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Complications can cause brachial plexus injuries during birth

Parents who are anticipating the birth of a child are filled with joy. The birth process itself can always bring some apprehension, but most of the time there are no complications. Unfortunately, not all births go as planned and birth injuries can occur.

One such birth injury is known as Erb's palsy. This can happen during birth if the baby is presenting itself as breech or if his or her shoulders are stuck in the birth canal. The force used to remove the baby can damage the baby's shoulder nerves. A brachial plexus injury can occur when the shoulder is forced down causing an upper nerve injury.

The complications of Erb's palsy result in a weakness or a paralysis of the arm. The baby will have problems moving the upper arm and rotating the lower arm. Movement can be difficult because of stiff joints. The nerve damage can also cause chronic pain and loss of feeling in the hands or arms. It can take years for the nerves to heal causing the muscle that are affected to break down. Surgery may also be necessary to relieve symptoms. And in some cases, the nerves never fully heal and some people may suffer from a permanent injury.

The extent of an Erb's palsy injury to a baby may not be known right away. The baby may lack a Moro reflex (reaction when startled) on the injured side of his body. They may also hold their affected arm tight against their body. They may move their injured arm or hand very little or have a weak grip in their affected hand. The affected arm may also develop more slowly and be smaller than their other arm.

Source: Mayo Clinic, "Brachial plexus injury: Causes," accessed Oct. 16, 2014

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