Brachial Plexus Birth Injury

“Your child has a brachial plexus birth injury.” That’s not what you were hoping to hear at your baby’s checkup appointment. But it’s your new reality. So many questions swirl through your mind. How did this happen? Did someone injure my baby during delivery? And most importantly, will my baby recover from this?

At Hampton & King, we understand how traumatic it can be for parents to learn their baby is suffering from a birth injury. That’s why we make it our mission to provide essential information to help you understand your child’s condition, and how it could be the result of medical negligence. 

You can contact us any time to discuss the specifics of your child’s case with us, at no obligation or cost to you. 

A brachial plexus injury may not be diagnosed until later checkups.

What Is A Brachial Plexus Birth Injury?

Let’s go over the basics:

  •  A brachial plexus birth injury is the term for damage to a baby’s brachial plexus during labor or delivery. 
  • The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that run from the spinal cord in the neck to the shoulders. 
  • These nerves give feeling to the arms, and transmit movement signals from the brain. If these nerves are stretched or torn, the baby can have trouble moving her arms. In severe cases, the arm may be paralyzed. 

Symptoms include weakness in arms and hands, awkward movements, or paralysis. 

Brachial Plexus Injuries Can Lead To Palsy

A brachial plexus injury can lead to palsy. Erb’s palsy is the most common type. But Klumpke’s palsy or global palsy are possible as well. Each of these palsies affects a different part of the arm, as explained below:

  • Erb’s Palsy refers to damage in the upper arm.
  • Klumpke’s Palsy affects the lower arm. 
  • Global Palsy is the term for when all five nerves included in the brachial plexus are injured. 

Babies suffering from palsy often show marked weakness in their arms and hands. They may move the affected arm very slowly, or not at all. The arm might bend at an odd angle. Newborns with a brachial plexus birth injury may not have the Moro reflex (or startle reflex). 

How This Type Of Injury Occurs

In babies, a brachial plexus injury stems from stretching the nerves too hard or the wrong way. For example, a baby’s head and neck might be pulled to one side while descending the birth canal. 

The risk is greater when the infant is larger in size or in breech position. This is when the baby exits the womb feet first. In that position, its arms might be pulled above its head, stretching the nerves. A longer, more difficult labor heightens the risk of injury as well.  

Brachial plexus birth injuries generally fall into these three categories, from mild to severe:

  • Stretching (Neurapraxia). Light stretching may cause no symptoms at all. But the more the nerves are stretched, the more stress they bear.  
  • Rupture. When the nerves are stretched so much that they tear, it’s called a rupture. 
  • Avulsion. On rare occasions, the nerves are torn from the spinal cord. This is the most severe type of brachial plexus injury.  The baby will need to undergo nerve transfer surgery to replace damaged tissue. 

Prognosis For A Brachial Plexus Birth Injury

Brachial plexus birth injuries occur in about one to three out of every 1,000 births. That may seem like a lot. But the prognosis for most babies is great! The majority make a full recovery in the first month after birth. 

Sometimes the damage is apparent right away. Other times, it’s only noticeable when the baby gets older. For example, a baby might miss important milestones as he grows, like being able to raise his arms. This can point to a brachial plexus issue. 

For those with a severe brachial plexus injury, the recovery can take a lot longer. Sometimes the damage is permanent. In that case, the child will need long term physical therapy. 

Brachial plexus injury leads to challenging diagnosis.

Can I Sue?

If the injury was due to your doctor’s negligence, you can file a malpractice claim. The legal definition of negligence is when a doctor fails to do what any well-trained practitioner would do in a certain situation. 

The most common cases of negligence leading to a brachial plexus birth injury are: 

At Hampton & King, we work with families to get to the bottom of what went wrong during delivery. Medical records and testimony from medical experts can help us pinpoint wrongdoing and achieve justice for clients. Contact us today and find out if you have a case.