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Life-threatening shoulder dystocia in childbirth

One fear that some pregnant women have is that their babies will be so big that they can’t be born. An expecting mother might jokingly wonder if she will remain pregnant forever.

While remaining pregnant forever obviously isn’t possible, there is a chance that your baby will be too large to be safely born vaginally. A condition known as shoulder dystocia might occur during birth. This is a potentially life-threatening issue that must be properly addressed.

Shoulder dystocia defined

Shoulder dystocia means that the baby’s shoulders get stuck in the mother’s pelvis during birth. The head is delivered but the shoulders are stuck. This presents a problem because doctors can’t push the baby back into the mother and proceed with a c-section, but it can be very difficult to get the baby out vaginally.

Complications of shoulder dystocia

The most serious thing that might happen to a baby with shoulder dystocia is that he or she could suffer from lack of oxygen. This can lead to brain damage or death.

Another issue that can occur is nerve damage in the baby’s shoulder, hand or arm. In many cases, this corrects itself in six to 12 months. In the interim, it can cause problems like shaking and pain. Paralysis could also occur.

The mother might suffer from tearing of the vagina, rectum, cervix or uterus. She may also suffer from bleeding that is heavier than normal.

Common risk factors

There are several risk factors that can point to a woman who might have an issue with shoulder dystocia. None of these are a guarantee that the issue will occur. However, some doctors might recommend a surgical delivery if there is a good chance that shoulder dystocia might occur in the baby.

Women with gestational diabetes, those who are obese, and women carrying multiple babies are often at higher risk. Those who have gone beyond a well-established due date, and women who simply have a very large baby, are also at a higher risk than the average woman.

What options are available?

When a surgical delivery isn’t performed, the woman might be moved into positions that widen the pelvis in an attempt to get the baby out. An episiotomy and pressure on the woman’s belly might also be necessary.

The ultimate goal is to get the baby out without any harm to the mother or baby. If medical negligence occurs, however, and the woman or baby is harmed by that negligence, a medical malpractice lawsuit is possible. Such a lawsuit can potentially provide compensation to the injured individuals or their families.


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