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What causes Erb's palsy in newborn babies?

As most New Mexico parents know, delivering a child is serious business and by no means easy, even if it all goes well. It is certainly stressful for the mother and can put other family members on edge until the baby has entered the world safely and in good health. Sometimes, though, even when delivery staff acts with caution, a newborn can still suffer injury.

In what ways can a baby be injured during birth? The procedures used to help a baby move through the birth canal can cause injury, especially if the head, neck and upper part of the torso are put under pressure. A set of nerves called the brachial plexus runs throughout this area, and a birth injury here can lead to paralysis in the baby's arms and sometimes even a fractured collarbone. Paralysis that affects both the upper and lower parts of the arm is known as Erb's palsy.

What are the signs of Erb's palsy? Children affected with this injury can display weaker arm movements for as long as 6 months after birth. Gentle massaging of the arm is recommended to start with. If the lack of development continues, the baby may need specialized treatment that could include surgery.

Are there ways to avoid birth injuries? Modern delivery methods include safer alternatives in many cases, but the specifics of each delivery are different and require the obstetrician to identify the situation correctly and quickly to ensure that the best procedure possible is being used. Certain circumstances such as breech delivery heighten the risk of injury to the baby. A caesarean section may be the better option when a delivery appears to be especially complicated.

Risks attend any birthing procedure, and these must be carefully considered by both the physician and the mother.

Source: NLM.NIH.gov, "Brachial plexus injury in newborns," accessed on Feb. 11, 2015

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