Is an episiotomy necessary with a shoulder dystocia?

Published:April 15, 2011DOI:


      The objective of the study was to determine whether a decrease in the use of episiotomy was associated with a change in the frequency of brachial plexus injury.

      Study Design

      All births at Brigham and Women's Hospital from Sept. 1, 1998, through Aug. 31, 2009, were reviewed. The total number of births, mode of delivery, shoulder dystocias, episiotomies with and without shoulder dystocias, and brachial plexus injuries were recorded. A nonparametric test of trend was performed.


      There were a total of 94,842 births, 953 shoulder dystocias, and 102 brachial plexus injuries. The rate of episiotomy with shoulder dystocia dropped from 40% in 1999 to 4% in 2009 (P = .005) with no change in the rate of brachial plexus injuries per 1000 vaginal births.


      Despite historical recommendations for an episiotomy to prevent brachial plexus injury when a shoulder dystocia is encountered, the trend we observed does not suggest benefit from this practice.

      Key words

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