Skip to main content

Shoulder Dystocia

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.


Shoulder dystocia

develops when your baby's head is delivered, but one or both of his or her shoulders become stuck. This prevents your baby from moving through your birth canal. Shoulder dystocia is a life-threatening emergency that can cause serious problems for you and your baby.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have a fever, severe abdominal pain, and foul-smelling discharge from your vagina.
  • Your baby is irritable, fussy, or cries constantly and you cannot soothe him or her.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have new or worsening pain, even after you take pain medicine.
  • You have bleeding from your vagina that fills 1 sanitary pad within 1 hour.
  • You have swelling in your perineum that does not get better within a few days.
  • You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.

Treatment for shoulder dystocia

  • You may be given medicines to reduce your pain or to prevent or treat a bacterial infection. You may also need treatment to stop severe bleeding. Surgery may be needed to repair damage to your uterus or other body areas.
  • Your baby will be examined for shoulder or arm problems. A broken clavicle (collarbone) or arm in a newborn usually heals on its own in 6 to 8 weeks. Your baby's sleeve may be pinned to his or her clothes, or he or she may be given a sling to keep his or her arm from moving.

Manage the problems from shoulder dystocia:

  • Apply ice to your perineum as directed. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Use a sitz bath as directed. A sitz bath is a pan that fits on the toilet bowl. You fill it with warm water and sit in it to help decrease pain, swelling, and bruising. You may also create a sitz bath by filling a bathtub with about 6 inches of warm water. Ask how long and how often to take a sitz bath.
  • Handle your baby carefully. Be careful not to move your baby's arm when you pick him or her up.
  • Take your baby to therapy or treatment as directed. Your baby may need to work with a physical therapist to help strengthen his or her muscles. He or she may also need treatment for nerve damage.

Prevent shoulder dystocia in a future pregnancy:

Manage your weight before you become pregnant. Keep your weight gain within the limits suggested by your healthcare provider. If you develop gestational diabetes, follow your healthcare provider's instructions to manage your condition. Your healthcare provider may suggest a planned cesarean section to reduce the risk for shoulder dystocia.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Shoulder Dystocia

Care guides

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.