Injuries sustained by newborns during the labor and delivery process (commonly referred to as birth injuries), while rare, can and do happen to children across the United States. Some types of birth injuries are unfortunately unavoidable, but most can be avoided completely with early risk assessment, proper fetal monitoring, and a response and intervention plan that allows doctors and hospital staff members to quickly manage delivery complications should they arise. Brachial plexus injuries can result from the normal birthing process, but may also result from medical malpractice.
The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves which directly supplies the sensory and motor components of the newborn’s shoulders, arms, and hands. When these nerves become damaged, some newborns are able to recover, gaining full use of their arms and hands. Other children never recover and are impaired or paralyzed permanently. Despite what many doctors may believe, brachial plexus injuries are almost always preventable.
Causes of Brachial Plexus Injuries
Damage to the brachial plexus nerves is generally caused by excessive stretching of the nerves which happens when a newborn’s shoulders get caught on the mother’s symphysis pubis (pubic bone) at the brim of the pelvis or other location and brute force is used to pull the newborn free. This condition is known as shoulder dystocia. In rare, extreme cases, the brachial plexus is torn directly from the neonatal spinal column, resulting in total dysfunction and sometimes even death.
Instead of using brute force to pull the baby free when shoulder dystocia occurs during the delivery process, doctors should focus on natural methods that encourage the newborn to find a new position and avoid getting stuck completely. In most cases, the delivery process can be delayed enough to allow for any adjustments. Adjusting the position of the mother’s pelvis by helping the mother find a new birthing position is recommended, along with gently shifting the position of the baby’s shoulders. Preventing a possible shoulder dystocia is also possible with the help of early risk factor identification via prenatal monitoring.
Implications of Brachial Plexus Injuries
When the fragile brachia plexus nerves are injured during delivery, complications can occur immediately following the newborn’s birth. Other conditions and symptoms take a month or more to form fully, appearing later on during the child’s development. Most symptoms begin with pain, stiffness, and a limited range of mobility. The most common conditions which develop include the following:
- Cerebral palsy
- Erb’s palsy (paralysis of the arm, particularly the upper arm)
- Klumpke paralysis (paralysis of the forearm and hand)
- Brachial plexus palsy (paralysis of the shoulder area or any area of the brachial plexus)
- Musculoskeletal injuries like fractures or broken bones immediately following birth
- Hemorrhages immediately following birth
According to research which was conducted in 2005, roughly 50% of children suffering from brachial plexus palsy or any other type of palsy associated with brachial plexus injuries completely recover within six months of their birth. Roughly 2% of children will experience no recovery whatsoever. The remaining 48% will experience an incomplete recovery.
How well a newborn recovers from a brachial plexus injury depends on many factors. In some cases, partial paralysis will eventually fade away and no symptoms will remain. In other cases, surgery or physical therapy may decrease the severity of the symptoms. A splint can also be used to help young children regain limited use of their arms again.
In cases where the child experiences full or partial paralysis of the shoulder area, arms, or hands, the paralysis symptoms may become worse as the child ages. Surgery is often recommended in these cases and is often the only option parents have.
Options for Suffering Parents
If you or someone you know has a child that has suffered from brachial plexus injuries and paralysis which was caused during the birth of the child, you should know that you are not alone. The doctors may have told you that your child’s paralysis wasn’t preventable or was caused by the child’s birth weight, but in reality they were most likely trying to protect themselves or the hospital.
Injuries resulting from forceful traction after shoulder dystocia may be rare, but they are certainly preventable and should be prevented. With proper fetal monitoring and positioning during delivery, even factors such as a newborn’s birth weight should not impact the health of your child at all. Rushed deliveries and improper monitoring are not acceptable excuses.
Medical malpractice lawyers like Tad Thomas of Thomas Law Offices make it their goal to stop doctors from thinking brachial plexus injuries are not preventable. Medical malpractice, unfortunately, happens on a daily basis. Tad Thomas is an experienced Louisville medical malpractice lawyer who can navigate a complicated medical malpractice case and help your family through this difficult time. Don’t hesitate to get in touch today.