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What is Erb’s palsy?

As an expectant mother in Oregon, you undoubtedly are taking every possible precaution to ensure that when your baby is born, (s)he will be healthy and safe. Unfortunately, however, birth injuries do occur, even in the best hospitals. One of these is Erb’s palsy.

According to the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine, Erb’s palsy occurs in 0.5 to 2.6 percent of live births. It results from an injury to your baby’s brachial plexus during birth if your baby’s nerve fibers are overly stretched, such as when his or her head delivered but the shoulders are too large to pass easily out of your birth canal.

Erb’s palsy cause and symptoms

Your baby’s brachial plexus nerves extend from his or her spinal cord to the arm pit regions and thence into his or her arms. If the nerves become stretched and damaged during birth, your baby could suffer shoulder and arm muscle weakness, loss of sensation, and paralysis.

Some babies spontaneously recover from Erb’s palsy, but others require surgical intervention. Without it, your baby faces a 20-25 percent risk of developing shoulder and arm impairment in later life.

Risk factors for Erb’s palsy

While Erb’s palsy is a reasonably rare birth injury, your baby has a higher risk of sustaining this type of birth injury under one or more of the following circumstances:

  • Your baby is unusually large
  • You are unusually small
  • (S)he delivered via low or mid-level forceps
  • (S)he delivered via vacuum extraction
  • (S)he delivered during the second stage of your labor
  • One of your previous children suffered or suffers from Erb’s palsy

If after-birth tests indicate that your baby has Erb’s palsy, the doctors will take a wait-and-see approach during the first year of his or her life. As stated, some babies spontaneously recover from or “outgrow” Erb’s palsy, and rushing into surgery is contraindicated at an extremely early age. However, your baby will need physical therapy during this period to minimize the weakness in his or her arms. This is general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice.