Understanding Erb’s palsy

On behalf of Wilt & Thompson, PLLC on Saturday, February 23, 2019.

As a Kentucky mom-to-be, you likely can hardly wait to welcome your new son or daughter into your family. The birth of a baby always tops the list of exciting and life-changing events in any parent’s life. And the last thing you want to think about is the possibility of your baby sustaining a birth injury such as Erb’s palsy during your labor and delivery.

You obviously realize that your baby, like you, has a system of nerves throughout his or her body that allows him or her to move and feel sensation. A person’s brachial nerves run from the spinal cord to the armpits and from there down the arms. Should your baby’s brachial nerves become stretched or otherwise injured during his or her birthing process, the result could be Erb’s palsy, a weakness or even paralysis of his or her arms.

Surprisingly for such a serious birth injury, some babies “outgrow” the effects of Erb’s palsy during their first year of life. Others, however, do not. In such cases, surgical intervention is the only way to prevent or minimize permanent damage.

Risk factors

You should be aware that your baby stands a much higher likelihood of suffering from Erb’s palsy under the following conditions:

  • If (s)he weighs more than usual at the time of his or her birth
  • If you are a smaller than usual woman
  • If your OB/GYN must assist your baby’s birth with vacuum extraction
  • If your OB/GYN must assist your baby’s birth with low- or mid-level forceps
  • If your baby delivers during your second stage of labor
  • If you have one or more older children who suffer(ed) from Erb’s palsy

To treat or not to treat?

As stated, some children spontaneously recover from Erb’s palsy. Consequently, most medical professionals agree that a very young baby faces more risk from undergoing surgery than (s)he does from Erb’s palsy. Your pediatrician may therefore recommend a wait and see approach if your baby suffers from it, only putting him or her on a course of physical therapy during his or her first year of life to minimize its effects.

Should your baby be one of those who does not spontaneously recover, however, then your pediatrician likely will recommend one or more surgeries. Without surgical intervention, your child could suffer debilitating Erb’s palsy effects throughout his or her life.


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