Is Erb’s Palsy Caused During Pregnancy?

Erb’s palsy is a condition that affects infants in ways that sound similar to cerebral palsy, but it has different causes and lifelong effects. Both conditions cause impaired movement and mobility, but the parts of the body affected are different.

Cerebral palsy is a brain disorder that can affect virtually the entire body, including the brain, and children with the condition can have effects ranging from impaired balance and coordination to learning disabilities, vision and hearing problems, and even intellectual disabilities. Cerebral palsy can be caused during pregnancy, especially when babies develop infections, are deprived of oxygen, or experience trauma in the womb. It can also be caused during delivery or even during infancy.

Erb’s palsy is a neurological injury caused by damage to the brachial plexus—a group of nerves that travel from the neck to the shoulder area—that typically only affects babies’ shoulders and forearms. Their cognitive abilities aren’t impacted by it. Unlike cerebral palsy, Erb’s palsy is NOT caused during pregnancy. However, it CAN be caused during delivery, especially when healthcare providers are negligent.

What Causes Erb’s Palsy?

Although cerebral palsy can be caused by birth injuries, Erb’s palsy is SOLELY caused by birth injuries. That means that it never occurs in utero, but only during the actual delivery process. It’s typically caused by excess pulling or stretching of an infant’s head or shoulders during birth. It can also be caused by pressure put on the infant’s arms if the baby is born feet-first.

What Types of Injuries Are Associated with Erb’s Palsy?

When the scenarios listed above occur, a baby can suffer an injury in their brachial plexus. They may suffer from one or more of these types of nerve injuries:

  • Neuropraxia—These are temporary injuries that are the result of nerves being stretched.
  • Neuroma—These are long-term injuries that are the result of nerves being significantly stretched.
  • Rupture—These are long-term injuries that are the result of nerves being torn.
  • Avulsions—These are long-term injuries that are the result of nerves being completely torn from the spinal cord.

What Are the Risk Factors of Erb’s Palsy?

Doctors are supposed to be on the lookout for potential risk factors that can increase the likelihood of babies developing Erb’s palsy. These risk factors include:

  • Large size (higher than normal weight and length)
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Small pelvis in the mother
  • Birth conditions necessitating the use of forceps
  • Breech position at delivery
  • Long labor

How Does Erb’s Palsy Affect Infants Who Have It?

Babies who suffer from Erb’s palsy face varying degrees of disability based on the type and severity of paralysis that they incur. Common symptoms of all severity include:

  • Arm weakness
  • Reduced mobility and motion in the upper body, arms, hands, and fingers
  • Poor grip strength
  • Arm numbness
  • Partial or total arm paralysis

What Is the Prognosis for Infants Who Have Erb’s Palsy?

The prognosis for infants who are diagnosed with Erb’s palsy depends on the type of injury they suffered to their brachial plexus. If the nerves were mildly or moderately stretched, they can recover within a matter of months after birth. However, if the nerves were severely stretched or torn, they will never recover on their own and may need surgical intervention in addition to physical therapy.

Babies who don’t recover fully, whether it’s because of a severe injury or lack of treatment, may face challenges in life due to upper body weakness. For example, they may find it difficult to do everyday activities as they get older, including holding a bottle or toy. When they become adults, they may be unable to work in many occupations.

We Help Families Impacted by Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s palsy is often preventable. Doctors, midwives, and other healthcare professionals should be ready to deal with any potential birth complications that can increase the risk of Erb’s palsy, and they should never apply excessive force during the delivery process. When they fail to do their due diligence, or they fail to exercise caution when using forceps or other extraction methods, they should be held accountable when babies are injured.

If your child developed Erb’s palsy because of a negligent medical provider, the Indiana birth injury lawyers at Wagner Reese are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation. You shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for a birth injury that wasn’t your fault, and it’s our goal to get you maximum compensation.