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Can doctors predict shoulder dystocia?

Birth InjuryNews   June 8, 2018

Shoulder dystocia occurs during vaginal births when the baby’s shoulders get stuck during a vaginal birth even though the baby is in the normal birthing position (with his or her head facing downward).

It’s incredibly dangerous. Both the baby and the mother can die if the baby can’t be freed. It was one of the most common causes of death for mothers and babies during natural births prior to the invention of the cesarean section.

Unfortunately, doctors cannot totally prevent it from happening. However, while shoulder dystocia can’t be totally predicted in all cases, there are risk factors that doctors should use when evaluating the possibility. They include:

  • The presence of gestational diabetes in the mother, which leads to abnormally large babies
  • A prior birth where the child was unusually large (especially since subsequent children are often larger)
  • A prior incident of shoulder dystocia
  • A pregnancy that has already exceeded its normal term (passing the 40th week of gestation)
  • A male baby (because they are typically larger)
  • The mother is significantly overweight or has gained a lot of weight during the pregnancy

In addition to the potential for death, mothers may experience a torn uterus, a damaged cervix, a torn rectum and torn vagina. The complications and bleeding can be immense.

A baby that is delivered alive after shoulder dystocia may suffer oxygen deprivation that causes brain damage. He or she may also suffer nerve damage that leaves his or her shoulders and hands paralyzed — which may be permanent.

When a health care provider pays attention to the signs, he or she should consider doing a C-section to prevent the issue. Failing to do so in the face of numerous indicators that shoulder dystocia is likely to occur could be negligence.

Birth injuries can affect both mother and child. They often leave both damaged for life. Anyone suffering from a physician’s failure to take all the available facts into account before proceeding with a natural birth should consider their legal options carefully.

Source: March of Dimes, “Shoulder Dystocia,” accessed May 25, 2018