How Does Shoulder Dystocia Occur?

There are numerous birth injuries that can occur, many of which are serious and can impact a child’s life. One of those that can occur and create problems is shoulder dystocia. This is a difficult condition for many parents to understand, but it is imperative to recognize the symptoms and how it occurs.

Because of the impact that shoulder dystocia can have on a child and the potential for negligence to play a role in causing this condition, we want to explain the various ways in which it can occur. This can give parents an idea of the situations that may arise, what to expect moving forward, and what options may be available to take legal action.

While there are some maternal situations to consider with shoulder dystocia, there are also acts of negligence that may warrant a birth injury lawsuit. Here’s what you need to know about shoulder dystocia, how it can occur, and what happens next.

What Is Shoulder Dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia is considered a medical emergency because it can result in serious injuries to the baby and the mother. This is a condition that typically occurs in the second stage of labor when the mother is pushing to deliver the baby and his or her shoulder is stuck behind the mother’s sacrum or pelvic bone (the birthing canal).

The pressure used to get the baby out in a vaginal birth can be dangerous and result in significant harm. While it is still possible for a baby to suffer shoulder dystocia as a result of a cesarean section, an emergency c-section may be required to help prevent the baby from sustaining a birth injury.

However, shoulder dystocia is much more common in vaginal births and occurs in roughly 1 in every 200 births. Shoulder dystocia impacts the baby’s nerves, as well as their oxygen levels, but can also lead to the mother suffering tears or hemorrhaging.

When shoulder dystocia occurs, you may need to be moved into a position that allows for a better delivery. If you’re not turned, it could be dangerous to your baby and negligence may be considered a potential cause.

How Do I Know if I’m at Risk?

Risk factors for shoulder dystocia widely vary. While it is a condition that can happen in any pregnancy, there are some situations that can increase the potential of shoulder dystocia happening. These don’t make the prevention of it any easier, but providers can be more aware of the possibility of the condition and plan accordingly. Here are some of the risk factors to consider:

  • Macrosomia: This is the medical term for when your baby weighs more than 8 lbs. 13 oz at the time of birth. It is a potential problem as it means your baby is too big for the birth canal and can result in the baby getting stuck behind the pubic bone. Typically, your doctor should be aware of the baby’s weight before birth to determine if an emergency c-section is necessary to deliver the baby.
  • Previous shoulder dystocia: If you had a previous pregnancy in which shoulder dystocia occurred, it could mean an increased risk of it happening again in the current pregnancy. You should ensure your doctor knows about your history and whether shoulder dystocia has occurred before.
  • Obesity: Shoulder dystocia is more common in women who are obese or who gained too much weight during their pregnancy. This can also occur when expecting twins or triplets.
  • Labor induction: Doctors may induce labor that goes on too long and the use of certain medication can increase the risk of shoulder dystocia.

Epidurals, very short or long labor, and assisted vaginal birth can all play a role in causing shoulder dystocia as well.  

What are Long-Term Problems Associated with Shoulder Dystocia?

The effects of shoulder dystocia vary by severity and it’s important to know that both the baby and mother can suffer serious harm. Understanding the potential harm can help parents understand the options available to them.

For the baby, the potential injuries typically include arm and collarbone fractures, damage to the nerves that go from spinal cord to the arm (brachial plexus), and asphyxia, which is reduced oxygen flow. These can lead to other potential problems for the baby—such as possible co-conditions.

For the mother, there is an increased risk of perineum tearing which would require surgery to be properly repaired. There may also be the possibility of hemorrhaging (heavy bleeding) or uterine rupture—this is rare and doesn’t happen as often as the other problems.

Are There Any Treatment Options Available?

There are treatment options that can help with shoulder dystocia, but there are also ways your doctor may try to prevent it from happening in the first place. Understanding prevention possibilities, as well as what treatment can help you and/or your baby can be very helpful.

In terms of treatment options for the baby, the after-birth care is imperative to repairing fractures and potential nerve damage. If there is oxygen deprivation, it can be even more damaging and there may be no treatment other than to monitor the baby and determine the needs moving forward.

Preventing the baby from shoulder dystocia can be easier than trying to treat the problem. There are certain steps that the provider may take, including the following:

  • Trying to move you into a better position, such as putting your knees up and having your thighs by your belly (this is referred to as the McRoberts maneuver
  • Pressing above the pubic bone, creating suprapubic pressure to help get the baby through the birth canal
  • Helping move the baby through the birth canal by guiding his or her arms through
  • Reaching to try and turn the baby into a better position that would allow for the mother to push without causing a fracture or other problems
  • Opting to go with an emergency C-section to deliver your baby

It’s imperative for doctors to recognize what they can do to prevent the baby or mother from suffering significant injuries.

What to Expect Next

If your baby recognized signs of shoulder dystocia, but there was no action to fix the situation, they may be considered negligent in their actions. It’s important for you to understand your rights and how this positions you to take legal action against the responsible party to pursue compensation for future medical needs your baby may have as a result.

At Beam Legal Team, we prioritize the rights of families who have been harmed because of doctor negligence. We work hard because we know how much you need it during a difficult time, and pursuing justice and compensation is of the utmost importance to you.

Count on our Chicago birth injury attorneys to stand by your side and guide you from start to finish in complex legal matters. We’ll work hard to hold medical professionals fully accountable when it’s their actions (or inactions) that result in babies suffering harm that can impact their entire lives moving forward.

To speak with us in a free consultation and better understand your rights, we encourage you to call our firm today at (866) 766-3806. You can get answers to your questions, have your concerns addressed, and get the peace of mind you deserve.

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