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What are the risk factors for shoulder dystocia?

While giving birth to a baby in New York is much safer today than it was 100 years ago, birth injuries can and do still occur. One such injury is shoulder dystocia, and according to American Family Physician, it is one of the most frightening emergencies that can occur in the delivery room.

"Dystocia" is a medical term that derives from Greek and means "difficult childbirth." Shoulder dystocia occurs when one of your baby's shoulders impacts against your pelvic bones during delivery. An event like this can cause complications for you and your baby alike. Stretching of the nerves that run between the neck and shoulder can cause brachial plexus injury in your baby, while shoulder dystocia may cause you to experience fourth-degree vaginal lacerations, the most severe type, which often require surgery to repair, or postpartum hemorrhage, which can be life-threatening.

The use of forceps or a vacuum extractor to assist with the delivery is the most common risk factor for shoulder dystocia. Your baby's weight can also contribute to shoulder dystocia; the more your baby weighs, the greater the risk. Shoulder dystocia also occurs more frequently when the mother is diabetic. 

Other risk factors for shoulder dystocia include the following:

  • Post-dates pregnancy (42 weeks or longer)
  • Protracted first and second stages of labor
  • Short stature
  • Abnormal pelvic anatomy

If you have experienced shoulder dystocia when giving birth previously, there is a greater chance of it occurring again. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.

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