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Erb’s Palsy in Newborns – What Every Parent Needs to Know


Your life is filled with wonder as you get ready to welcome a new bundle of joy into the world. You have decorated the nursery, pored over books full of baby names and baby-proofed your entire home in anticipation of the new arrival.

With all the details taken care of, you place your life, and the life of your newborn baby, in the hands of your caring doctor and the experienced medical staff that will soon spring into action. You trust that the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel have the best training and experience, and that they will use good judgment and common sense when delivering your new son or daughter.

In most cases, that trust will be entirely justified, and the birthing process will go off without a hitch. Before you know it, the endless labor will be over, and you will be happily holding your new baby.

The Danger of Erb’s Palsy

While the vast majority of births go off without a hitch, in a small percentage of cases, something goes wrong during the birth process, resulting in a serious birth injury and long-lasting damage to the newborn. The overall percentages may be small, but when it happens to you and your family, the results can be devastating, and nothing will ever be the same again.

One of the most potentially devastating birth injuries is a condition known as Erb’s Palsy, and it is important for affected parents to understand what causes it, and what they can do about it going forward.

Erb’s Palsy is one of a number of palsies that are grouped together as brachial plexus paralysis. Erb’s Palsy happens when the cervical nerves (C5, C6 and C7) are damaged during the birth of the baby. While the damage associated with Erb’s Palsy happens most often in breech births, it can also occur during normal deliveries.

Erb’s Palsy is also closely associated with prolonged labor and shoulder systocia, and it is more likely to happen when delivering babies that are unusually large. Other difficulties during delivery can also make Erb’s Palsy more likely, especially if the doctor chooses to use forceps to remove the newborn.

Nerves can also be damaged when the doctor moves the baby’s head from side to side during the delivery process. This procedure can ease the newborn’s passage through the birth canal, but it is also likely to damage the delicate nerves in the child’s head.

No matter what its origins, Erb’s Palsy can have a significant and long lasting impact on the affected child, and on his or her entire family. Depending on the amount of damage and the individual circumstances, the damage done at birth can result in either partial or total paralysis in the affected limb. In many cases, the child’s arm may not attain its normal size, resulting in a lifetime of disfigurement. Even worse, the circulation in the affected arm is often diminished, creating a number of vascular problems over the years and even increasing the danger of frostbite and hypothermia in freezing temperatures.

Some children will lose all sensation in the limb affected by Erb’s Palsy, and that lack of feeling can put their future health at greater risk. Depending on the severity of the condition, the affected individual can suffer from a reduction in muscle tissue in the affected arm, diminished sensations, poor circulation and a host of other problems. The affected arm may also be slower to heal and more prone to infection, making simple childhood injuries very dangerous.

It is possible for infants damaged at birth to recover from the effects of Erb’s Palsy, but the extent of the recovery depends on a number of external factors. Those factors include the speed of therapeutic or surgical intervention, the skill of the physical therapy team and the amount of time it takes to diagnose the condition.

The heartbreak associated with Erb’s Palsy is all the worse because the condition is often preventable. While some cases of Erb’s Palsy are unavoidable, caused by the position of the child in the womb and its movement through the birth canal, other cases are entirely preventable.

Preventable cases of Erb’s Palsy run the gamut, from doctors who are too quick to use forceps during delivery to mistakes that cause the nerves to be compressed for long periods of time. These cases could have been prevented, and the heartbreak suffered by their parents and other family members could easily have been avoided.

If your child is suffering from the effects of Erb’s Palsy, it is important to get a firm medical diagnosis and find out exactly what went wrong. Was the condition an unavoidable accident, or a preventable problem that could have been avoided with better training and medical care. Until you do your research, and contact an experienced attorney, you may never know what caused the Erb’s Palsy in your beloved child.

Living with Erb’s Palsy can be painful and debilitating, and the long lasting nerve and tissue damage can restrict the individual’s ability to work and live a normal life. The lifelong medical expenses can be just as devastating, leading to decades of deprivation and further heartbreak on the part of the parents. If your child was the victim of an avoidable injury during the birth process, it is important to seek legal help and guidance as soon as possible. By working with an experienced birth injury attorney, you could get a financial settlement that will help you care for your child – and eventually help your child care for themselves.