When your baby gets stuck: What it's like to have shoulder dystocia during birth

When your baby gets stuck: What it's like to have shoulder dystocia during birth

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Shoulder dystocia is a birth complication that occurs when the baby's shoulders get stuck behind the mother's pubic bone during delivery. To put it in simple terms, the baby's head is delivered and the rest of the body is stuck, requiring expert intervention in order to safely deliver the rest of the body.

There is no known way to predict shoulder dystocia, although there are a few situations that slightly increase the risk that one could occur. Macrosomia babies, babies born at more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces, are at a slightly higher risk. Having gestational diabetes also puts you at a slightly higher risk.

In my case, I had no known risk factors and certainly did not expect any type of birth complication. It was scary!

Even though I was scared, in the end, labor and delivery with my daughter went so smoothly, I actually joke that I had a pain-free birth. Thankfully, the doctors at the teaching hospital where I gave birth were well trained in the McRoberts maneuver to relieve shoulder dystocia, and I am so grateful to them for knowing exactly what to do and when to do it.

After I pushed my daughter's head out, the resident delivering her paused, and then said, "I think it's a ... "

She trailed off.

Even in my drug-induced haze, I knew something was wrong. The lead doctor firmly encouraged the resident to call it, and with the words "it's a shoulder dystocia," the small space around my delivery bed seemed to instantly fill with people.

Like a well-rehearsed play, the resident counted "1, 2, 3!" and about seven different people did different things to my body at the same time to help release the baby's shoulders. Two people pushed my legs up to my chest, one used suprapubic pressure to try to release the baby's shoulder by external manipulation, and the resident reached in and physically tried to turn our daughter's body like a corkscrew.

While all this was happening, a nurse stood alongside with a timer, counting slowly, methodically, so everyone in the room knew exactly how many seconds had passed since "the shoulder" was called. I was told to push steadily and firmly, and within about 20 seconds, our daughter was born.

For days after her birth, every resident and doctor who entered our room discussed the possible problems our daughter could have as a result of the shoulder dystocia, the most common being a dislocated shoulder or broken clavicle. We were told to watch the movement of her left arm for a long time to be sure she was using it properly. Thankfully, she never had any issues and is perfectly healthy.

Oh, and she wasn't even a giant baby! That part surprised me, that she could still get stuck even though she wasn't too big. She was just exiting the wrong way, I guess.

In the end, I learned shoulder dystocia is a rare but real birth complication. Had our daughter been stuck in the birth canal for longer, she could have suffered irreparable injury, including brain damage.

Because that resident was well trained and the lead doctor was right next to her, they called it early. Because the hospital was well trained in the McRoberts maneuver, having practiced it hundreds if not thousands of times, everyone immediately knew where to go and what to do. We were able to safely deliver our daughter without issue, and I am so thankful for their expertise in that moment.

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.



  1. Sak

    How to act in this case?

  2. Victoro

    Very funny phrase

  3. Omawnakw

    What arises from this?

  4. Kuckunniwi

    What phrase... super

  5. Caldwell

    Well done, what words needed ..., brilliant idea

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