Shoulder Dystocia

Shoulder dystocia occurs when an infant’s shoulders get stuck while descending through the birth canal. Generally, the complication prolongs delivery, because further intervention is necessary. Doctors must quickly identify what is wrong and adjust their procedure accordingly to help the baby’s shoulder move. Naturally, such an emergency requires careful and delicate work.

What Causes Shoulder Dystocia?

Many factors can lead to shoulder dystocia. Delivering a large baby, having twins or triplets, or delivering past the due date can all increase the risk of the complication arising.
Moreover, if the mother is obese, has gestational diabetes, or had to use labor induction, the chance of shoulder dystocia is much higher. Women who suffer from diabetes are six times more likely to face shoulder dystocia during delivery. Women who’ve experienced the condition from previous pregnancies are more vulnerable, too.
Finally, resorting to assisted delivery instruments, such as forceps or vacuum extractors, can result in shoulder dystocia and is considered the most common cause of this birth injury, according to Mater Mothers’ Hospital.

What Are the Symptoms of Shoulder Dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia can be identified if the baby’s head is protruding out of the birth canal but the rest of the body is not moving along. Doctor’s refer to this occurrence as “the turtle sign”, because the baby’s head will go back into the birth canal. Thus, the birth will be delayed.
Also, due to pressure from contractions, the baby’s head will be red and swollen. The “60-second” rule states that once the head is visible from the birth canal, the body will have to follow within 60 seconds. Research by physicians on Medscape says the best practice following an instance of shoulder dystocia is the mother must stop pushing, pulling, panicking and pivoting to prevent further complications.
Speak to one of our medically trained legal experts
8am - 8pm M-F

How Is Shoulder Dystocia Treated?

Shoulder Dystocia is treated by using a guide called “HELPERR”. Each letter of this word refers to one specific step.
‘H’ stands for “help.” During this step, the obstetrician will call on extra nurses and doctors to assist with the delivery.
‘E’ refers to evaluating the episiotomy, which is the size of the perineum incision (between the anus and the vagina) as it could help enlarge the opening size.
‘L’ stands for “legs” and means the mother will have to pull her legs towards her stomach to flatten and rotate the pelvis, helping the baby pass easier.
‘P’ refers to suprapubic pressure and consists of exerting some pressure on the pelvis to help the stuck shoulder rotate.
‘E’ refers to entering maneuvers, which means internal rotation to help redirect the baby’s shoulder.
‘R’ refers to removing the posterior arm, which means the baby will pass one shoulder out of the canal first, making it easier to free the other.
The last ‘R’ stands for “rolling,” in which the mother gets on her hands and knees to help the baby pass easier.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Shoulder Dystocia?

Experiencing shoulder dystocia during delivery can pose risks to both mothers and babies. Bleeding on the part of the mother as well as the tearing of tissues are common complications.
The baby’s complications can be more pronounced and consist of injuries to the arms, shoulders, hands, as well as leading to an oxygen deficiency in the brain which can result in brain damage.
Other complications that can arise from shoulder dystocia and lead to permanent disabilities include brachial plexus injury, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, and death, as per a 2010 study by physicians in the Journal of Prenatal Medicine.

Is Shoulder Dystocia Caused by Medical Malpractice?

Similar to many other birth injuries, shoulder dystocia is often avoidable and may be the result of medical professionals’ negligence. Doctors have a responsibility to ensure complications do not arise from vaginal birth and to correct them hastily if they do.
When obstetricians meet with pregnant women, it’s crucial they detect any factors that could present problems during delivery, such as a baby that’s too large for the mother. The doctor must consider a C-section delivery to keep both the mother and the baby safe.

Free, No-Risk Consultation for Families Affected by Negligence

When a baby suffers injuries because of medical malpractice at birth, it’s devastating for families. In some cases it means a lifetime of medical care (in other words, medical expenses) for the child. You shouldn’t have to pay for that. Our medical professionals and legal team at Morgan & Morgan are here to help you pursue compensation to cover medical costs and other expenses, while also holding the negligent medical professionals accountable.
Contact our team today for a free, no-risk consultation.
Speak to one of our medically trained legal experts
8am - 8pm M-F