Causes and Consequences of Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries

Newborns’ fragile bodies are susceptible to a wide range of injuries before, during, and immediately after birth. One type of common birth injury is a brachial plexus injury.

The brachial plexus is a group of nerve fibers near the top of the spinal cord, near the shoulder. These nerves control movement in the shoulder, arm, and hand.

If a newborn’s shoulders become lodged behind the mother’s pubic bone during delivery, this can result in injury to the brachial plexus. The force of delivery, whether from the mother pushing or from medical personnel pulling, can place excessive force on the shoulders and cause nerve damage. Although most commonly seen in vaginal delivery, brachial plexus injuries can also happen during cesarean section delivery.

This type of injury is most often seen in larger newborns, especially those weighing over nine pounds. It can occur as a result of the infant being positioned feet-first, called a breech birth. It also happens more often when the mother has been in prolonged labor. Any of these circumstances should prompt medical personnel to be especially diligent in protecting the infant.

Brachial plexus injuries can lead to Klumpke’s palsy, Erb’s palsy, and total brachial plexus palsy. Paralysis, numbness, and impaired motor skills may occur. The symptoms of brachial plexus injury are commonly observed at birth, leading to diagnosis by x-ray or by testing the Moro reflex.

The Moro reflex is present in all newborns and is a reaction to a sudden loss of support, such as a feeling of falling. Newborns will quickly spread their arms then move them together in an approximation of a grasping motion. Asymmetry or absence of movement in either arm may be evidence of a brachial plexus injury.

There are four classes of severity of brachial plexus injuries. From least serious to most serious, they are:

  • an excessive stretching of nerves that does not tear them – this injury, called neuropraxia, heals without treatment;
  • an injury that stretches nerves to the point where a few are damaged, called a neuroma;
  • a tearing of nerves, known as a rupture; and
  • a severe tearing of nerves and separation of the brachial plexus from the spinal cord, known as an avulsion.

Avulsions unfortunately are the most common class of brachial plexus injury.

Medical negligence and medical malpractice can be contributing factors to brachial plexus injuries. Doctors must deliver newborns with precise and gentle force. When medical professionals are at fault, a birth injury attorney can help patients recover damages.

Contact a Tampa personal injury lawyer at Joyce & Reyes to learn more.