Answers to Commonly Asked Erb’s Palsy Questions

Crying newborn with an arm sticking outThere are several different types of injuries that babies can sustain during childbirth. One type of physical injury that a baby may suffer at birth is Erb’s palsy. This type of birth injury can also range from mild to severe. If you believe your baby suffered Erb’s palsy at the hands of a negligent doctor, you will likely want to learn all you can about it.

What Is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s palsy is the condition a baby may be diagnosed with when paralysis of the arm occurs. This type of birth injury occurs when the group of nerves called the brachial plexus (located near the neck) are injured during childbirth. As a result, a baby’s arm will hang limply, and the child may not be able to move his or her shoulder and upper arm. A baby with this injury is usually able to move his or her fingers; however, sometimes the injury can be so severe that the baby’s affected arm is totally paralyzed.

How Can I Tell if My Baby Has Erb’s Palsy?

Unlike some other birth injuries that take time to observe and diagnose, Erb’s palsy is generally evident by the limpness of the affected arm. The most common way a baby shows signs of Erb’s palsy is when the affected arm is limp against the side of the body and bent at the elbow. Another sign that a baby may have Erb’s palsy is if he or she cannot grip or has a weaker grip in the hand on the affected side.

What Causes Erb’s Palsy?

This type of birth injury generally occurs as a result of a difficult birth. For example, when a baby is stuck in the birth canal, an obstetrician may pull on the baby’s shoulder or arm to get the baby out of the birth canal. If the doctor uses too much force or pulls or twists the arm of shoulder in the wrong direction, the baby’s brachial plexus nerves can be damaged, resulting in Erb’s palsy. This can also occur when a doctor uses forceps or a vacuum extractor incorrectly at birth. Large infants and babies in the breech position are at higher risk for suffering Erb’s palsy.

What Are the Effects of Erb’s Palsy?

Because Erb’s palsy causes a weakness in the arm, the affected arm may have limited range of motion or no movement. Another long-term effect of this type of birth injury is a loss of feeling in the affected arm. Although most babies who suffer Erb’s palsy will be able to make partial or full recoveries through physical therapy and/or surgery, there are some severe cases in which treatment doesn’t help a baby recover movement and feeling in the injured arm.

Unfortunately, the effects of such an injury can be long lasting if the baby isn’t able to make a full recovery. Everything from the cost of rehabilitation and surgery to the future livelihood of the injured child are unfortunate effects of Erb’s palsy. This is why it is critical that parents of a baby who suffered an arm injury at birth should speak with an attorney about their rights.

For more information about your potential medical malpractice claim, request a free copy of our book, Do I Have a Case? A Patient’s Guide to Virginia Medical Negligence Law.