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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

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Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

the guide

Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

Our guide can help you build a foundation of knowledge and tools that will help you help your child
now and in the future.

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Does Your Child Suffer From Brachial Plexus Palsy or Related Injury?
– There Are Resources for Your Support.

If your child suffers from a brachial palsy, know that you are not alone. There is information, support, and help for you and your child.

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What is Brachial Palsy?

An injury to the brachial plexus—also called “brachial plexus palsy,” or BPP—is related to the brachial plexus group of nerve fibers that run from the spine down to the next and down into the arms.

The most common instance of BPP is caused during birth when the labor is especially stressful or difficult, and BPP consistently remains one of the most common types of infant birth injury. The force and excessive stretching from difficult labor cause injury to the infant’s nerve fibers. Sometimes these difficult labors also require the use of tools to assist birth, like forceps or other extraction tools, which can exacerbate the injury.

Elk & Elk

Even if tools are not used to assist the birth, BPP injuries can still occur if the delivering physician uses excessive pressure or force on the baby while the physician is delivering by hand.

Another cause of BPP during birth is strong contractions during a prolonged labor. If the infant remains in the mother’s birth canal for an extended period of time (such as during a long labor), the contractions can put stress and excessive force on its upper bodies, like its shoulders, head, neck and upper arms.

But difficult natural labor is not the only cause of BPP; other causes include:

  • When the baby’s birth weight and size is particularly large (also called “fetal macrosomia”);
  • When the birth mother suffers from maternal diabetes;
  • When the birth mother is obese;
  • When the baby has underdeveloped neck muscles;
  • When the infant’s shoulders dig into the mother’s pelvis during labor; or
  • When the baby is born breech.

The baby’s injury can vary based on the cause of the injury, the location of the nerve fibers damaged, and the degree of force. Depending on the severity, the injuries could include:

  • Decreased strength and grip in the affected arm;
  • Compromised sensory and motor function in the affected arm;
  • Bending toward the body or hanging limp of the affected arm; and
  • Partial or even full paralysis of the affected arm.

In order to diagnose the type and severity of the baby’s injuries, the attending physician can evaluate the baby’s muscle function, motor skills and reflexes. The diagnosis may also include an X-ray to look for possible fractures to the arm or clavicle bone.

What are My Treatment Options?

Treatment for BPP depends on the type of injury and the severity of the injury. While some infants will heal naturally with time or with some physical therapy, others may require surgery, medication or prolonged physical assistance.

The physical therapy of BPP is aimed at developing muscles in infants in the problematic area of nerve damage, with the goal of gaining full use of the limb (arm, wrist, and hand). This physical therapy can include activities to expand the range of motion, stretching, and other physical exercises and massages.

If surgery is required, typically it involves a “nerve transfer” procedure, wherein a doctor takes a healthy nerve from the infant (also known as “nerve grafting”) and transplants it to the damaged area. Studies have indicated that this type of nerve grafting can have incredibly positive recovery rates, with many infants growing to use the damaged area. Most BPP surgeries occur three or more month after birth, when the injury occurred, to allow the infant to grow and also to allow the nerves to potentially heal naturally on their own.

What Resources Are Available to Me For my BPP Child?

As with any major medical issue, support groups are an incredibly important resource for BPP patients and parents. These groups can be general in nature, for anyone affected by BPP either directly or indirectly, or for more specific persons, including:

  • Patients who suffer from BPP and related ailments;
  • Families and parents of patients suffering from BPP; and
  • BPP caregivers and friends.

Support Groups for BPP Parents.

For parents, these support groups can help BPP parents of BPP patients relieve their anxieties they have related to the birth injury. Whether guilt, shame, stress, financial troubles, or other anxieties, open and heartfelt supportive discussion help parents cope and improve their lives at home—and be better, more supportive parents to their child with brachial palsy. Support groups also allow parents to realize that their plight is not solitary: other parents are dealing with the same issues, trials, and troubles. Together, these parents can share helpful tips and information, lessons learned, and resources for brachial palsy patients and their families.

Perhaps most significantly, parents of BPP children feel significant guilt. Because BPP is most often caused by an injury caused during a difficult labor or delivery, sometimes mothers of BPP patients have deep anxiety and guilt related to the causation of the injury. Additionally, mothers of BPP patients can have their trauma related to the birth experience. As a result, some mothers and fathers may suffer from depressive symptoms and maintain their guilt-ridden feelings.

Support groups help mothers and fathers realize that BPP is not their fault and that they are not alone.

Support for BPP Patients.

Just as with parents, the patients suffering from brachial palsy can need their own mental and physical care and support. Parents are typically invited to attend these sessions, which can include psychological-related discussions of the trauma; physical exercises and therapy; and sharing of helpful information and tips to help families experiencing and coping with BPP and the aftermath of BPP injuries.

Where Can I Find My BPP Support Group?

Often, hospitals and other medical service centers host support groups for all types of birth-related injury, including BPP. Other venues for BPP support groups include community centers, local libraries, and schools. The first and best resource is the patient’s treating physician: most likely, you are not his or her first BPP family and can refer you to the best support resource in your community.

Another resource is social media, where you may be able to connect with groups of other BPP parents and patients in your community and across the states.

Whatever your network, seek out help, care and support for yourself, your family and your child with BPP: because you are not alone.