When a baby suffers injury or trauma during birth, that injury may have permanent effects on the child’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. While minor bruising may be normal during the delivery process, traumatic birth injury is not. This type of injury is often due to an error on behalf of the medical personnel involved. Injury to the baby’s brachial plexus nerve is a common traumatic birth injury and can have devastating results on the child.
Brachial Plexus Nerve Injury
The brachial plexus is a network of peripheral nerves that stretch from the spinal column down to the shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers. These nerves are responsible for controlling movement and transmitting sensation. They can be easily injured during a vaginal delivery when they are stretched, ruptured or torn.
How Brachial Plexus Injury Occurs
Brachial plexus injuries often occur when a baby’s shoulder is lodged behind the mother’s pubic bone during delivery. Essentially, the baby becomes stuck in the birth canal. This is called Shoulder Dystocia and is considered an obstetrical emergency. When this happens, time is of the essence to free the baby from the birth canal and complete the delivery. Otherwise, permanent brain damage or death can result from a lack of oxygen to the baby. The baby’s brachial plexus nerves may be damaged if the medical staff applies excessive pressure to the baby’s head and neck in an attempt to dislodge the baby’s shoulder from the mother’s pubic bone. This excessive pressure can stretch or even tear the nerve roots out from the baby’s spinal column. If a baby’s nerve roots are completely torn, the baby’s shoulder, arm and hand may be totally dysfunctional.
Effects of Brachial Plexus Injuries
Injuries to the brachial plexus can result in two types of conditions, depending on the nerves affected:
- Erb’s Palsy: Erb’s Palsy is a partial or full paralysis of the arm. Children with this condition cannot fully raise their arms.
- Klumpke’s Palsy: Kulpke’s Palsy affects the wrist and fingers. Children with this condition appear to have a “clawed” hand.
Recognizing Brachial Plexus Injuries
Neonatal specialists and Pediatricians look for the following symptoms in the baby’s shoulder, arm and hand to help diagnose brachial plexus injuries:
- Muscle weakness
- Abnormal flexion
- Limited motion
Tests such as EMG, MRI, or nerve conduction studies can also be used to diagnose these injuries.
Brachial Plexus Injuries Are Often Preventable
A mother’s medical team can often predict and prevent shoulder dystocia and resulting brachial plexus injuries from occurring during labor and delivery by being acutely aware of the risk factors normally associated with dystocia. These factors include a mother’s gestational diabetes, excessive weight gain or obesity during pregnancy, a large (macrosomic) baby, or a mother with a prior history of having large babies. If these risk factors are present, the standard of care may require the physician to perform a cesarean section in lieu of a vaginal delivery.
Brachial Plexus Injuries Can Be Devastating
Infants may recover from mild brachial plexus injuries through physical therapy treatment. To maximize recovery, it is imperative that the therapy start as soon as possible after birth. However, some damage is so severe that it cannot heal through physical therapy alone. These nerve injuries are more likely to require specialized medical care and invasive surgery, such as nerve grafting. In the most severe cases of brachial plexus injury, the child may be left with permanent paralysis of the affected shoulder, arm and hand.
Due to the negligence of doctors and delivery room staff, innocent children may suffer from brachial plexus injuries and have to endure physical therapy, frequent visits to specialists, invasive neurological surgery or permanent impairment. A medical malpractice action can’t undo the brachial plexus injury and subsequent damage to your child. However, it is a way to hold negligent medical personnel accountable for their actions. Additionally, it is a means to obtain much needed compensation to ensure that your child receives the best possible care for his or her injuries.
If your child has suffered a brachial plexus injury that you believe occurred as a result of a medical error, contact us today to schedule your free consultation.