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Shoulder Dystocia: Symptoms, Causes, and Complications

Updated April 21, 2021 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Shoulder dystocia refers to the scenario during childbirth when a baby’s head passes through the birth canal and the baby’s shoulders become stuck. This complication becomes obvious when the fetal head emerges and then retracts, preventing the delivery of the rest of the body. Shoulder dystocia is considered an emergency, and your doctor must work quickly and carefully to prevent complications associated with this birth injury.

What Are the Complications of Shoulder Dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia can increase risks for both you and your baby. Some possible complications include:

  • Postpartum hemorrhage
  • Rectovaginal fistula
  • Uterine rupture
  • Brachial plexus palsy
  • Clavicle fracture
  • Fetal hypoxia, with or without brain damage in baby
  • Fetal death

What Causes Shoulder Dystocia?

Certain women may be more at risk for having babies with shoulder dystocia. Some risk factors and causes include:

  • Abnormal pelvic anatomy
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes or gestational diabetes
  • History of shoulder dystocia
  • Induced labor
  • Assisted vaginal delivery (forceps or vacuum)

What Are the Symptoms of Shoulder Dystocia?

The “turtle sign” is a defining symptom of shoulder dystocia. This occurs when the fetal head passes through the birth canal but then seems to retract back into the birth canal—like a turtle that sticks its head out of its shell and puts it back in.

How is Shoulder Dystocia Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose shoulder dystocia when the shoulders fail to deliver shortly after the head. In other words, when doctors can see the baby’s head, but the baby’s body cannot be delivered. Shoulder dystocia extends delivery time, but if anticipated on the basis of risk factors, preparatory tasks can be accomplished before delivery.

What is Considered Negligence?

Some examples of negligence associated with shoulder dystocia include:

  • Failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis
  • Delayed or improper treatment
  • Failure to use an alternative delivery method when necessary

Contact a Birth Injury Attorney Today

It’s possible that a doctor’s negligence led to your child’s shoulder dystocia injury. If you believe that this is what happened to your child, contact the Indianapolis Birth Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you and your family get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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