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Shoulder dystocia is a term that describes a condition that occurs when the shoulders of a baby get stuck in their mother’s birth canal during vaginal delivery.

The condition is common, with about one in 200 children experiencing some kind of shoulder difficulty upon delivery.  Shoulder dystocia can involve one or both shoulders.   While most episodes of shoulder dystocia do not result in injury, the trauma associated with some births can lead to a myriad of short- and long-term complications.

Labor and delivery are usually a well-orchestrated dance between the body of mom and baby.  When the baby moving through the birth canal assumes a position at odds with the unique geography of the pelvic environment—the shoulders of the baby can become wedged behind the pubic bone.  “Dystocia” means difficulty at birth, in this case, particularly with the shoulders.

Risk factors for shoulder dystocia

Dystocia can occur spontaneously during the birth process, but certain factors can inform a physician that shoulder dystocia could be a problem:

  • Pre-existing conditions for mom: A mother with diabetes or who develops gestational diabetes is at higher risk for shoulder dystocia during birth.  Because of the glucose imbalance caused by these conditions, a child may grow larger than average size.  The larger a baby, the more difficulty he or she may have exiting the body naturally.  With larger babies, a physician may advise a scheduled c-section to avoid the complication of shoulder dystocia.
  • Multiple births: Singletons are at less risk for shoulder dystocia than twin or triplet births.
  • Larger babies: Related to the difficulties caused by diabetes, some babies are large, over the average of about eight pounds 13 ounces.  This is a condition called   Based on size, medical history, and relative anatomy, an obstetrician may, or may not, advise a c-section for a larger baby.
  • Birth trauma: Decisions by healthcare providers and processes undertaken can contribute to, or cause, shoulder dystocia.  The use of oxytocin to initiate labor, the timing and use of epidural medications to relieve pain during birth, use of forceps or vacuum, or intense pressure used by the healthcare provider to deliver the baby can cause shoulder dystocia.
  • Previous shoulder dystocia: A delivery which was complicated by shoulder dystocia increases the risk of the same occurrence in future vaginal births.

The arm or collarbone may be broken during resolution of a shoulder dystocia. The trauma of shoulder dystocia can lead to stretching or tearing of nerve roots that cause permanent nerve damage and loss of arm function.  If the head is entrapped, a baby may suffer from lack of oxygen leading to brain injury. Mom may experience postpartum hemorrhage or perineal damage.

Failure by healthcare providers to recognize the risk factors for shoulder dystocia or to utilize recognized measures to safely deliver the child may result in permanent neurologic injury.  If you or your child is injured due to a medical mistake during birth, reach out to our experienced legal team.

Knowledgeable injury attorneys help you after serious medical injury

Recognized for excellent service to their clients, the law firm of Schochor, Staton, Goldberg, and Cardea, P.A. provides trusted legal service after birth injury.  We offer a free consultation.  Contact us or call 410-234-1000 today.