Understanding Shoulder Dystocia

We all like to think that everything will go fine during the delivery of a child. However, things can go wrong. And when they do, it’s important to understand what happened.

In this post we are going to focus on shoulder dystocia – a medical complication that can occur during birth — and what the long-term impact can be.

What is shoulder dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia is a birth complication where the baby’s shoulder gets stuck during delivery. Medical professionals need to immediately spring into action when this happens to safely delivery the baby and attempt to prevent any long-term damage to mother and baby.

While shoulder dystocia can happen to anyone, there are certain women who are more at risk, including those who:

  • Give birth past their due date
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a very large baby, or a previous birth with shoulder dystocia
  • Need to be induced to go into labor or have labor progress
  • Need certain medical interventions during delivery, such as the use of forceps or a vacuum

Again though, please keep in mind that while there are some women who carry a higher risk of shoulder dystocia – this can still happen to anyone, especially if medical staff are not properly monitoring the mother during pregnancy, along with labor and delivery.

What are the long-term risk of shoulder dystocia?

When the baby’s shoulder gets stuck against the mother’s pelvis, this can cause injury to the nerves of the shoulder, arm and hand. If severe enough, this can cause shaking or even paralysis. And while in many cases this goes away in 6 to 12 months, there are other times where the damage is permanent.

The baby is also not the only one at risk, as shoulder dystocia can cause heavy bleeding and tearing for the mother.

How to prevent shoulder dystocia

Unfortunately, no matter how much you plan – unplanned complications can happen during child birth. And while sometimes there is nothing that doctors could have done to prevent shoulder dystocia, there are other times when better care could have prevented it.

For example, a woman’s doctor should be monitoring the size of the fetus during pregnancy and making recommendations – such a cesarean section – if the baby appears to be too large.

If during delivery doctors see that the baby is most likely going to get stuck, there are also steps they can take – such as turning the baby’s shoulder before delivery, applying pressure to the mother’s lower belly area or even performing an episiotomy.

All doctors should also be aware of the risks tied to inductions and medical interventions. This is not to say these interventions should always be avoided, as many times they are medically necessary for a safe mom and baby. However, medical staff should be aware of the different types of risks that are tied to these interventions and plan accordingly.