Birth Injury - Erb's Palsy / Shoulder DystociaChildbirth is beautiful, but can also be a difficult process for the mother or the baby. There are numerous types of birth injuries that can cause serious harm to a baby, including shoulder dystocia and Erb’s palsy.

Shoulder dystocia refers to a medical emergency in which the baby’s shoulders remain stuck or lodged inside the mother’s pelvic bone during birth. While this condition is treatable, a doctor that uses excessive traction or tension on an infant with shoulder dystocia may tear the baby’s nerve fibers, which could then lead to paralysis of the hand or arm. This condition is known as Erb’s palsy. One or two of every 1000 babies suffer from Erb’s palsy.

Often times, shoulder dystocia during a difficult birth can trigger Erb’s palsy. The nerves in the brachial plexus give feeling and movement to a baby’s fingers, hand and arm, and so babies with this ailment are unable to move the affected upper arm or shoulder. Wiggling their fingers may be possible.

In some cases, the condition may affect the baby’s entire trunk, as well as disrupt the spinal cord’s ability to send messages through normal nerve impulses to the fingers, hand, wrist or arm. Babies suffering from this condition therefore appear to be paralyzed in the affected area of the arm.

Causes and risk factors of Erb’s palsy

Generally, Erb’s palsy happens during a difficult labor. It can occur in various ways:

  • When the baby passes the birth canal with the head turned to one direction and the arm being pulled in an opposing direction
  • When the baby is delivered with his or her face first
  • When the baby is delivered through the birth canal in breech position and the baby’s arms are being pulled backward over the head.

The risk of developing Erb’s palsy may triple if the infant develops shoulder dystocia.

Some other risk factors are:

  • Mothers who have previously given birth to a child with shoulder dystocia
  • Mothers who have had induced labor
  • The use of vacuum extraction tools or forceps during delivery
  • Small maternal size
  • Excessive maternal weight gain
  • Large infant size
  • Infants in breech position
  • Infants with high birth weight
  • The second stage of labor lasting for more than one hour

Signs and symptoms of Erb’s palsy

Symptoms of Erb’s palsy in a baby can range from signs of weakness to arm paralysis. Among the most common signs and symptoms to watch out for are:

  • A limp arm
  • Partial or full paralysis
  • A decreased grip with the hand of the affected side
  • Arm numbness
  • Missing Moro reflex
  • No motor function in the upper arm of the affected area
  • No sensory function in the upper arm of the affected area
  • Impaired muscular, nervous, and circulatory development


The negligent prevention or treatment of shoulder dystocia can lead to various other brachial plexus nerve injuries.

Infants with Erb’s palsy are often referred to a multidisciplinary treatment center. Other common treatment options for Erb’s palsy include special medical procedures, rehabilitative therapy, and surgery.

While minor cases of Erb’s palsy may improve with three to six months with regular physical therapy, approximately 70 percent of all cases will clear up within a year’s time with consistent and proper treatment. In rare cases, however, infants with Erb’s palsy may deal with lifelong issues such as abnormal muscle contractions or permanent functional loss in the affected arm.

Compassionate Ohio birth injury attorney ready to help

Erb’s palsy and other birth injuries are devastating to deal with, and can often result in extreme emotional and financial stresses for the child’s parents and loved ones. The Fitch Law Firm understands the enormous responsibility involved with conducting a thorough investigation of birth injury cases. While no amount of monetary compensation can reverse the damage already done, we will work tirelessly to hold the responsible parties accountable for their negligent actions, and help you obtain the compensation needed to have your child’s medical needs addressed at the soonest possible time.

If you have reason to believe that your child sustained a birth injury such as shoulder dystocia or Erb’s palsy because of the negligence of an Ohio medical professional or health care facility during your pregnancy, labor, delivery or following birth, call The Fitch Law Firm immediately. Our experienced, compassionate, and aggressive legal team will stand up for your rights and protect your best interests.

We are here to fight for you and help you get the justice you deserve. Call The Fitch Law Firm at 855-LAW-OHIO or fill out our online consultation form to schedule a free consultation with an Ohio birth injury lawyer.