What is shoulder dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia occurs when one or both of a baby’s shoulders get stuck in the mother’s pelvis during the delivery. It is a rare, but frightening injury that can cause serious complications for the mother and for the baby.

When a baby becomes stuck in the birth canal due to shoulder dystocia, pressure from the mother’s body to force the baby out can result in a number of injuries to either of them. Complications for the baby include lack of oxygen, nerve damage, or a broken arm or collarbone. For the mother, complications include hemorrhaging and tearing or bruising of her vagina, cervix, rectum, or bladder.  

Most of the injuries caused by shoulder dystocia do not have any long-term complications. Typically, they heal within six months to a year. In rare cases, however, shoulder dystocia can cause permanent disabilities or even death. For example, if the baby loses oxygen for a prolonged period of time, the baby can have permanent brain damage.

There are many causes of shoulder dystocia. The most common cause is that the mother’s pelvis is very small and/or that the baby is abnormally large. Some mothers may have a higher risk of shoulder dystocia, such as if the mother is giving birth to multiple babies or if the mother is obese. It is important that the physician discuss these and other risk factors with the mother prior to the delivery.

Although mothers should be aware of risk factors, shoulder dystocia unfortunately cannot be prevented. It is usually discovered after the mother goes into labor. In some cases, the condition may result from the physician’s error or negligence. When a physician fails to recognize or properly address shoulder dystocia, this may be the basis for a medical malpractice claim.  

If you or your baby suffered as a result of shoulder dystocia or another pregnancy-related injury, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. The attorney can help you evaluate whether you have a claim and if you are entitled to damages as a result. 

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