Shoulder dystocia is a condition that can cause a newborn to suffer injuries at birth due to the shoulder becoming stuck in the mother’s birth canal. There are a few causes for this complication and a few risk factors that increase an infant’s chance of becoming stuck and injured this way. A competent doctor should be aware of these risk factors and when they are present, take precautions or alter the mother’s treatment plan to minimize the risk of her child getting stuck and being injured.
When a doctor fails to take these precautions and a child is injured, the child’s parents can suffer numerous damages. Some of these damages are financial, like lost wages due to having to devote time to the child’s treatment. Others are based on the loss of quality of life the child and parents suffer because of the injury. When a child’s injury is the result of a doctor’s negligence, the child’s parents may pursue compensation for damages through a birth injury claim.
Risk Factors for Shoulder Dystocia
Shoulder dystocia can happen when a newborn’s shoulder is trapped behind the mother’s pelvic bone during delivery, putting stress on the shoulder and brachial plexus. When shoulder dystocia occurs, the child is at risk of suffering a brachial plexus injury like Erb’s palsy or Klumpke’s palsy.
- The mother’s obesity;
- The infant’s high birth weight;
- Being part of a multiple birth;
- Induced labor;
- Birth happening after the mother’s due date;
- Gestational diabetes; and
- The use of forceps or a vacuum extractor to aid in the birth.
Shoulder dystocia can still happen when none of these risk factors are present, and one or more of them being present is not a guarantee that shoulder dystocia will occur.
Recognizing Shoulder Dystocia
Typically, physicians recognize that shoulder dystocia has occurred when a newborn’s face exits the birth canal, but retracts back into the mother’s body during birth. This is sometimes known as “turtle face” because it can look like a turtle peeking its face out of its shell.
Once a doctor recognizes that shoulder dystocia has happened, he or she should take steps to correct the issue and prevent the newborn’s risk of suffering a brachial plexus injury.
Treating Shoulder Dystocia
The steps doctors take to correct shoulder dystocia when it occurs include:
- Putting pressure on the mother’s pelvis in an effort to turn the baby;
- Rolling the mother onto her hands and knees to allow gravity to aid in birth;
- The McRoberts Maneuver, a position where the mother draws her legs into her chest to flatten and rotate her pelvis; and
- Reaching into the birth canal to manually move the newborn’s arms and make birth possible.
Injuries that result from shoulder dystocia are often injuries to the brachial plexus, the group of muscles and nerves in the shoulder and upper arm. Usually, these injuries are immediately apparent and can be treated with surgery and physical therapy.
Complications of Shoulder Dystocia
When shoulder dystocia occurs, both the mother and the newborn can experience short- and long-term complications. These complications are not common, and short-term complications are more common than long-term ones. Short-term shoulder dystocia complications include:
- Excessive bleeding for the mother;
- Tearing of the mother’s uterine, vaginal, or rectal muscles; and
- Broken bones and facial injuries for the newborn.
Symptoms of injuries resulting from shoulder dystocia include:
- Arm paralysis;
- Claw-like appearance in the affected hand;
- Nerve damage in the affected arm; and
- Pain and tingling in the affected arm.
It is quite rare for a baby who suffered shoulder dystocia at birth to experience permanent complications related to the condition. One rare complication related to shoulder dystocia is reduced oxygen flow to the baby’s brain, which can result in brain damage for the infant.
Usually, newborns who suffer injuries related to shoulder dystocia make full recoveries within a few months, provided they receive appropriate treatment for their injuries like physical therapy and when necessary, surgery.
Pursuing Compensation for Your Birth Injury Damages
When a child suffers a birth injury related to preventable shoulder dystocia, his or her parents can suffer the following damages:
- Lost wages due to spending time out of work;
- Emotional trauma;
- Reduced quality of life for the child;
- Pain and suffering;
- Medical expenses; and
- The child’s disfigurement.
A parent who wants to pursue financial compensation for his or her damages should be proactive about doing so. In Ontario, the statute of limitations for birth injuries is two years from the date the parent realized, or reasonably should have realized, that the child’s injury was related to a doctor’s negligence and the parent understood legal action was a viable option. However, this two-year limit does not begin, or “toll,” until one of the following conditions are met:
- The child turns 18; or
- A litigation guardian is appointed for the child.
The more evidence you have to demonstrate that your child’s injury directly resulted from a physician’s negligence, the greater your likelihood of recovering compensation for your damages will be. Working with an experienced birth injury lawyer will also increase your likelihood of recovering compensation because your lawyer understands the process of pursuing this type of compensation and can effectively negotiate with your doctor’s professional liability insurance provider on your behalf.
Work with an Experienced Toronto Birth Injury Lawyer
Shoulder dystocia can lead to serious injuries that can lead to substantial damages for parents. If your child is suffering from an injury related to shoulder dystocia because of a healthcare provider’s preventable mistake, you could be entitled to recover financial compensation for your damages through a birth injury claim. To learn more about taking this action and your rights as a parent, schedule your free legal consultation with one of the experienced Toronto birth injury lawyers on our team at Preszler Law Firm today.