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Although pregnancy and birth are natural processes, they sometimes need medical monitoring and intervention for a positive outcome. Mothers and their partners place their trust in medical providers to help make pregnancy and childbirth as safe as possible for both mom and baby. While most of the time, things go off without a hitch, sometimes problems arise. 

Obstetricians and their staff are highly trained to recognize and act on the signs of a problem during the birth process. Once they identify a problem, they may only have seconds to take action to help save the mom or baby. One of these problems is shoulder dystocia. Suppose you were told that your delivery involved shoulder dystocia, and you or your infant suffered a birth injury. In that case, it’s time to reach out to a compassionate Palm Beach County shoulder dystocia lawyer for help.

What is Shoulder Dystocia?

In a normal birth, once the baby’s head passes through the mother’s pelvic bone, the shoulders and the rest of the baby’s body should easily follow. However, after the head is delivered, the baby’s shoulders get stuck and cannot pass through the maternal pelvis. This is known as shoulder dystocia, and it is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical intervention.

If the baby’s shoulders and chest are somewhat bigger than the head, the chances of shoulder dystocia increase substantially, carrying a greater potential for high-risk birth complications. The newborn may suffer trauma following a shoulder dystocia delivery because the delicate nerves in the neck can be seriously damaged when the obstetrician uses extreme force to free the stuck shoulder.

Potential Effects of Shoulder Dystocia

One of the most severe injuries associated with shoulder dystocia is a brachial plexus injury. Between one to eight out of every 1,000 babies born each year will sustain such an injury.

The “brachial plexus” is a complex group of nerves that travel from the spinal column in the neck, across the shoulder, along the arms, into the hands, and finally down to the fingertips. One or both arms can be paralyzed if the damage to the nerves in the brachial plexus is severe enough.

Some of these types of injuries are mild and will resolve on their own in a short time. However, a significant number of babies with brachial plexus injuries will suffer a permanent disability. They will grow up with little to no use of the affected arm, sometimes without feeling. They may have a limp, atrophied arm making them stand out from other children. Their condition may require multiple surgeries and physical therapy.

Shoulder Dystocia Risk Factors

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), most shoulder dystocia cases can’t be predicted and can occur in babies of average birth weight. Even still, there are several risk factors or warning signs that should prompt an experienced obstetrician to be on guard for, including: 

  • Suspected large baby – over 8 pounds- 14 ounces (the leading risk for shoulder dystocia)
  • Maternal diabetes or gestational diabetes as babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes frequently have larger shoulders
  • Maternal obesity
  • Gestational age of more than 40 weeks
  • Short maternal stature
  • Contracted or flat (platypelloid) pelvis
  • Abnormally long labor or delivery
  • Maternal weight gain during pregnancy of over 35 pounds
  • A history of shoulder dystocia during a previous delivery or of giving birth to large babies 
  • Use of a tool such as a vacuum extractor or forceps to assist with the birth

Is it Possible to Prevent Shoulder Dystocia?

Physicians can take several steps to help prevent shoulder dystocia. With so many accurate screening procedures and today’s advanced technology, it’s possible to avoid many shoulder dystocia cases. Doctors can often reposition the mother or the baby to help the baby’s shoulder pass through the maternal pelvis easier in conjunction with some gentle pulling or pushing movements. If these conservative techniques don’t work, the obstetrician may try one or more of the following depending on the gravity of the situation:

  • Cutting a very deep episiotomy
  • Breaking the mother’s pelvis or the baby’s collarbone
  • An emergency cesarean section

Suppose medical professionals fail to employ certain strategies for dealing with the problem. In that case, it may result in further injury to both the baby and the mother.

Medical Mistakes Can Lead to Shoulder Dystocia

Unfortunately, some shoulder dystocia injuries can be attributed to the negligence of physicians, nurses, or other hospital medical personnel. All physicians and nurses owe duties of care to the patients they are responsible for. When a doctor or other health care professional is negligent in causing a medical mistake during pregnancy or labor, they fail to use the same degree of skill that would be expected of a health care professional of similar training and experience in the same situation.

Failing to provide pregnancy, labor, or delivery care that is within the accepted standards of practice can cause substantial birth injury, disability, and even death.

Suppose the doctor or another health care professional fails to monitor or respond promptly and adequately to certain circumstances that arise during the labor and delivery. In that case, that individual could be considered negligent. A medical team should monitor the mother and child throughout labor and delivery so that they can quickly become aware of any complications that may develop. Negligence of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel can arise in any of the following situations:

  • Failure to provide appropriate prenatal care 
  • Failure to take appropriate interventions during labor and delivery
  • Failure to diagnose and treat a maternal infection
  • Failing to diagnose and treat preterm labor rapidly
  • Failure to diagnose a large baby
  • Failure to properly manage an overdue pregnancy
  • Failing to respond appropriately to excessive bleeding
  • Placenta abruption
  • Failure to treat maternal preeclampsia 
  • Negligent management of labor and delivery 
  • Failure to adequately respond and intervene to non-reassuring fetal heart rate monitor changes and evidence of fetal distress
  • Misuse of a vacuum extractor or forceps during delivery
  • Failure to perform a timely cesarean section (c-section) to deliver a stressed newborn
  • Failure to successfully resuscitate and intubate newborn

If you feel like one or more of these factors was involved in your birth, and you or your child suffered an injury, let a Palm Beach County shoulder dystocia attorney review your case as soon as possible. 

Call an Experienced Palm Beach County Shoulder Dystocia Lawyer

Only a vigilant evaluation of the medical records can determine the cause of injuries and if the actions of the delivery team played a role in causing a birth injury.

Our Palm Beach County shoulder dystocia lawyers and medical analysts have the necessary experience investigating medical mistakes and birth injury malpractice. They also have the resources to access the type of qualified medical experts needed to assess complicated birth injury cases like those involving shoulder dystocia.

If you or your newborn suffered an injury from shoulder dystocia due to improper medical intervention and care during your pregnancy or at the time of delivery, perhaps we can help. Call 800 800-6500 to schedule your private consultation with a Palm Beach County shoulder dystocia attorney at Iscoe Law today. We are available to take your call 24/7, 365.