Giving birth is considered one of the most joyous occasions a woman can experience; However, sometimes that joy can quickly fade when parents realize that there have been complications during delivery that have affected the health of their newborn. One of the most common birth injuries that occurs is called Erb's palsy or Brachial Plexus Injury.
Erb's palsy results in your newborn being able to move one arm but not the other. One or two out of every 1,000 babies will be born with Erb's palsy. Most infants born with Erb's palsy will recover both movement and sensation in the affected arm without surgery, but if the nerves don't recover on their own, your child may require surgery and / or other treatments.
Most Erb's palsy injuries are caused by medical negligence as there are effective ways of managing this birth situation to prevent injuries.
What Causes Erb's Palsy?
One of the most common causes of Erb's palsy is shoulder dystocia. Shoulder dystocia is one of the greatest nightmares an obstetrician can face during delivery. Shoulder dystocia occurs when, after delivery of the baby's head, the baby's anterior shoulder gets stuck behind the mother's pubic bone. If shoulder dystocia occurs, the rest of the baby does not follow the head easily out of the vagina as it usually does during normal deliveries.
The most serious complication following a shoulder dystocia delivery is Erb's palsy. Brachial plexus injuries usually occur during difficult deliveries, such as when the baby is large, when it is breech, when the mother goes through prolonged labor, and when the person assisting the delivery must exert some force to pull the baby out of the birth canal . When one side of the baby's neck is stretched, the nerves can be damaged by stretching or tearing them. When the upper part of the nerves is affected, the result is Erb's palsy. Sometimes, the infant is able to move his arm but not his fingers.
Signs of Erb's Palsy
A newborn with Erb's palsy will have the arm straight down at his side and not move it. Sometimes, the arm will be slightly turned with a bent wrist and straight fingers. If your newborn has a droopy eyelid on the affected side, a more severe injury may be indicated. If your baby is born with Erb's palsy , he / she will be examined again at one month old and three months old to see if the nerves are recovering on their own. Recovery often takes up to two years; During the recovery time, range of motion exercises are very important to keep the baby's joints from getting stiff.
If your baby does not improve in the first three months, nerve surgery may be necessary. However, nerve surgery does not restore normal function over one year old. Because nerves grow at a rate of one inch per month, it may take months or even years for nerves repaired at the neck to reach the muscles of the arm and hand. Children with brachial plexus injuries will have weakness in the arm, hand, and shoulder and may find certain movements difficult. They may find it difficult to raise the affected hand over their head or to extend their wrist.
Since your baby cannot move the affected arm on his own, you must take an active part in keeping the joints limber. Physical therapy will be recommended as will range of motion exercises. You will probably be advised to do these with your baby every day, sometimes two or three times a day. These exercises will help your baby maintain a range of motion in the elbow, shoulder, wrist and hand and will prevent the joint from becoming permanently stiff. With Erb's palsy, sometimes the affected arm is noticeably smaller than the unaffected arm. The size difference in the two arms is permanent, but it does not increase with age.