Shoulder Dystocia

Shoulder dystocia is a very serious obstetrical complication that can result in lifelong injuries. It occurs during delivery when the baby’s shoulders are too large for the birth canal and become stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone. The head emerges, but instead of immediately being followed by the shoulders, the baby’s neck retracts – and the baby is now unable to move forward without immediate assistance from trained medical staff. Without such assistance, the baby can suffer brain damage or even death.

In a typical vaginal delivery, the baby’s head is the largest portion of the body to deliver, so that once the head emerges the rest of the body follows more easily. However, if a baby’s shoulders or chest are larger than its head, the chances for shoulder dystocia increase. Often larger babies or babies born to diabetic mothers will have a higher shoulder-to-head ratio.

There are multiple factors that raise the risk for shoulder dystocia, including:

  • Diabetes in mother
  • Obesity in mother
  • Baby is more than 41 weeks old at delivery
  • Mother has small pelvis
  • Mother’s height is short
  • Baby has higher-than-normal birth weight
  • Mother has previously delivered large baby or experienced shoulder dystocia during previous deliveries

Not all of these risk factors will result in a situation of shoulder dystocia, and this complication may also occur in deliveries without any of the risk factors. However, obstetricians are specifically trained to look for these potential red flags, so they can anticipate and be prepared when it does occur. When shoulder dystocia happens without any of the warning signs, the doctor must be ready immediately to assemble a team to help safely deliver the baby.

Experienced obstetricians will call upon other medical staff to assist, including a second obstetrician, additional nurses, a pediatrician, and an anesthesiologist. There are very specific procedures that doctors should follow in these cases, including emergency Cesarean sections – and both time and skill are of the essence. When those procedures aren’t followed, the baby can suffer traumatic and lifelong injuries.

While birth injuries may happen despite the best medical care, many instances of shoulder dystocia can be anticipated, preventing serious brachial plexus injuries. If the obstetrician does not pay attention to the known risk factors, or fails to take appropriate action once shoulder dystocia has occurred, the doctor may have acted negligently.

If someone you love has suffered a birth injury, the attorneys at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. can help you explore your legal options. For more information or to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, please contact Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard today.

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