What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s palsy is an injury to the brachial plexus, a network of nerves that connect the arm and neck to the spine. A brachial plexus injury results in weakness or loss of movement of the arm. Erb’s palsy develops as a result of a birth injury and is often tied to medical negligence.

There Are Three Main Causes of Erb’s Palsy in Birth Deliveries

Paediatrics Child Health lists some common examples of how a difficult delivery can result in Erb’s palsy. Their report lists two main risk factors that can lead to Erb’s palsy, specifically—macrosomia (the baby is too large) and shoulder dystocia, which occurs when the baby’s head gets stuck during delivery.

More details on the common ways Erb’s palsy occurs is described below.

Breech in Labor Due to the Baby’s Size

Difficulties in childbirth are often noted as the most common cause of Erb’s palsy, particularly when the baby is larger than expected for a standard birth procedure. In emergencies, mothers may be sent to surgery for a Cesarean delivery (also known as a “C-section”), which involves making an incision across the mother’s abdomen and uterus to open the womb and take out the baby. While some mothers may schedule this delivery option in advance, C-sections are often performed to prevent the mother from dying during birth in high-risk scenarios.

The baby’s size can also disrupt the flow of delivery, either because the baby got stuck in the birth canal or is no longer in line with the birth canal. For example, in some cases, the baby’s head and neck pull to one side during the trip down the birth canal. This might occur because the umbilical cord got caught on one of the baby’s limbs or if the baby was in a misaligned position while sitting in the womb.

Breeches in labor can also occur due to pressure on the arms during a feet-first delivery. The doctor might have to pull on the baby’s legs, which might put too much strain on the baby’s arms. Alternatively, in head-first deliveries, a doctor might have to pull on the baby’s shoulders, which can also put too much pressure on the baby’s body.

Breech in Labor Due to the Baby’s Head Getting Stuck

Shoulder dystocia is another birth injury that can cause a breech birth and lead to Erb’s palsy. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) notes that shoulder dystocia can be frightening during deliveries, as this occurs when the baby’s head hits the mother’s pelvic bone and cannot pass through the birth canal.

Doctors must act quickly and maneuver the baby safely to avoid causing injury, but sometimes it is unavoidable. In these emergencies, a C-section may be necessary so that the mother and child remain safe.

These kinds of birth injuries are less common due to improved delivery techniques and the use of C-sections. Most modern cases of brachial plexus injury can be linked to medical malpractice.

Treatment Is Possible, but Damage from the Birth Injury May Be Permanent

While most babies will fully recover in about six months, some have more severe cases. The baby may have to undergo surgery to repair the damage they suffered. If the nerve roots are separated from the spinal cord, recovery becomes difficult, and the child will likely face permanent paralysis as a result of the birth injury.

Hire a Medical Malpractice Lawyer from Distasio Law Firm

If you are a parent of a child who sustained a birth injury like Erb’s palsy during delivery, you might be entitled to sue the medical practitioner, the facility, and other medical staff responsible for your and your baby’s safety. Alternative methods of delivery should be assessed during labor if an injury is possible. Failure to do so may be grounds for negligence and could entitle you to compensation for the damages your family faces as a result of your child’s birth injury.

Call Distasio Law Firm today at (813) 259-0022 for a free consultation with one of our team members and learn how one of our medical malpractice lawyers may be able to help with your case. We can evaluate your case and advise you on how to move forward. If you have more questions about what Erb’s palsy is, we advise you to discuss this with your physician.


Our main office is here in Downtown Tampa, Florida in the Channelside neighborhood. Office in Wesley Chapel and Largo are available by appointment only.

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