Shoulder Dystocia: Managing an Obstetric Emergency

D Ashley Hill, Jorge Lense, Fay Roepcke
American Family Physician 2020 July 15, 102 (2): 84-90
Shoulder dystocia is an obstetric emergency in which normal traction on the fetal head does not lead to delivery of the shoulders. This can cause neonatal brachial plexus injuries, hypoxia, and maternal trauma, including damage to the bladder, anal sphincter, and rectum, and postpartum hemorrhage. Although fetal macrosomia, prior shoulder dystocia, and preexisting or gestational diabetes mellitus increases the risk of shoulder dystocia, most cases occur without warning. Labor and delivery teams should always be prepared to recognize and treat this emergency. Training and simulation exercises improve physician and team performance when shoulder dystocia occurs. Unequivocally announcing that dystocia is happening, summoning extra assistance, keeping track of the time from delivery of the head to full delivery of the neonate, and communicating with the patient and health care team are helpful. Calm and thoughtful use of release maneuvers such as knee to chest (McRoberts maneuver), suprapubic pressure, posterior arm or shoulder delivery, and internal rotational maneuvers will almost always result in successful delivery. When these are unsuccessful, additional maneuvers, including intentional clavicular fracture or cephalic replacement, may lead to delivery. Each institution should consider the length of time it will take to prepare the operating room for general inhalational anesthesia and abdominal rescue and practice this during simulation exercises.

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