Shoulder Dystocia: Etiology, Common Risk Factors, and Management


  • Cecilia M. Jevitt CNM, PhD

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    • Cecilia Jevitt, CNM, PhD, is an assistant professor of midwifery and nursing with the University of South Florida (USF) Colleges of Nursing and Medicine.

Cecilia M. Jevitt, CNM, PhD, University of South Florida College of Nursing, MDC Box 22, 12901 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33544. E-mail:


Shoulder dystocia and brachial plexus injury occur in 0.5% to 1.5% of all births. Risk factors for both include maternal obesity, excessive prenatal weight gain, maternal diabetes, protracted labor, and fetal macrosomia. These factors are involved in only about 50% of births complicated by shoulder dystocia or brachial plexus injury. Shoulder dystocia has a low recurrence rate (9.8%–16.7%), although history of previous shoulder dystocia is the most reliable predictor of occurrence. Brachial plexus injury is the most common morbidity associated with shoulder dystocia, but 50% of newborns who present with this injury were not subject to shoulder dystocia at birth. Most brachial plexus injuries are transient, although 5% to 22% become permanent. Shoulder dystocia followed by permanent brachial plexus injury or mental impairment is one of the leading causes of malpractice allegations. Prompt assessment and management of shoulder dystocia and preparation to maximize the efficiency of shoulder dystocia maneuvers are critical. Documentation of the appropriate use of maneuvers to relieve shoulder dystocia demonstrates standard of care practice, thereby decreasing the potential for successful malpractice allegations.