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3 things to know about Erb's palsy

While a mother and doctor may have one birth plan figured it, once in labor, the plans can drastically change in order to do what is best for the baby and mother. However, this is not to say that all aspects of a delivery are necessarily going to be a surprise. Rather, monitoring during pregnancy can alert doctors to such concerns as the baby being too big.

One concern with delivery a larger baby vaginally is the risk for Erb's palsy. This is a form of brachial plexus palsy, where the nerves near the baby's neck are stretched, or in some cases torn, leading to weakness and loss of motion to the fingers, hand, arm and/or shoulder. The location of the damage will determine the severity and range of motion that is affected.

For a parent with a baby recently diagnosed with Erb's palsy, there may be some questions. Here are a few things to keep in mind when figuring out what next steps to take:

1. Erb's palsy can stem from a medical mistake

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, out of every 1,000 babies born, one or two will have Erb's palsy. This condition is often caused when the baby's neck is stretched during delivery. This can happen during a difficult delivery, including one where the baby was too large for vaginal delivery or in cases where the infant was stuck during delivery. In cases where the baby is stuck, it is imperative that doctors follow standard protocol to try to avoid hurting the baby's nerves.

Other high-risk delivery situations include a prolonged labor or breech presentation.

2. Erb's palsy injuries range

There are four main types of Erb's palsy injuries. These are neurapraxia, neuroma, rupture and avulsion. The basics to know are that neurapraxia and neuroma are stretch injuries. Neurapraxia typically heals on its own, while some recovery is possible -- but not guaranteed -- with neuroma. With a rupture or avulsion, the nerve is actually torn. These types of injuries cannot heal on their own and are considered the most severe. Treatment may be possible, but again, there is no guarantee of total repair.

3. Legal options may be available

Both nonsurgical and surgical treatment is available for Erb's palsy. The recommendation a doctor makes will be dependent on the severity of the injury and prognosis.

As a parent, though, you should be prepared to know that these types of injuries could affect the growth and development of the baby's shoulder. In some cases, the child's one arm will be noticeably smaller. And, like many other medical conditions, just because treatment is available, it does not mean treatment can totally reverse the condition.

As the child continues to grow, it is important for parents to remain supportive. With the child, instead of focusing on the limitations, focus on what he or she can do. However, do not feel like you need to just move on in life. Rather, as a parent, know that there may be legal options available. If improper monitoring during pregnancy or negligence during delivery caused Erb's palsy, legal options may be available.

At Barry D. Lang, M.D & Associates, birth injuries are one of our main focuses. We are well-versed in Erb's palsy and will listen to your concerns and provide guidance and assistance throughout the legal process.

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