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How can Erb’s palsy affect your newborn?

Erb’s palsy is a serious condition that affects one or both of your baby’s arms and shoulders. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains that this birth injury while occurring in only about 0.02% of US births, happens when your baby’s neck becomes stretched during a difficult delivery.

Specific risk factors include the following:

  • Breech presentation
  • Large baby
  • Prolonged labor
  • Use of forceps or other delivery aids

Brachial plexus

Erb’s palsy, named for the doctor who first described it, is one type of brachial plexus palsy. The brachial plexus is the network of nerves in and around your baby’s neck that allows him or her to move and feel his or her shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. The word “palsy” is a medical term meaning weakness. Thus, Erb’s palsy causes weakness in your baby’s brachial plexus network that can hinder his or her ability to move or even feel his or her arms.

Erb’s palsy symptoms

In rare cases, Erb’s palsy can cause complete paralysis of one or both of your baby’s arms. More likely, however, it will affect only one arm. He or she may be able to feel and move his or her fingers, but will not be able to feel or move his or her shoulder. In other words, your baby will be unable to use the affected arm when reaching upward for an object. Rather, the affected arm will appear rotated in toward the body, and the fingers may remain in a curled position.

Physical therapy

The good news is that most Erb’s palsy babies respond well to a course of daily physical therapy exercises. This means that, in all likelihood, your child will eventually recover both sensation and movement in his or her affected arm.