Understanding Erb’s Palsy

If you are an Illinois expectant mother, your biggest concern undoubtedly is the health, safety and well-being of your growing baby. While you do everything possible to ensure this, you cannot control everything. Unfortunately, birth injuries can and do happen, even in the best of hospitals and birthing centers. Erb’s palsy is one of these.

Erb’s palsy is an injury to the nerves in your baby’s brachial plexus that happens during his or her birth. It is a fairly rare birth injury that occurs in only 0.5 to 2.6 percent of live births. Nevertheless, when it happens, the results can be catastrophic.

A person’s brachial plexus nerves extend outward from the spinal cord to the arms by way of the arm pit regions. If these nerves become stretched during your baby’s birth, it could damage them and result in your baby suffering from Erb’s palsy. He or she may suffer shoulder and arm weakness, decreased feeling or even paralysis. While some babies spontaneously recover from Erb’s palsy, others do not and face a 20-25 percent risk of developing serious arm and shoulder problems later in life unless they receive the proper surgical interventions.

Erb’s palsy risk factors

The risk factors for your baby developing Erb’s palsy include the following:

  • He or she is an unusually large baby.
  • You are an unusually small mother.
  • The baby is delivered with the aid of mid-level or low forceps.
  • The baby is delivered with the aid of vacuum extraction.
  • The baby is delivered while you were in the second stage of labor.
  • One of her older brothers or sisters suffers from Erb’s palsy.

Erb’s palsy treatment

Even if your OB/GYN or your baby’s pediatrician suspect that the baby has Erb’s palsy based on the results of his or her tests immediately after birth, they likely will take a wait-and-see attitude until after the infant reaches one year of age to see if the baby “outgrows” it as some babies do. Surgery during the first year of your baby’s life is contraindicated in all but the most severe cases.

Nevertheless, they will put your baby on a course of physical therapy during his or her first year of life to minimize any weakness in his or her arms. Needless to say, your medical costs can quickly mount when your baby receives an Erb’s palsy birth injury. If you believe your physician or other health care professionals acted carelessly or negligently during your baby’s birth, you may wish to consider filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against them and the hospital for which they work. An attorney with experience in birth injury cases can review your situation and explain your legal options.


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