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What is shoulder dystocia? How does it affect the woman and baby?

A woman who is in labor expects that the medical team caring for her will take care of her and her baby in a way that keeps them both safe. One thing that medical professionals have to be careful about when a woman in labor is checking to make sure that the baby isn't too large to fit in the birth canal. When a baby gets stuck in the birth canal, which is possible if shoulder dystocia occurs, the situation for the mother and her baby is very serious.

What is shoulder dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia occurs when the baby's shoulders get stuck in the birth canal. This slows down the birth of the baby, which can endanger the baby's life and the mother's life. In some cases, a baby with a stuck shoulder can be delivered vaginally if the birth attendant is able to turn the baby's shoulder. The mother might be told to press her thighs against her belly and the birth attendant might apply pressure to the mother's belly.

What problems can shoulder dystocia cause?

A mother who experiences shoulder dystocia during labor can suffer from tears in the cervix, vagina, uterus, and rectum. She might also suffer from heavy bleeding after the baby is born. The baby can suffer from brain damage because of lack of oxygen. Injuries to the nerves in the affected shoulder are also possible.

Can shoulder dystocia be predicted?

Shoulder dystocia isn't always something that can be predicted. Still, medical professionals who are attending a birth must be very watchful while the woman is labor to look for signs that something is amiss. Those signs coupled with any risk factors, such as a large baby, an obese mother, a labor induction, or a multiple pregnancy, that might indicate shoulder dystocia is a possibility should be considered during the woman's care.

If a woman or her baby were harmed because of shoulder dystocia, she might opt to seek compensation. Any money that is awarded might help to cover some of the medical costs.

Source: March of Dimes, "Shoulder dystocia," accessed Oct. 19, 2015

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