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Brachial plexus injuries

After you've waited for nine anxious months to see your baby born, having to wait up to nine more months to find out if he or she is going to be healthy is a nightmare no parent should have to face.

Yet, that's the reality for the parents of infants who suffered a brachial plexus injury during a difficult delivery. What's worse, is that many of those injuries could have been prevented with better decision-making on the part of the medical professionals involved in the delivery.

A brachial plexus birth injury occurs when the nerve bundle around one of the infant's shoulders is damaged, causing weakness or paralysis in the infant's arm. It's also called neonatal brachial plexus palsy.

Risk factors include the baby being in a breech position, a baby that's larger-than-normal or a mother who has a small pelvis. The injury often occurs when the baby's shoulder or shoulders become stuck after the head is delivered. Using forceps during delivery also increases the risk of injury. Multiples, like twins and triplets, are also at greater risk.

The injury can either be mild or severe. In mild cases, massage can be used to help heal the injured area and range-of-motion exercises can promote strength. In more serious cases, specialists may need to be involved. In any case, it takes three to nine months before you will know whether or not the baby is likely to recover without surgery, or even recover at all.

When a baby doesn't recover in that time period, it's usually an indication that the nerve root has been actually torn from the spinal cord during the birth. Nerve grafts and nerve transfers are sometimes tried to repair the damage, but the prognosis is generally very poor.

While it's still possible for a brachial plexus injury to occur during a Cesarean-section, studies show that C-sections reduce its likelihood, especially when the risk factors are taken into consideration. Forty-six percent of babies in one study that were born with brachial plexus injuries had known risk factors for the injury—which indicates that a C-section could have prevented the suffering of those children and their parents.

If your child has suffered a brachial plexus injury during a vaginal birth and you had obvious risk factors that should have been considered when your doctor decided not to do a C-section, you may have a right to seek compensation. An attorney can discuss your legal options with you.

Source: MedlinePlus, "Brachial plexus injury in newborns," accessed Dec. 29, 2016

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