If you are a parent who was just informed that your newborn baby has suffered a permanent injury as a result of shoulder dystocia during delivery, then you are probably going through a lot of intense emotions right now with several questions running through your head. Our experienced shoulder dystocia lawyers at Sommers Roth and Elmaleh are here to help you find the answers that you need.
While medical care providers might try and make excuses as to how your baby’s injury occurred, the fact is that most birth injuries can be avoided through careful monitoring, planning, and quick action by the healthcare provider. However, when medical providers fail to act correctly and injury or harm results, then they can be held responsible for their negligence.
What is shoulder dystocia?
Shoulder dystocia is an emergency medical condition that occurs during delivery where the baby’s shoulder gets stuck inside the womb after its head passes through the vaginal canal. This is typically caused when the baby’s body is wider compared to the mother’s vaginal opening during labour.
Here are some factors that can increase the risk of shoulder dystocia:
- Having a history of shoulder dystocia in a previous vaginal delivery
- If the head of the baby is disproportionately larger than its body
- If the mother suffers from diabetes
- If the mother has excessive weight gain (over 35 pounds) during pregnancy
- Maternal obesity
- Post-dated pregnancy
- If there is instrument-assisted vaginal delivery needed (vacuum, forceps, or both)
- If the mother has a short stature
How does shoulder dystocia affect the baby?
As a birth complication, shoulder dystocia can result in serious long-term effects for the baby. One of the major concerns is the loss of oxygen while the baby is stuck in the birth canal, which can result in damage to the baby’s brain, or, in the worst cases, death. Oxygen deprivation can also result in long-term health effects such as epilepsy, attention deficit disorder, or cerebral palsy, which will affect your child for the rest of their life.
The medical providers attending the birth might try to physically pull the baby out, which can result in additional injuries. Most commonly, infants will suffer from broken bones, facial deformities, or other injuries when this occurs. Babies might also develop any number of nerve damage disorders like Erb’s palsy, brachial plexus palsy, and Klumpke palsy, which results in lifelong developmental and physical disability for the baby.
How will shoulder dystocia affect the mother?
As an outcome of the doctor’s effort to remove the baby, the mother may suffer lasting medical consequences. Almost 11 percent of all cases involving shoulder dystocia will result in postpartum maternal bleeding. Severe tearing may also occur. A more severe consequence is a uterine rupture, which results in the mother becoming disabled or unable to carry another child. In even more extreme situations, uterine ruptures can lead to the mother’s death.
How is shoulder dystocia treated?
Once doctors diagnose shoulder dystocia, they will typically perform any of the techniques below for a successful vaginal delivery:
- Episiotomy: A cut is made from the vagina towards the anus to increase the vaginal opening for an easier delivery.
- McRoberts Maneuver: The mother will be asked to bend their knee and pull the thighs over the stomach.
- Suprapubic pressure: Doctors manipulate the lower abdomen externally at the pubes and apply pressure over the shoulder of the baby in a downward motion to rotate the baby’s shoulder.
- Internal rotation: The doctors might first perform an episiotomy in order to gain entry to the vagina. Then, they will insert two fingers into the vagina and rotate the baby’s shoulder internally. At the same time, the doctor might apply pressure over the abdomen with the other hand.
How do negligent medical providers cause shoulder dystocia?
Medical staff including doctors, nurses, and midwives will need to be ready to act immediately if they diagnose or have a suspicion of shoulder dystocia. Any medical professional who is experienced in labour and delivery should know all of the most effective and common methods for reducing the severity of the condition, or they should know how to lessen the severity of any injuries that may occur.
It is up to the medical practitioners to provide the mother and the baby with proper emergency care, and to use the right procedures to reduce damage and risk of serious injuries related to shoulder dystocia. Healthcare providers should be able to diagnose shoulder dystocia and to use the safest and most effective methods for delivering in a way that reduces harm to both mother and child.
Can shoulder dystocia be prevented?
In many cases, shoulder dystocia cannot be prevented because it is an unexpected complication of vaginal delivery. However, any professional healthcare provider should be able to detect when shoulder dystocia is likely to occur. Any failure to order a cesarean or any failure to take other proper actions to prevent shoulder dystocia can be a sign of medical malpractice on the part of the doctor.
Although shoulder dystocia or other birth defects are not always someone else’s fault, the way they are handled or treated often are. This is because they should be diagnosed before they are able to cause serious harm, and the appropriate interventions should also be attempted to keep both mother and baby as safe from harm as possible. Unfortunately, not all medical professionals are as observant as they should be, and this can then result in serious injuries.
If you believe that your obstetrician or healthcare provider’s negligence has caused your baby’s shoulder dystocia, you have the option to investigate your legal rights and options.
Disclaimer and Liability Exclusion
The information on this page is provided for general information purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice. It does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Readers should seek specific legal advice regarding any specific legal issues. We do not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness or quality of the information on this page. The posts on this page are current as of their original date of publication, but they should not be relied upon as timely, accurate or fit for any particular purpose.
Accessing or using this web site or the content herein does not create a lawyer-client relationship.
This page may contain links to third party web sites. We are unable to, and do not, monitor and guarantee the quality of the information disseminated and accessible through those links, which are provided for convenience only. We do not endorse the information contained in linked web sites nor guarantee its accuracy, timeliness or fitness for a particular purpose.