgical correction to reattach the nerve fibers or even graft or transfer new ones in place. Sometimes, treatment is not fully effective.
If your doctor caused the nerve damage due to negligence, you may be able to hold him or her accountable. For example, state medical boards review such errors to determine whether a physician’s actions indicate malpractice.