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Understanding Erb’s palsy

As a Maryland mother-to-be, you likely spend a great deal of time thinking about the health, safety and welfare of your developing baby. You also probably do everything you possibly can to keep yourself safe so (s)he can be, too. Unfortunately, however, you cannot control everything, and a birth injury is one of the things you cannot control.

Thankfully, birth injuries occur relatively rarely in the United States. For instance, Erb’s palsy, one of the most common birth injuries, occurs in only 0.5 to 2.6 percent of live births. This is an injury to your baby’s brachial plexus nerves during the birthing process.

Erb’s palsy causes

Your baby’s brachial plexus nerves start at his or her spine and end in the arms, arriving there by way of the armpits. If these nerves become stretched during the birthing process, they can be injured, resulting in Erb’s palsy. Babies with Erb’s palsy have weakened shoulders and arms and possible loss of feeling or even paralysis in those parts of their bodies.

Many little ones eventually “outgrow” Erb’s palsy, but others fail to do so. Without surgical intervention, these children face a 20-25 percent risk of serious continuing arm and shoulder problems.

Risk factors

As stated, Erb’s palsy is a rare birth injury, but the risk of your baby being one of the unfortunate victims is greater under the following conditions:

  • (S)he is an especially large baby.
  • You are an especially small woman.
  • The doctor uses mid-level or low forceps to aid his or her delivery.
  • The doctor delivers him or her via vacuum extraction.
  • You are in your second stage of labor when (s)he delivers.
  • One of your older children had or has Erb’s palsy.

Erb’s palsy treatment

Despite your worry and concern if your infant suffers from Erb’s palsy, doctors can do little for him or her other than physical therapy during his or her first year of life. Since some babies spontaneously recover from Erb’s palsy, doctors are very hesitant to attempt drastic treatments, especially surgery, until your child has had a chance to “heal” himself or herself. Should your baby still suffer Erb’s palsy symptoms after his or her first birthday, however, (s)he likely faces one or more surgeries.

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