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Understanding Erb's palsy and how it affects newborns

When a mother is experiencing a very difficult delivery with her baby, such as when labor is prolonged, the baby is large or the baby is presented in the breech position, a brachial plexus stretch injury can occur. This is also known as Erb's palsy.

The brachial plexis is a network of nerves that are intertwined that control sensation and movement in the hand, arm and shoulder. The nerves are either upper or lower nerves and when they are stretched, the baby could experience:

-- Loss of feeling in the arm

-- Weakness in the arm

-- Partial paralysis of the arm

-- Total paralysis of the arm

The most common cause for this condition is when the person helping with the delivery must exert some force to get the baby out of the birth canal. The nerves can be stretched when one side of the baby's neck is stretched, resulting in the injury.

Newborns who have Erb's palsy usually recover without surgical treatment. Your child's doctor will continue to examine your baby to make sure the nerves are recovering as they should. It can take up to two years for the nerves to completely recover. In the meantime, daily physical therapy is the most common treatment. Starting when the baby is about three weeks old, the parents will need to help the baby keep his or her range of motion in the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.

Surgical treatment may be suggested if there is no improvement by six months. Microsurgery is used to graft a donor nerve or to use a nerve from another muscle. It can be months or years to know if the surgery was a success. Additional surgeries may be needed as the child grows.

If your baby suffers from Erb's palsy because he or she was delivered too quickly or with too much force, you may want to speak with an attorney to learn more about your legal options in Newark.

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, "Erb's Palsy (Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy)," accessed March 11, 2016

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