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Understanding Erb’s palsy

On Behalf of | Jul 15, 2018 | Birth Injuries, Medical Malpractice

As an Illinois expectant mom, you probably spend a good deal of time thinking about your developing baby’s health, welfare and safety. To ensure this, you likely also take really good care of yourself so your baby, in turn, can benefit from your own good health. Unfortunately, however, not everything concerning your baby is under your control. (S)he could suffer a birth injury that could affect him or her for the rest of his or her life.

Erb’s palsy is one such potential injury. Although rare, occurring in only 0.5 to 2.6 percent of live U.S. births, it can have catastrophic consequences if it happens during your baby’s birthing process.


Erb’s palsy is a birth injury that affects your baby’s brachial plexus nerves. These nerves extend from the spine to the armpits and from thence to the shoulders and arms. Should these nerves become stretched during your baby’s birthing process, the resulting damage is Erb’s palsy that weakens your baby’s arms, reduces feeling in them, and in worst cases paralyzes them.

Surprisingly, many babies slowly recover from Erb’s palsy on their own. If your baby fails to do so, however, eventual surgical intervention is the only way to prevent or minimize his or her risk of continuing arm and shoulder problems throughout life.

Risk factors

Your baby faces a greater risk of becoming an Erb’s palsy victim under the following circumstances:

  • (S)he is an uncommonly large baby.
  • You are an uncommonly small woman.
  • (S)he delivers with the aid of low or mid-level forceps.
  • (S)he delivers with the aid of vacuum extraction.
  • (S)he delivers when you are in your second stage of labor.
  • One of his or her older siblings suffered or suffers from Erb’s palsy.

Conservative initial treatment

Since some babies spontaneously recover from Erb’s palsy, your doctors likely will recommend only physical therapy during your baby’s first year of life if (s)he suffers from this condition. Most doctors are hesitant to recommend surgery, which itself is risky for infants, and prefer to take a wait-and-see attitude to allow your baby the chance to “heal” on his or her own. Should the Erb’s palsy symptoms persist beyond his or her first birthday, however, then your baby likely will face one or more surgeries.