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Does my baby have Erb’s palsy?

When most expectant parents imagine what it’s like to have a baby, they think of a cute, wriggly human learning how to move their little bodies. However, when a baby seems like they aren’t moving the way they should, it can be a cause of concern.

This is especially relevant for parents whose child had a difficult birth. If this is the case, a baby may have Erb’s palsy.

Erb’s palsy, a form of brachial plexus palsy, affects the network of nerves near the neck that give rise to all the arm nerves. The brachial plexus provides movement and feeling to the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers. When the brachial plexus is weak, it causes arm weakness and loss of motion.

What causes Erb’s palsy in babies?

Erb’s palsy can occur when a baby’s brachial plexus is stretched, compressed or torn from the spinal cord. One of the most common causes of Erb’s palsy is a difficult delivery in which the baby’s neck is stretched to the side. Additionally, if a delivery occurs quickly and the person assisting has to exert some force to pull the baby from the birth canal, it can caused Erb’s palsy.

Infants that often experience a brachial plexus injury have a high birth weight, are in breech position or endured a prolonged labor. The risk for developing Erb’s palsy is higher if the baby’s shoulder gets wedged within the birth canal.

What are the symptoms and risks?

Some of the key symptoms parents can watch for are:

  • Weakness in one arm
  • Loss of feeling in the weak arm
  • Partial or total paralysis of the arm

It is important to see a doctor right away if there is any cause for concern, as untreated Erb’s palsy can be dangerous. Without proper treatment, Erb’s palsy can cause long-term issues such as:

  • Stiff joints
  • Chronic pain
  • Numbness
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Permanent disability

Can babies recover?

Most infants with Erb’s palsy can recover movement and feeling in the affected arm, but it often requires daily physical therapy exercises. It can take newborns up to two years to make a complete recovery and it often requires frequent checkups with a doctor, which can be expensive.

However, if parents follow their doctor’s recommendations, babies can fully recover. Before parents know it, that little one will be moving faster than they can keep up.

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