“My doctor says my baby has Erb’s Palsy. What does that mean?”

by John McKiggan

I was asked this question the other day by a new mom. As a medical malpractice lawyer in Halifax, I frequently get calls from parents throughout Atlantic Canada whose babies have suffered a birth injury.

Usually they want to know how the injury happened or if the injury was caused by anything the doctors or nurses did during the mom’s labour and delivery. Sometimes they just want someone to explain the medical terms the doctors have used.

Erb’s palsy and Brachial plexus injuries

Which brings me back to this mom’s question. I explained to her that Erb’s palsy is a type of injury to the brachial plexus (a network of nerves that runs from your neck to your shoulder and into your arm down to your hand).

If the brachial plexus nerves are stretched or torn, it can reduce movement and function in the hand, arm, and shoulder. Usually, the more serious the injury to the nerve the more significant the loss of function will be.

I explained to this young mom that Erb’s palsy is a specific type of injury to the brachial plexus nerve (called an avulsion) where the brachial plexus nerve is completely torn.

If the injury is not corrected the baby can lose some or all of the function in his or her arm.

What causes Erb’s palsy?

As I have already explained, Erb’s palsy is caused when the brachial plexus nerve is torn. The real question is what created the force that caused the brachial plexus nerve to tear?

Shoulder Dystocia

The vast majority of Erb’s palsy injuries are caused when a baby experiences shoulder dystocia during birth. Put simply, shoulder dystocia means that one (sometimes both) of the baby’s shoulders get “stuck” in the birth canal.

There are a variety of techniques that a nurse or doctor can use to successfully deliver a baby who experiences a shoulder dystocia.

However, in some cases, excessive force from pulling, vacuum extraction or the use of forceps can unnaturally stretch the baby’s shoulder to the point where the brachial plexus nerve is torn.

According to the Canadian Pediatrics Society, birth trauma is the most common cause of Erb’s palsy.

Most Babies Recover

Fortunately, 75% of infants completely recover full function of their arm within the first month after birth. However, 25% of babies who have suffered a brachial plexus injury go on to experience some form of permanent impairment and disability.

More Information

I gave this new mom a copy of the article I have written about the Erb’s palsy injuries.

I also thought it might be helpful for her to read “The Facts About Erb’s Palsy”, an article written by a young lady who suffered an Erb’s palsy injury during her delivery.

Finally, I suggested she take a look at Spencer’s Birth Injury , a blog published by two new parents of a little fellow who suffered an Erb’s palsy injury during his delivery.

Have any questions? You can cal me toll-free in Atlantic Canada at (888) 647-7201 or you can contact me through our website.

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