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What Increases the Likelihood of Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries?

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If your baby suffered a brachial plexus injury during birth, you may be wondering if certain factors made it more likely for this to happen. Although there have been many advances in obstetric care and healthcare practices overall in the last fifty years, the rate of brachial plexus birth injuries has actually increased, contrary to what one might expect. A recent study sought to identify the previously unidentified factors that increase the likelihood of brachial plexus birth injuries, in an effort to support the development of preventative measures. It revealed several circumstances, such as the use of Oxytocin, that put your baby at increased risk for brachial plexus nerve damage.

Brachial Plexus Injury Background

A brachial plexus birth injury is defined as trauma to the brachial plexus, a network of nerves in the neck that extend through the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. The brachial plexus is crucial for proper sensation and movement in these areas. When it is injured during labor and delivery, often by overstretching, an infant can suffer temporary or permanent complications. While some brachial plexus injuries resolve in a matter of weeks or months, others result in permanent weakness or paralysis in the affected arm.

The term brachial plexus birth injury came about in 1779, when medical professionals noticed a newborn suffering from weakness in the arm. Although researchers have sought to better understand these injuries, they are still among the most common forms of birth trauma today. For every 1,000 live births in the United States, between 0.5 and 3 brachial plexus birth injuries occur. Among infants with brachial plexus birth injuries, almost 30 percent experience permanent neurological impairments.

Your Baby may Suffer a Brachial Plexus Birth Injury if Certain Conditions Exist: Here’s Why

Thousands of babies sustain brachial plexus birth injuries each year in the U.S., yet only half of these have known risks. A recent study published in Children, a Journal of Pediatrics, sought to identify the unknown risk factors for brachial plexus birth injuries to better assist healthcare providers in preventing these events. Some of the established risk factors for brachial plexus birth injuries include:

  • Prolonged labor
  • Breech delivery
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Instrument-assisted delivery: use of forceps or vacuum extractors
  • Fetal macrosomia: infants that are abnormally large in size for their gestational age
  • Gestational diabetes

One study, published in the Journal Gynecology and Obstetrics, found a significant correlation between increased birth weight with gestational diabetes, and an increased risk of brachial plexus birth injuries.

This new study examined 52 mothers who had delivered a child with a brachial plexus birth injury, compared with 132 mothers who gave birth to a child with no brachial plexus injury. The findings indicated that the use of oxytocin and tachysystole, a condition marked by excessively frequent uterine contractions, increased the chances of that a brachial plexus injury occurred during labor and delivery.

Oxytocin, Uterine Contractions & Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries

This investigation revealed that the odds of a brachial plexus injury were 2.5 times higher when oxytocin was given to the mother during labor and 3.7 times higher when excessively frequent uterine contractions (tachysystole) occurred. Oxytocin is a hormone that is sometimes administered to mothers during labor to speed up uterine contractions and the process of childbirth. However, doctors still do not know the ideal dosage of oxytocin and in many cases, too much oxytocin causes the uterus to contract too quickly. Excessively frequent uterine contractions, known as tachysystole, is associated with fetal distress.

Further analysis found that if one or more of the following factors were present, the risk of a brachial plexus birth injury increased:

  • Over 30 pounds gained during the pregnancy
  • Stage 2 labor that lasted longer than 61.5 minutes
  • Maternal age of over 26.4 years
  • Rapid contractions; and/or
  • Abnormal birth presentation

Could my Baby’s Brachial Plexus Injury have been Prevented?

Studies like this one are crucial to assist healthcare providers in management and prevention of birth injuries. However, it is your doctor’s responsibility to remain abreast of the ever-growing body of medical literature and to use this knowledge to protect you and your child during pregnancy and birth. If your child had a brachial plexus birth injury and you suspect it may have been preventable, finding out your legal options is important. Our experienced New Jersey birth injury attorneys are here to answer your questions. Call (866)-708-8617 today or contact us online for a free case evaluation.

Resource: Risk Factors for Brachial Plexus Birth Injury, Children

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