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What is brachial palsy and how will it affect my newborn?

Most expectant mothers hope for a healthy and happy newborn baby. For the majority of women, that is the end result of their pregnancy, labor and delivery. For some mothers, unfortunately, medical mistakes during labor or delivery can result in birth injuries that impact the child and mother for the rest of their lives.

Brachial plexus injuries are one of the more common forms of birth injury that result from medical mistakes or malpractice. In some cases, injuries during birth to the brachial plexus can heal within a few weeks. In other cases, these injuries can result in permanent disability for the baby.

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that travel from the neck and spine down through the arms. These nerves control the movement and use of the arm, hand, shoulder elbow and wrist. When these nerves are damages during labor or delivery by pulling, stretching or an accidental cut, the ability to control and use the arm can be reduced or even eliminated.

Pressure on the limbs, neck or back during birth can result in damage to the brachial plexus. These nerves can also get damaged by the scalpel used during Cesarean delivery. When that happens, your infant could end up with permanent injuries.

Brachial palsy can impact your child's quality of life

Getting the head and shoulder of a baby out of the birth canal can be a difficult process. Doctors or nurses may need to apply pressure, provide support or even turn the baby to ensure a safe delivery. Pressure on the arms and shoulder during delivery or pulling of the head to the side can easily result in damage to the brachial plexus. When that happens, your child, still in the process of birth, can sustain injuries he or she will have to deal with forever. Typically, parents and medical professionals will see symptoms of this injury shortly after birth.

Symptoms of a brachial plexus injury in a newborn include:

  • lack of movement in one arm or hands
  • lack of a Moro reflex (moving the arms when the position of the head changes suddenly)
  • holding the arm flexed against the body
  • decreased or nonexistent grip on affected side

If you or a medical professional notice that your baby isn't using one hand or arm, your infant may require additional testing. If a brachial plexus injury is found, doctors will conduct tests to determine how severe it is. In cases of minor tearing, physical therapy, including manipulations of the arm for range of motion and massage, can help the baby heal. Most infants respond to treatment within three to nine months. Those that don't may require surgery or could suffer from reduced mobility for life.

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