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Learning About Brachial Plexus Palsy in Newborns

What is brachial plexus palsy?

Brachial plexus palsy is a problem with the nerves to the baby's arm. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that runs between the spine and the arm. If one of the nerves is stretched or injured, it can weaken the nerve signals to the muscle and make it hard for the baby to move the arm.

Often it's not clear how the nerve was damaged. Sometimes it happens with a difficult birth.

The doctor can tell which nerves were affected by noting how the baby moves. The baby may not move the affected arm as much as the other one or may hold the hand at an angle.

The affected arm usually gets better in about 3 months. In some cases, the nerve damage can last longer or be a permanent problem.

How is it treated?

  • Gentle massage and range-of-motion exercises at home may help your baby. The doctor will give you instructions about how to do this.
  • Your baby may get physiotherapy until the weak arm starts to get stronger. Sometimes splints are used to prevent contractures.
  • In severe cases, surgery may be done to repair the nerve. It may take from 3 to 9 months to know if surgery is needed.

What can you expect?

  • An orthopedic surgeon or physiotherapist may give you a treatment plan for your baby's arm.
  • After going home, your baby will need routine checkups to check the arm. Your baby may need more physiotherapy in the future.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

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