No matter how much preparation you do and how healthy you are during your pregnancy, there’s still a chance that something could go wrong during delivery. Often, doctors are aware and prepared for any unexpected events, but it is important that you’re mentally prepared for possible complications in the delivery room in case anything goes wrong. One such complication is called brachial plexus birth palsy, or Erb’s palsy.

Brachial plexus palsy can occur to anyone with a neck injury, but the specific type called Erb’s palsy affects newborn babies. Only one in every 1,000 babies suffers from the condition, so it’s rare. Whether or not it will occur at birth depends on the baby’s position and alignment when exiting the birth canal. Erb’s palsy occurs when the infant’s neck is stretched during pregnancy and the nerves are strained. Since your baby won’t be able to tell you that his arm has limited mobility, you’ll only be able to tell from visible symptoms.

In addition to a pediatrician’s diagnosis, you’ll be able to tell if your baby is suffering from Erb’s palsy if he or she seems to be weak in one arm. Your baby might not be able to lift this arm along with the other, and he or she might not even be able to feel sensations very well on it. In some cases, the arm is totally paralyzed for a few years after delivery. In most cases, children recover from Erb’s palsy on their own without therapy or treatment and gain mobility in the arm in two years or less. However, you and your child’s doctor should keep a close eye on the condition and perform daily therapy to make sure it’s not connected to any other symptoms.

If your baby’s pediatrician decides your baby needs treatment to get over the condition, he or she will either recommend surgical or nonsurgical treatment. Nonsurgical treatment involves regular physical therapy. This is recommended for most children with the condition, as it will stiffen otherwise. Once it stiffens, your baby might never be able to move it, so you should move your baby’s arm around as much as possible. If your doctor recommends surgery, it’s because function was not restored at all after three to six months. Pushing through a birth canal puts a lot of pressure on a baby’s body, and Erb’s palsy is simply a result of that.

Source: Walid Faraj et al: Brachial Plexus Injury. Totally Implantable Venous Access Devices Part III 2012