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The causes and complications of shoulder dystocia

Although shoulder dystocia only appears in a small percentage of Maryland births, it can result in long-term health complications, permanent disability or even death in rare cases. This condition occurs when one or both of the infant's shoulders get stuck in the mother's pelvis, sometimes resulting in a difficult birth.

The majority of shoulder dystocia cases are caused by an infant who is larger than normal or if the mother's pelvis is too small. There are a number of other factors that can contribute to this birth condition, such as obesity, diabetes or if the mother is delivering more than one infant.

When the infant's shoulders become wedged, a number of birth injuries can occur due to the pressure coming from the mother's body as it tries to push the baby out. These injuries can include lack of oxygen, nerve damage or a broken arm or collarbone. The mother is also at risk for certain injuries, such as tearing of genitals, bruising to the bladder, rupture of the uterus or hemorrhaging. In the majority of shoulder dystocia cases, any injuries that do occur will heal with no future complications. In rare cases, an infant could suffer Erb's palsy, a potentially permanent condition caused by damage to the nerves.

Occasionally, harm to the infant or mother can occur if a doctor fails to correct shoulder dystocia during the delivery. Other mistakes can occur during the use of forceps or a vacuum, both of which can result in debilitating injuries to both mother and child. If shoulder dystocia occurs during a delivery as a result of a medical mistake or medical negligence, a family may have a basis to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor and the hospital. An attorney could utilize medical expert witness testimony to determine if the birth injury was due to a failure to exercise the requisite standard of care.

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