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Optimizing Shoulder Dystocia Management to Prevent Birth Injury


Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology: September 2007 - Volume 50 - Issue 3 - p 592-606
doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e31811eaba2
Prevention of Birth Injuries

A practical clinical review of those aspects of shoulder dystocia management that are directly relevant to birth injury is presented. In contrast to more popular viewpoints, the tenets of this paper are that, with few exceptions, clinically relevant, permanent brachial plexus injury is nearly universally associated with shoulder dystocia, injury is causally related to mechanical stresses induced during shoulder dystocia delivery, and management algorithms can be optimized to reduce the incidence of mechanical birth injury from shoulder dystocia. Advantages of direct rotational manipulation of the fetus within the birth canal are emphasized, supported by critical analysis of maneuver-related outcomes research. The competing issue of potential asphyxial insult with prolonged shoulder dystocia is addressed in light of evidence for differential time-dependency between central and peripheral nerve injury as head-to-body interval increases. The importance of proper execution of shoulder dystocia maneuvers for maximizing favorable outcome of shoulder dystocia is iterated, as is coordination of teamed response by multiple healthcare providers. To avoid permanent neurologic sequelae from shoulder dystocia, clinicians are encouraged to be ever mindful of traction applied to the fetal head and neck, to become adept at performance of alternative maneuvers that instead concentrate on finesse rather than force, and to be more favorably disposed to the use of such maneuvers early and often in shoulder dystocia management algorithms.

Departments of Gynecology/Obstetrics and Biomedical Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland

Correspondence: Edith Diament Gurewitsch, MD, Assistant Professor Gynecology and Obstetrics, Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Johns Hopkins Hospital, 600 North Wolfe Street, Phipps 217, Baltimore, MD. E-mail:

Supported by a research grant from the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Program 04047: Grants for Traumatic Injury Biomechanics Research No. 1-R49-CE00439-03.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NCIPC.

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.