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Understanding Erb’s palsy

Here at Wilson & Parlett in Maryland, we understand that as an expectant mom, you become enormously excited whenever you think about the approaching birth of your beautiful new child. We also understand, however, that despite the precautions you take during your pregnancy to ensure your developing baby’s continued health and safety, you cannot control every aspect of your baby’s birth and delivery.

Birth injuries represent a possibility over which you have little or no control. For instance, your baby could suffer an injury during his or her birthing process that results in Erb’s palsy. While this injury happens in a scant 0.5 to 2.6 percent of live U.S. births, its results can be catastrophic.

Causes of Erb’s palsy

As the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine explains, Erb’s palsy affects your child’s brachial plexus nerves, i.e., those that extend from the spinal cord to the armpits and from there to the shoulders and arms. If the birthing process stretches these nerves, the resulting damage to them could weaken your baby’s arms, reduce feeling in them, or, if really severe, paralyze them.

While this sounds terrifying, be aware that many babies “outgrow” Erb’s palsy. If your baby is not one of these lucky ones, however, (s)he faces one or more eventual surgeries to prevent or minimize the risk of lasting problems with his or her arms and shoulders.

Risk factors

Your baby’s risk of Erb’s palsy increases under the following conditions:

  • If (s)he is unusually large at the time of birth
  • If you are a relatively small woman
  • If the doctor must use low or mid-level forceps to deliver him or her
  • If the doctor must use vacuum extraction to deliver him or her
  • If (s)he delivers during your second stage of labor
  • If one or more of his or her siblings is or was an Erb’s palsy victim

Early life treatment

If your new baby has Erb’s palsy, his or her doctors likely will not recommend immediate surgery. Remember, some babies “outgrow” this condition. The doctors consequently will likely recommend physical therapy throughout your baby’s first year of life to give him or her a chance to recover on his or her own.

For more information, please visit this page on our website. 

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