Brachial Plexus (Shoulder) Nerve Damage Suffered by Newborns

“Only a few more pushes and she’ll be out.”

“Aaaaaaaargh!”

“There’s the head. Now relax for a second, you’ll feel a little pressure as I rotate your baby a little. Now push.”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!”

“A little more.”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarghhhhhhhhh!!!”

“Waaah...waaah...waah!”

“She’s out!”

This is pretty much the scene you experienced about an hour ago in the delivery room. Your wife was crushing your hand as she pushed, and you were wide eyed waiting for your baby girl to come into the world. Your wife is now passed out (Give her a break—she was in labor for 36 hours!), and you are standing outside the nursery, holding an icepack to your swollen hand, and gazing at the most beautiful girl in the world.

She’s absolutely perfect. She has 10 fingers, 10 toes, an adorable button nose, and her mother’s good looks (thank goodness). However, she somehow managed to get her arm twisted underneath her, so you gently knocked on the window to see if the nurse could help her out. She went over to your baby and attempted to reposition her. Your child screamed bloody murder and began to wave her other arm around as soon as the nurse touched her shoulder.

What happened? The nurse noticed your concern and tried to calm her down while she moved her delicate arm. When the nurse finally placed it on your daughter’s belly, it looked like a doll’s arm—motionless and fragile. Although she was still waving her left arm around and crying, the right arm remained still and slightly bent in at the shoulder.

The nurse motioned you toward the door and as you stepped in, she explained to you that she was going to get the doctor immediately, but you shouldn’t worry.

Shouldn’t worry!? Your daughter is barely an hour old and something has already happened to her that you couldn’t have prevented. 

What is going on? What is wrong with your baby’s arm?

Brachial Plexus Palsy and Shoulder Nerve Damage

Brachial plexus palsies are injuries that can happen during birth that stretch, snap or otherwise damage the brachial plexus nerves in your baby’s shoulders. The brachial plexus nerves are a network of nerves near the neck that control all of the nerves in the arm. These nerves provide movement and feeling to the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers. However, if these nerves are damaged, the resulting injury could lead to partial paralysis of the arm and shoulder.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, one out of every 1,000 newborns experiences some type of brachial plexus injury as a result of her head being overly forced to one side during delivery. When the head is stretched, the nerves become vulnerable for damage. Depending on the severity of the stretch, your baby could suffer one of four different types of injuries with varied physical results. The four types include:

  • Neurapraxia injury: when the muscle becomes stretched enough to "shock" the nerve, but not tear it. A neurapraxia injury is the most common form of brachial plexus palsy and will generally heal on its own within three months.
  • Neuroma injury: when the stretch causes enough damage to the brachial nerves that it creates obtrusive scar tissue. This scar tissue can press on the remaining healthy nerves, causing a "neuroma". Some, but not total, recovery usually occurs.
  • Rupture: when the stretch causes the nerve to be torn apart (ruptured). This type of injury will not heal on its own and could cause permanent damage. It can be repaired by grafting other nerves from your baby’s other shoulder onto the damaged nerves. However, full recovery is unlikely.
  • Avulsion: when the brachial nerves are torn from the spinal cord. It is unfortunately impossible to repair an avulsion injury and will cause permanent arm paralysis and possible spinal cord injuries as well.

Shouldering Your Responsibilities to Help Your Child

Your child deserves the best chance she can get in life. She doesn’t deserve the agonizing pain and consequences of a birth injury. Although you can’t protect her 24/7 for the rest of her life, thankfully, you can help her get the care she needs now.

If you believe your child sustained a brachial plexus nerve injury as a result of a careless, overzealous or incompetent delivery, she may deserve compensation for medical treatment. Contact us today for a free consultation and review of your family’s case. We know how difficult it can be to fight with hospitals and insurance companies. Let us give you the extra support you need to shoulder the stress. We know how hospitals work, we know insurance company games, and we know how to fight back. Call us today to help your baby get the treatment, support, and justice she and your family deserve.

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