Standing Up For You

Newborn brachial plexus injuries may follow difficult deliveries

As expectant mothers approach their due dates, doctors regularly decide whether to proceed with a conventional birth or to recommend a cesarean section. If a woman is prone to a difficult delivery, her doctor may encourage the latter. 

During challenging childbirths, birth injuries are more common than with uneventful ones. A difficult delivery is a risk factor for brachial plexus injuries. 

Damage to shoulder nerves

The brachial plexus is a collection of nerves in and around the shoulder. These nerves control bodily movement, making it possible for the newborn to raise or lower his or her arm. 

After delivering a newborn baby’s head, doctors sometimes have difficulty with the shoulders. When tugging and maneuvering the shoulders out of the birth canal, doctors may inadvertently damage the brachial plexus. 

Damage to shoulder nerves may also happen in other ways. These include the following: 

  • Applying excessive pressure to the baby’s arm during a breech birth 
  • Pushing on the baby’s head or neck during a standard delivery 
  • Pulling the baby’s arms outward immediately after birth 

Potential for long-term harm

A brachial plexus injury has the potential to cause the newborn to have long-term consequences. Brachial plexus palsy, for example, is paralysis to the upper arm, lower arm, hand, wrists or fingers. 

If a newborn has brachial palsy, he or she may experience any of the following: 

  • A recurring stinging sensation in the affected arm 
  • Head and neck pain 
  • Loss of motion 
  • Muscular weakness 

Brachial plexus injuries may resolve with therapy. They may also require surgery or another type of medical intervention. Still, because some of these injuries have the potential to last forever, it may be important for new parents to seek specialist care.