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What Complications Can Happen Occur if Shoulder Dystocia Happens During Delivery?

The birth of a newborn is a monumental, joyous experience for many new parents. In many cases, childbirth happens without any significant problems or hitches, and the newborn baby is overall healthy. However, it is also not uncommon for problems to arise during childbirth. One issue that can arise is something called “shoulder dystocia.” This is when the baby’s shoulder gets “caught” inside the birth canal once the head has already crowned. While childbirth that involves shoulder dystocia can result in a healthy newborn, there is a chance that the baby can be injured during childbirth.

The primary complication for the child during delivery with shoulder dystocia is damage to the nerves in the back and shoulders of the baby, cerebral palsy, or, in extremely rare cases, death. Some of these injuries can happen despite a doctor’s best efforts, but injuries to the newborn baby can also happen when a doctor is negligent during the child delivery process.

For a free case review, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras’s Baltimore birth injury lawyers at (410) 694-7291.

What is Shoulder Dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia is a complication that can occur during childbirth, where the baby’s shoulder essentially gets stuck in the birth canal, so the child cannot fully exit the womb. While treatable, shoulder dystocia needs to be handled with care, as injuries can happen to both the mother and the child. Maternal injuries can include postpartum bleeding, perineal lacerations to both the vaginal area and sphincter, and rupturing of the uterus.

Shoulder Dystocia Complications for Newborns

A number of childbirth complications can happen because of shoulder dystocia, many of which our Laurel, MD birth injury lawyers can help you seek compensation for. Most immediately and noticeably, shoulder dystocia can make childbirth significantly less pleasant for the mother. However, there are a number of injuries that can happen to the baby during birth, where shoulder dystocia happens if the doctor is not careful.


Hypoxia is when a baby does not get enough oxygen when it is being born. It can be caused by shoulder dystocia as well as other things like the interruption of blood flow through the placenta. Hypoxia can be a contributing factor to conditions like attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, or cerebral palsy. In the most severe scenarios, lack of oxygen can result in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Cerebral Palsy

One of the most common consequences of shoulder dystocia is cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition where motor functions are inhibited. Signs and symptoms include weak and stiff muscles, tremors, and difficulty speaking. Cerebral palsy can also result in seizures or a poor sense of balance. Cerebral palsy can happen due to shoulder dystocia because the position the baby gets stuck in deprives the brain of oxygen.

Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s Palsy, also called a “breached brachial plexus,” is also a common condition that stems from shoulder dystocia. Erb’s Palsy happens when the nerves in the baby’s shoulder are damaged during birth. This is frequently because of shoulder dystocia. The condition can cause loss of sensation in the arm or even total paralysis of the affected area. Sometimes, the condition can be resolved with physical therapy or surgery, but the condition can also be permanent. Erb’s palsy can also result in stunted development around the affected area.

External Factors that Can Contribute to Shoulder Dystocia or Other Conditions

Sometimes, something the doctor did or failed to do may have contributed to shoulder dystocia or a condition caused by it. Generally, a doctor cannot control how difficult any particular childbirth is. However, if a doctor was negligent during the birth of your child and this resulted in an injury to them, you may have a claim against the doctor.


Forceps are tong-like devices that medical professionals use to help pull a baby out of the birth canal during a difficult birth. Forceps have been used for centuries by doctors to help deliver babies. However, they are not warranted in every circumstance, and misuse of forceps can injure the newborn during the delivery process. For example, improper use of forceps can injure a child if the doctor presses too hard on the newborn’s head. This can result in damage to the child’s brain. If a doctor misuses forceps or uses them when they are not needed, you may have a claim against them.


A “ventouse” is essentially a weak vacuum that sucks the baby out of the birth canal during a difficult birth. A soft suction cup is attached to the baby’s head and helps pull them out. Just like with forces, the misuse of a birth-assisting suction device for a vacuum delivery can put unnecessary pressure on the baby’s head and cause potentially lifelong injuries.

Missed Signs and Symptoms

Every childbirth is unique and will pose unique challenges. For that reason, doctors need to assess each parent individually and meet their childbirth needs. For example, some mothers will have a narrower cervix than others, so delivery may be more difficult. Similarly, the fetus may be particularly large, which could make birth more challenging. In these instances, the doctor needs to make a judgment call in accordance with medical standards about how to handle the birth process. If a doctor ignores what the mother says she needs or does not notice something they should have, complications during childbirth – like shoulder dystocia – can occur when they could have been avoided. If this leads to the baby getting injured, you could have a claim against the doctor because they did not live up to the standards a medical professional is supposed to exhibit.

Talk to Our Birth Injury Lawyers Today

Rice, Murtha & Psoras’s Parkville, MD birth injury lawyers can be reached at (410) 694-7291 to help with your case.