Shoulder dystocia is one of the most feared complications of any birth. It occurs when the baby’s shoulder nearer to the mother’s abdomen gets stuck behind the pubic bone. Shoulder dystocia is an obstetrical emergency because often the umbilical cord is compressed, shutting off the baby’s oxygen supply.
It can lead to serious injuries to the child including Erb’s palsy, brain damage, and even death. Erb’s palsy is an injury to the upper roots of the brachial plexus, a nerve bundle in the armpit that supplies nerves in the upper arm. This injury causes paralysis of the upper arm muscles causing the arm to hang limply close to the side.
Most injuries resulting from shoulder dystocia, including Erb’s palsy, can be avoided if the doctor heeds the warning signs of a potential shoulder dystocia or treats the dystocia appropriately once it is apparent.