A common complication during the birthing process is shoulder dystocia, which occurs when the baby’s shoulder becomes stuck on the mother’s pelvic bone. Shoulder dystocia is an emergency situation that can result in serious harm to the baby, including hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, if not resolved in a timely manner. There are certain risk factors that may indicate shoulder dystocia, including gestational diabetes, obesity in the mother, excessive weight gain during the pregnancy, macrosomia (a baby weighing more than 4000 grams or approximately 9 pounds), a small pelvis, or a previous large baby.
However, doctors are trained on a variety of maneuvers that will dislodge the shoulder and allow the baby to be born without an injury. One is called the McRobert’s maneuver, which involves hyperflexing the mother’s legs tightly to her abdomen while pressure is applied to the lower abdomen over the pubic bone, also known as suprapubic pressure. Another maneuver is called the Wood’s screw maneuver. The doctor’s hand is placed behind the non-impacted shoulder of the baby. The shoulder is rotated in a corkscrew maneuver until the impacted shoulder is released.
How do Injuries Occur?
Injuries occur when the doctor does not properly perform the maneuvers or when the doctor pulls too hard on the baby’s head or neck area without first dislodging the shoulder. Pressure or pushing on the mother’s chest, known as fundal pressure, can also lead to an injury. These actions can permanently damage a group of nerves near the spinal column called the brachial plexus. A brachial plexus injury in the birthing process it is normally a result of the physician pulling on and applying too much force to the baby’s head or neck area during the delivery. This is called applying excessive traction and falls below the standard of care for a doctor.
The injuries can be significant and include:
Avulsion: the nerve is completely torn from the spinal cord
Rupture: the nerve is torn but not at the spinal cord
Neuropraxia: the nerve is stretched
Neuroma: a stretched nerve that has developed scar tissue, which disrupts signals to the muscles
While some brachial plexus injuries involve only a stretching of the nerves, meaning the injury will be temporary, others may involve the ripping of the nerves off the spinal column. This could lead to a permanent injury known as Erb’s Palsy. Erb’s Palsy may result in the child undergoing surgical procedures, including nerve grafts, as well as years of physical and occupational therapy for the child.
If Your Child is Injured
In Georgia, a plaintiff has to prove that the doctor was grossly negligent in the delivery. This is because the Georgia courts have ruled that shoulder dystocia is a medical emergency. Therefore, the burden of proof for the plaintiff is higher than in an ordinary medical malpractice claim.
An experienced birth injury attorney will be able to evaluate your potential case, and, if your baby’s injuries are due to a medical provider’s negligence, help your family get compensation for the injuries your child has suffered. The lawyers at Nicholson Revell LLP have a proven track record of successfully litigating shoulder dystocia and brachial plexus injuries even with this heightened burden of proof. If your child sustained an injury during the birthing process please call one our lawyers today at 706-722-8784 or contact us.