Why Do Doctors Want to Break Babies' Bones?

Sasha Brown-Worsham

Most moms-to-be, especially first-timers, have enormous fears about the birth.

As someone who had two relatively easy, "normal" labors, I try to encourage friends not to be scared since fear can actually inhibit labor. So pregnant moms, read no further! This news out of Australia is disturbing.

It seems that as the obesity epidemic grows there, more and more doctors are being forced to break baby's bones to get them out.

Brisbane obstetrician Dr. Gino Pecoraro, president of the Australian Medical Association Queensland, said an increasing number of cases meant junior doctors now took part in regular mock-up trials. He said obese and overweight women were more likely to give birth to babies over 4kg, with a greater risk of the babies becoming stuck in a condition known as shoulder dystocia. "This is far more common in the last five years because of the obesity epidemic," he said.


Shoulder dystocia happens when the baby's head comes out but the shoulders get stuck, compressing the umbilical cord, which delivers oxygen. It's an emergency and must be dealt with immediately or risk the lives of both mother and infant.

And it's becoming more common.

It is estimated shoulder dystocia affects up to 1.5 per cent of all babies with a birth weight of 2.5kg (5 pounds 8 ounces). This incidence increases to around 10 per cent in babies weighing more than 4kg (8 pounds 13 ounces) and to 22.6 per cent in babies bigger than 4.5kg (9 pounds 14 ounces.) Of the 66,097 babies born in Queensland last year, 12 percent weighed over 4kg and it is estimated around 960 suffered shoulder dystocia at birth.

This problem isn't unique to Australia, either. The US is also experiencing about the same statistics.

It's hard to predict, but there are risk factors that include:


  • Abnormal pelvic anatomy
  • Gestational diabetes
  • A pregnancy that goes past 40 weeks
  • Previous shoulder dystocia
  • Short stature


  • Suspected macrosomia (abnormally high birth weight)

 Labor related

  •  Assisted vaginal delivery (forceps or vacuum)
  •  Protracted active phase of first-stage labor
  •  Protracted second-stage labor

If you suspect you may be at risk, talk to your doctor. And don't be scared! Communication is key.

Are you scared of labor?

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