How to Check for the Signs of Shoulder Dystocia During Delivery

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What Every Parent Should Know About Shoulder Dystocia Birth Injuries


Shoulder dystocia is a severe complication that can occur during delivery, potentially leading to devastating birth injuries.  When a baby’s shoulder becomes stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone during vaginal delivery, it is a medical emergency known as shoulder dystocia. If not resolved quickly and properly, shoulder dystocia can cause permanent damage to the child’s brachial plexus nerves, resulting in paralysis or impaired function of the arm, shoulder, or hand. In the most severe cases, shoulder dystocia can be life-threatening for the baby.


As a parent, it’s crucial to be aware of the signs and risk factors for shoulder dystocia so you can advocate for your child if complications arise during delivery. And suppose your baby tragically suffers a severe birth injury due to medical negligence in handling shoulder dystocia. In that case, it’s essential to consult with an experienced birth injury attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and options for seeking justice and compensation for your child.


Raynes & Lawn Trial Lawyers has decades of experience guiding clients through birth injury cases. Our talented and dedicated attorneys can give you personalized and strategic attention. Call our offices today at 1-800-535-1797for your free consultation.

 1. Understand the risk factors for shoulder dystocia

While shoulder dystocia can occur in any vaginal delivery, certain factors increase the risk.  These include:

  • Gestational diabetes

  • Obesity in the mother

  • Excessive weight gain during pregnancy

  • Having a large baby (over 8 lbs 13 oz)

  • Prolonged second stage of labor

  • Assisted delivery with forceps or vacuum extraction

  • A history of shoulder dystocia in a previous delivery


If any of these risk factors apply in your pregnancy, discuss them with your doctor. Additional prenatal monitoring and precautions may be recommended. In some high-risk cases, a cesarean section may be advisable to avoid shoulder dystocia.

2. Recognize the signs of shoulder dystocia during delivery

Shoulder dystocia is considered a medical emergency that requires quick recognition and intervention.  Signs that shoulder dystocia is occurring include:


  • Difficulty delivering the baby’s shoulder after the head has emerged (known as the “turtle sign” because the baby’s head retracts back into the perineum)

  • The baby’s head is tightly pressed against the mother’s perineum

  • Failure of the shoulders to deliver shortly after the head

  • “Turtling” or retraction of the baby’s head back into the perineum


If shoulder dystocia is suspected, the doctor should immediately take steps to dislodge the baby’s shoulder and complete the delivery to prevent injury. This may involve repositioning the mother, applying suprapubic pressure, or reaching inside to rotate the baby’s shoulder. An episiotomy (surgical cut in the perineum) may also be performed.

3. Know the injuries associated with shoulder dystocia

If shoulder dystocia isn’t resolved quickly or correctly, the baby can suffer serious birth injuries.  The most common injury is damage to the brachial plexus nerves, which control movement and sensation in the shoulder, arm, and hand. Brachial plexus injuries during birth include:


  • Erb’s palsy: Paralysis of the upper arm caused by damage to the upper brachial plexus nerves. The arm may be limp and rotated inward.

  • Klumpke’s palsy: Paralysis of the lower arm and hand caused by damage to the lower brachial plexus nerves. The hand may be limp, and the wrist flexed.

  • Global palsy: Paralysis of the entire arm due to damage of all brachial plexus nerves.


Other potential injuries from shoulder dystocia include fractures of the baby’s arm or collarbone, lack of oxygen if the head is compressed or the delivery is delayed, and in rare cases, death.

Getting Help from a Birth Injury Attorney for Your Child

Suppose your child has been diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury or other serious harm after a problematic delivery involving shoulder dystocia. In that case, it’s essential to consult with a knowledgeable birth injury attorney.  While some of these injuries may heal on their own with time, others can cause permanent disability and impairment, leading to a lifetime of challenges and expenses for medical care, therapy, adaptive equipment, and accommodations.


An experienced birth injury lawyer can review the medical records to determine if negligence in managing the shoulder dystocia may have caused or worsened your child’s injury. They can also calculate the full extent of the damages, including past and future medical bills, pain and suffering, impaired earning capacity over a lifetime, and more. By filing a birth injury lawsuit, you may be able to recover substantial compensation to provide for your child’s needs now and in the future.

 FAQs About Shoulder Dystocia and Birth Injury Lawsuits:

  1.  How can I find a top birth injury lawyer in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania?

Look for a birth injury attorney or firm with specific experience with shoulder dystocia and brachial plexus injury cases. They should have a proven track record of success in securing favorable settlements and verdicts for children harmed by medical malpractice during delivery. Read former client testimonials, check their reputation and ratings, and schedule a consultation to find the best shoulder dystocia birth injury lawyer for your family.

  1. What is the statute of limitations for filing a birth injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

For birth injuries, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is until the child’s 20th birthday. However, it’s best to contact an attorney as soon as possible while evidence is available and to begin securing resources for your child’s treatment and care. An experienced birth injury lawyer can file the necessary paperwork to protect your legal rights.

  1. Will my child’s shoulder dystocia birth injury case go to trial?

Most birth injury lawsuits reach an out-of-court settlement before trial. A skilled birth injury attorney will build the most robust case possible and negotiate aggressively with insurance companies and defense attorneys to demand maximum compensation. However, they will also be fully prepared to take your case to trial if needed to fight for the full and fair outcome your child deserves.

  1. How much does hiring a catastrophic birth injury attorney in Philadelphia cost?

Top birth injury law firms typically work on a contingency fee basis. This means you pay no upfront or out-of-pocket costs to hire an attorney. They receive a percentage of the recovery if they win compensation for you. If they don’t secure compensation, you owe nothing. Discuss fee arrangements during your initial consultation with a catastrophic birth injury lawyer in PA.

  1. What damages can I recover in a shoulder dystocia birth injury lawsuit for my child?

A birth injury lawsuit can demand compensation for all the damages and losses your child has suffered and will endure over a lifetime due to preventable medical negligence. This includes funds for medical bills, ongoing care, therapy and rehabilitation, adaptive equipment, special education, home modifications, pain and suffering, reduced earning potential, and more. A  traumatic birth injury lawyer can assess the full amount of damages in your child’s case.

Work with a Birth Injury Attorney in Philadelphia

It’s essential to act quickly if you suspect your child has suffered a severe birth injury like brachial plexus damage from mismanaged shoulder dystocia. The sooner you discuss your situation with an experienced birth injury attorney, the sooner you can begin securing the medical care, support services, and financial resources your child needs and deserves. Contact a compassionate birth injury lawyer in Philadelphia today for a free consultation. They can advise you of your legal rights and options and fight tenaciously to win justice for your child.


Don’t hesitate to contact our talented and knowledgeable birth injury lawyers at Raynes & Lawn Trial Lawyers to protect your rights and your child’s future. Justice may be a long process, but the outcome and results our attorneys achieve can make a tremendous difference for your family. Call us today at 1(800) 535-1797 for more information.