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Shoulder Dystocia: A Common Cause of Birth Injuries

BabyDespite the utmost care taken by the large majority of medical professionals, labor and delivery injuries do happen, especially to the newborn child. One of the most common causes is shoulder dystocia, a condition that can occur when a newborn is too large to fit through the mother’s birth canal. While it sounds like a minor inconvenience, it can in reality be quite dangerous for both mother and child, and a doctor who does not handle it correctly may be held liable.

Risk Factors of Shoulder Dystocia

Shoulder dystocia is comparatively rare when all live births are examined, with occurrences only in the single digits in terms of frequency; but it is nonetheless important to watch for because it cannot usually be prevented, only ameliorated. There are specific risk factors that a doctor should be able to warn about long before labor, and some that only occur after the onset of labor and delivery. These include:

  • The fetus being unusually large for its gestational age at delivery;
  • Being pregnant with twins - this may cause crowding and unusual positions for either or both babies;
  • Induced labor;
  • The mother being diabetic or having developed gestational diabetes;
  • Giving birth after the due date; and
  • Several other factors that are noticeable by medical professionals.

While these factors obviously do not guarantee that your child will experience shoulder dystocia at delivery, it does increase the odds, and a medical provider upholding their duty of care toward their patients will almost certainly mention any of these if they are present in your case. If no risk factors are mentioned, it may be a red flag.

Malpractice Situations

Shoulder dystocia is preventable in most situations. However, if a medical professional becomes aware that a baby is experiencing shoulder dystocia, they only have a few moments to act before lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain becomes an issue - this is because shoulder dystocia does not stop contractions, so the head may become lodged somewhere, or the umbilical cord may stop receiving oxygen. Such occurrences can lead to injury in the baby, such as cerebral palsy, Erb’s palsy and brain damage, all of which can be lifelong conditions that cause developmental and motor delays.

There are maneuvers that can be attempted, such as the McRoberts maneuver, which are designed to adjust the baby’s angle so a vaginal birth may still take place. However, if these fail, a cesarean section must be attempted. Sometimes, it can be difficult to successfully bring suit for alleged malpractice in this regard, however, because the timing of such decisions can be split-second. It will come down to what the judge and jury think is reasonable in terms of delay. Malpractice involves a doctor breaching their duty of care toward their patient; if a doctor waits a half-second too long to order a cesarean section, it may not be considered a material breach.

Contact a Birth Injury Attorney

Birth injuries can be complex to diagnose and tough to manage. If your child has been injured at birth, you will need an attorney who is both knowledgeable and compassionate. The skilled San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. know their way around the medical malpractice system and will work with you to ensure that your case is handled in the best way possible for you and your family. Contact us today to discuss your options. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Monterey, Alameda and San Benito.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.