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Common complications during the birth process and how to treat them

In most cases, the birth of a baby comes without complications. But when there are problems, remarkable evolutions in medicine offer ways to address the more common complications that can occur during childbirth.

The most common complications include placenta previa and low birth weight, or problems that are the result of natural childbirth, like Erb’s Palsy. Some of these complications are more commonly known, but some less so, prompting questions like what is Erb’s palsy? Here are some of the basics about common complications.

Breech birth

Breech presentation, commonly referred to as a breech birth, is a condition in which a baby is positioned before labor with their feet to be delivered before their head. Most babies will move into position for delivery a few weeks before birth, with the head moving closer to the birth canal. But when this fails to happen, the baby’s butt or feet are in the position to be delivered first. Breech births occur in about 1 out of 25 normal births, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

The doctor will try to move the baby’s position before birth when identifying this breech position and may recommend a cesarean delivery to reduce concerns about complications.

Placenta previa

Placenta previa occurs when a baby’s placenta partially or totally covers the mother’s cervix. The condition can cause severe bleeding during pregnancy and into delivery. Symptoms include bright red vaginal bleeding without pain and in some cases contractions.

Often the condition will resolve during the pregnancy as the uterus grows and increases the distance between the cervix and the placenta. But if it doesn’t, the doctor likely will require a cesarean delivery to avoid complications during birth.

Low birth weight

Low birth weight usually occurs due to poor nutrition or the use of cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs during pregnancy. Babies who are born at a low birth weight have a higher risk of respiratory infections, learning disabilities, blindness, and heart infections. Once diagnosed, the baby may need to stay in the hospital after birth to treat and monitor progress.

Erb’s palsy

The birth process can leave a baby suffering from symptoms of paralysis and nerve damage if there are problems during labor. This can lead to a condition known as Erb’s palsy, which affects one to two out of every 1,000 babies born.

Erb’s palsy is generally caused by nerve damage during delivery, typically caused when an infant’s neck is stretched to one side during a difficult delivery, causing temporary or permanent nerve damage. The symptoms are readily recognizable at birth, including weakness or numbness in one arm, arm dangling by the side, and rotated inward or limited motion in the shoulder, bicep, elbow, forearm, wrist, or hand.

The paralysis can be minor and temporary, or major and permanent. But determining the severity of the nerve damage and limits of mobility may not be possible until the child reaches three to six months of age.