Birth injuries are complications that effect the youngest victims in personal injury. A rare, yet serious birthing complication that can lead to birth injury is known as “shoulder dystocia”.
Shoulder dystocia occurs during the second stage of birth, after a baby’s head has been born. Once the head is out, one or both of the infant’s shoulders can get stuck behind the mother’s pelvis. Since the baby is stuck, and a natural birth process as been complicated, it’s called shoulder dystocia.
This situation is completely dependent on how the infant moves into and through the birth canal. Despite the fact that a majority of shoulder dystocia injuries heal within 6 to 12 months, more serious cases and medical negligence may leave a child at risk for permanent disability, or in rare cases, death.
How is a baby usually born?
To better grasp how shoulder dystocia complicates an otherwise normal birth, let’s look at how a ‘normal’ (or unobstructed) baby is born.
As a woman nears the end of her a pregnancy, the baby will begin to turn itself around and face it head downward towards the birthing canal, facing the rear of the mother. Once the first stage of birth begins, the infant moves from the mother’s uterus where it has been growing, down through the cervix (located between the pelvis bones). The front of the pelvis is referred to as the pubic bone (this is where a baby get stuck during shoulder dystocia).
If everything above has gone correctly, the head is set to come out first. After the baby’s head emerges, the infant will then begin to rotate its body sideways in order to allows its shoulders and body to pass through the pelvis easily .
What Causes Shoulder Dystocia?
According to the March of Dimes, shoulder dystocia causes one or both of an infant’s shoulders to lodge behind the pubic bone, preventing the baby from being freed easily. Most often, the anterior (front) shoulder is the one that gets stuck behind the pubic bone, however it’s also possible for the posterior (back) shoulder to get stuck behind the tail bone.
This obstruction can create risk for both the mother and the baby. Shoulder dystocia means slow and difficult labor or birth. Furthermore, while there are risk factors for shoulder dystocia, healthcare providers usually cannot predict or prevent it. It is often only noticeable after labor has begun. As such, it’s still important to note that if your baby is very large—called macrosomia—before birth, your provider may recommend that you have a cesarean section.
Other reasons for a slow or difficult labor that causes shoulder dystocia include:
- the mother’s pelvis being small or abnormal
- the mother is obese
- the mother has gestational diabetes
- multiple babies are being born at once
- the pregnancy has gone past the due date
- labor is induced
- previous shoulder dystocia issues
- the mother gets an epidural to help with pain during labor
- the mother has an operative vaginal birth (see below). 
Although discussing these possibilities with your doctor is always a good idea, it should be noted that shoulder dystocia may occur even when there are no risk factors prevalent.
Shoulder Dystocia Injuries to Infant and Mother
If a baby’s shoulder cannot enter or pass through the mother’s pelvis during delivery, the infant will become wedged in the birth canal, and the force with which the mother’s body is trying to push the baby out can lead to serious injuries for both the mother and child.
Injuries to the infant can include:
- Deprivation of oxygen leading to brain damage (birth asphyxia)
- Fractured arm or collarbone
- Nerve damage to the shoulder, hand or arm (brachial plexus injury)
- Erb’s palsy, meaning the arm is numb and/or paralyzed. 1 in 10 babies with Erb’s palsy have lasting damage.
- Cerebral palsy or other disabilities.
- Lack of oxygen leading to baby’s death.
Complication to the mother may include:
- Bruising or tearing of the cervix, rectum, or vagina
- Uterine rupture
- Bladder bruising
Shoulder Dystocia as Medical Negligence
The causes of shoulder dystocia, as described above, sometimes occur due to medical error. This specifically happens when forceps or a vacuum are used in delivery (operative vaginal birth). These injuries may also occur if a physician is not well trained or significantly deviates from the accepted standard of care. Moreover, while filing a claim against a medical professional, citing birth injuries can be an action taken, another step towards receiving financial compensation for their liability stems from medical malpractice. Any person who assumes any part of the responsibility for a patient’s medical and/or psychological well-being can be found guilty of medical malpractice. This includes nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, and specialists.
It is essential to remember that doctors and other healthcare providers are only human. As such, they are as prone to making mistakes as anybody else. But when a medical professional or other healthcare provider with the trust of the community makes a mistake, he or she could cause a victim to suffer a serious, sometimes life-altering, injury or worsened condition. No one wants to see their baby go through an entire lifetime of hardships and challenges due to a birth injury. Victims who suffer from cases of medical malpractice often find themselves facing significant medical bills and other expenses. Fortunately, the attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA know how to handle claims that involves young loved ones and medical mistakes.
Birth Injury Attorneys – Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
A trained and experienced birth injury attorney will use medical records, including diagnostics, delivery flow sheets, fetal monitoring strips, and records of any birthing tools used to determine if any of the many possible birth injury scenarios occurred. The attorney will have medical experts available to consult in every aspect of the investigation. If it is determined that negligence played a part in the child’s birth injury the attorney will move aggressively to pursue compensation for the family of the infant. Further, the lifetime expenses incurred by the family of a birth injured child can be astronomical.
If you have a child that shows shoulder complications due to neglect during birth, you owe it to your child and yourself to reach out to a birth injury attorney at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA for exceptional legal representation. Contact us today for a free evaluation of your case at (727) 451-6900.