Will My Baby’s Brachial Plexus Injury Cause Permanent Damage?

Crying infant

If you experienced a difficult vaginal delivery and later notice signs that your baby seems to be having trouble moving his arm or hand, he may have suffered an injury to the nerves around his shoulder known as the brachial plexus. Your doctor may tell you the weakness is temporary, but, in some cases, the damage is permanent and you may need the help of a medical malpractice attorney to get the financial assistance you will need to care for your baby.

How Did This Happen?

In a brachial plexus injury, the nerves in the shoulder area are damaged, which can cause weakness or paralysis in the baby’s arm. This can happen during difficult deliveries, including the delivery of larger-than-average babies, breech deliveries, and deliveries during which the shoulder gets stuck after the baby’s head emerges, known as shoulder dystocia. During these problematic births, any of the following can happen:

  • The infant’s shoulder is grabbed and pulled during a head-first delivery.
  • Pressure is put on the baby’s raised shoulder during a breech (bottom-first) delivery.
  • The baby’s head and neck are pulled to the side as the shoulders pass through the birth canal.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Depending on the extent of the damage to the nerves, the baby may demonstrate weakness in all or just part of his arm. While weakness restricted to just the upper arm is known as a brachial plexus injury, conditions affecting more of the arm are identified as follows:

  • Erb’s paralysis. In this condition, both the upper and lower parts of the arm are affected.
  • Klumpke paralysis. Along with the upper and lower arm, this condition also affects the hand, impeding the baby’s ability to make a fist or grasp objects.

Symptoms of the injury are usually apparent immediately after birth, but, with short hospital stays for new mothers, they frequently go unnoticed. Signs you may notice soon after bringing your baby home include:

  • No movement in the baby’s upper or lower arm or hand.
  • Absence of the Moro reflex—a movement reaction to a sudden loss of support—on the affected side.
  • Arm bent at the elbow and held against the body.
  • Weak or decreased grip on the affected side.

Gentle massage and range-of-motion exercises may help the newborn regain use of the arm. If the condition does not improve after a few weeks, a specialist should be consulted; surgery may be necessary.

Whose Fault Is It?

While you may not want to place blame on the doctor or hospital for your baby’s injury, the fact is that your baby did not have a brachial plexus injury before he was delivered. The doctor’s or midwife’s actions and the decision to not perform a Caesarian section led to the injury your baby has suffered. If the damage turns out to be permanent, your child will have a lifelong disability. Call us toll free at (217) 394-5885 to find out how we can help.