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Newborn Brachial Plexus Injury

June 24, 2015 Birth Injuries

Holding your newborn child in your arms is among the most miraculously happy moments in a parent’s life. All the months of reading, shopping, weird food cravings and preparing for the baby’s arrival are finally behind you and you’re awash with joy.

For most new parents, the joy is backed Newborn Brachial Plexus Injuryby worry—and sometimes fear. Usually such fears are unfounded, but occasionally something goes wrong during the birth, injuring the baby. Sometimes, usually in the case of a prolonged or difficult vaginal birth, a newborn can suffer damage to the brachial plexus nerves—the nerves around the shoulder.

Brachial plexus injury is one of the most common types of birth injuries, affecting thousands of infants each year. While most patients recover fully, treatment in some cases can be expensive—particularly if surgery becomes necessary.

Some insurance plans may not cover physical therapy, which can leave families on the hook for unexpected medical expenses. Coupled with the expenses of birth, prenatal and post-partum care, the affected newborn’s additional medical expenses can quickly swallow up a family’s savings.

Symptoms of Brachial Plexus Injury in Newborns

Brachial plexus injury is also known as Erb’s palsy, although Erb’s palsy more accurately refers to the symptoms that stem from damage to the brachial nerves. They usually present immediately or shortly after birth. Symptoms can include:

  • Limited movement in the newborn’s upper or lower arm or hand
  • Decreased or absent grip on the affected side
  • Arm bent at the elbow and held against the body
  • Absence of Moro reflex on the affected side

In mild cases, symptoms can resolve without treatment. Usually, infants will require some form of physical therapy to make a full recovery.

Causes of Infant Brachial Plexus Injury

Risk factors for a newborn brachial plexus injury include:

  • Larger-than-average newborn
  • Smaller-than-average pelvis in the mother
  • Maternal obesity
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Prolonged third-stage labor

While a cesarean birth carries less risk of this type of birth injury, it does not prevent it—and carries its own set of risks for both mother and infant.

These risk factors often result in the following conditions, which can cause injury to the brachial plexus nerves:

  • Pressure on the infant’s shoulders during a head-first delivery
  • Stress on the baby’s raised arms during a breech, or feet-first, delivery
  • Shoulder dystocia – difficulty delivering the shoulder after the baby’s head has already come out

Treatment for Newborns with Brachial Plexus Injuries

Prognosis for this type of birth injury is generally good. Most newborns recover fully by six months of age, provided the condition is diagnosed and treated promptly. Delays in diagnosis or treatment of the nerve injury can result in a less than complete recovery, so it’s important to address symptoms of Erb’s palsy as soon as they present.

In mild cases, physical therapy involving daily massage and exercises will repair the damaged nerve tissue. In more severe cases of brachial plexus injury, doctors may recommend surgery to repair the damage. Nerve grafts or other procedures can restore full or partial use of the affected limb. After surgery, doctors may prescribe a course of physical therapy to complete the recovery process.

Legal Action for Infant Brachial Plexus Injury

Some injuries are unavoidable. Other times, improper methods and procedures can lead to Erb’s palsy or other types of birth injury. Recovery from a brachial plexus injury may sometimes be unpredictable. If you’re facing a difficult diagnosis and course of treatment, there may be help available for you and your family.

If you think it’s possible a medical professional’s negligence led to your baby’s birth injury, contact the Indianapolis birth injury lawyers of Wilson Kehoe Winingham today to schedule a free case evaluation. 317.920.6400 | 800.525.8028

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