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Understanding the risk factors for shoulder dystocia

Complications during pregnancy or delivery can be emotionally and physically traumatic for a Massachusetts family. Fortunately, birth injuries don't happen with most deliveries, and most local deliveries are problem-free. Still, one birth injury is too much when such a situation is preventable. One potentially damaging injury is known as shoulder dystocia and involves trauma to the child's shoulder.

A baby emerging head-first is normally a good sign during labor, However, in some instances the baby's head will emerge but the shoulders will become stuck inside the mother. This can pose a threat to both the mother and the child. In addition, due to the fact that it is related directly to the labor process, it is often not discovered until it is actually occurring. If not addressed properly, shoulder dystocia may harm the nerves in a baby's shoulder, arm or hand. The complication can even lead to brain damage or death of the baby.

Are there risk factors for shoulder dystocia during labor? While it's possible for the complication to occur without the presence of risk factors, there are certain factors that may make shoulder dystocia more likely. These include the use of forceps or vacuums during a vaginal delivery, or a delivery involving an induced labor or epidural. A mother's risk factors include having diabetes, being obese, carrying multiple fetuses and giving birth after the baby's due date. Finally, if a woman gave birth in the past to a baby that experienced shoulder dystocia, the condition may be more likely to occur again.

Shoulder dystocia may also occur if the baby is extremely large. However, most large babies do not experience shoulder dystocia, and most babies that experience the complication are actually of normal weight. Nevertheless, an expecting mother's physician must appropriately address risk factors for any birth injury, including shoulder dystocia. Not doing so in certain circumstances may be negligence and can raise the possibility of a lawsuit to pursue compensation for injuries.

Source: March of Dimes, "Pregnancy complications," December 2013

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