What Is Birth Asphyxia?
Birth asphyxia is the medical diagnosis when a neonate suffers from oxygen deprivation long enough to sustain injuries because of it. These are often brain injuries and may include cerebral palsy, epilepsy, cognitive deficits, and more. Birth asphyxia may occur as a result of a lack of oxygen that is either hypoxic (partial) or anoxic (compete).
Birth asphyxia is sometimes also called perinatal asphyxia or neonatal asphyxia. It most commonly occurs just before or during birth but can occur immediately following delivery as well. A wide range of health concerns related to either the mother or baby can cause hypoxia or anoxia and birth asphyxia. These include:
- Maternal hemorrhage
- Amniotic fluid embolism
- Hemodynamic collapse
- Placental abruption
- Uterine rupture
- Nuchal cord,
- Umbilical cord prolapse or avulsion
- Intrapartum infection
- Neonatal stroke
Infants who only had a short period of oxygen deprivation may recover fully. In general, the severity of the injury depends on several factors:
- How long the infant had low levels of oxygen or did not receive oxygen
- How low the level of oxygen was in their brain and vital organs
- How quickly they received treatment to restore breathing and limit damage
While treatments have improved, permanent injuries are still common in serious cases. In addition to neurologic and cognitive concerns, effects on other organs are possible. This includes respiratory distress, pulmonary hypertension, liver concerns, myocardial issues, and renal dysfunction.
Oxygen is the crucial element that must be able to nourish a child’s organs and cells in order to sustain life. If a doctor or nurse makes a mistake during labor and delivery that compromises oxygen delivery to the baby, life-threatening birth injuries can result.
If you believe your child’s brain damage or other birth injuries were caused by preventable asphyxia, you should talk to an experienced birth injury lawyer.
Facts About Asphyxia
Asphyxia is a complication during labor and delivery where the baby is deprived of necessary oxygen, causing dysfunction in the major organs of the body. This oxygen deprivation may occur anywhere along the labor and delivery process, and can result from health problems in the mother or physical trauma to the child during birth. Failure to restore proper oxygen flow can have catastrophic consequences, including neurological problems.
In many asphyxia birth injury cases, medical staff members fail to recognize or respond to signs a child may be suffering from asphyxia, such as:
- Heart rate abnormalities
- Breathing irregularities
- Halted breathing
- Lack of movement
- Low blood pressure in the mother
- Umbilical cord problems
- Placenta problems
- Pale or bluish skin
Filing a Claim for Asphyxia-related Injuries
If your family is struggling because of a birth injury and you suspect it may have been preventable, you’re going to need a strong legal team.
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What Is Birth Asphyxia and How Is It Caused?
Many want to know about birth asphyxia and how it is caused. Birth asphyxia is the name for a serious medical condition that occurs when a newborn does not receive adequate oxygen before, during, or just after birth. A lack of oxygen causes damage to most of an infant’s organs, including the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain. Brain damage is the most prominent concern because it is less likely to completely heal than other affected organs.
Brain damage from birth asphyxia can result in:
- Physical impairments
- Intellectual impairments
- Developmental delays
These conditions are lifelong and typically require constant medical care.
According to the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital, the leading causes of birth asphyxia are divided into two major categories: before and during childbirth and immediately after childbirth.
The most common causes of birth asphyxia before and during birth include:
- Low blood pressure in the mother
- Low oxygen levels in the mother’s blood from heart or respiratory problems
- Inadequate oxygen levels caused by anesthesia
- Placental abruption (premature separation of the placenta from the uterus)
- Compression of the umbilical cord that decreases blood flow and reduces oxygen levels
- Inadequate relaxation of the uterus during labor that prohibits oxygen circulation to the placenta
- Poor placenta function due to high blood pressure or pregnancies that exceed 42 weeks
The most common causes of birth asphyxia just after birth are:
- Severe anemia (low blood cell count) that reduces the oxygen-carrying ability of the blood
- Respiratory problems that limit proper oxygen intake
- Low blood pressure
- Heart or lung disease
Common Warning Signs and Symptoms of Birth Asphyxia
Labor and delivery room medical professionals should be on the lookout for these common warning signs of birth asphyxia before birth:
- Abnormal fetal heart rate or rhythm
- An increased acid level in baby’s blood
At birth, symptoms of the condition may include:
- Bluish or pale skin color
- Low heart rate
- Weak muscle tone and reflexes
- Weak cry
- Gasping or weak breathing
- Difficulty breathing caused by meconium (first bowel movement passed by the baby) in the amniotic fluid that blocks airways
Diagnosis of Birth Asphyxia
Some cases of birth asphyxia are easier to diagnose than others, depending on the severity of the oxygen deprivation.
The following tests are used to diagnose birth asphyxia:
- A failing or low Apgar score of zero to three for longer than five minutes. The Apgar test is given just after birth to assess a newborn’s color, reflexes, muscle tone, respiration, and heartbeat.
- Elevated levels of acid in the arterial blood of the umbilical cord
- Poor muscle tone, coma, seizures, and other neurological problems
- Respiratory distress, low blood pressure, or poor blood flow to the kidneys or intestines
Treatment for Birth Asphyxia
Brain damage can happen in a matter of seconds. Doctors and medical professionals must act quickly to avoid or minimize the damaging effects of decreased oxygen to a newborn.
Treatment for birth asphyxia may include:
- Respiration or ventilation aid
- Medications to increase a newborn’s low blood pressure
- Other neonatal medications, therapies, and procedures based on the severity of the condition and tolerance for treatment
Preventing Birth Asphyxia
Birth asphyxia can cause low oxygen levels that decrease a baby’s heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow out of the heart. While each case is different, some birth asphyxia can be prevented with proper care, including:
- Giving the mother extra oxygen before and during delivery
- Monitoring fetal heart rate and oxygen levels for signs of distress
- Performing an emergency Cesarean section if fetal distress occurs
- Giving proper prenatal exams, including blood pressure levels
- Performing ultrasounds to check the placenta and umbilical cord
Medical Negligence and Birth Asphyxia
Medical providers are bound by a duty of care to preserve the health of the mother and baby. When a medical professional does not meet this basic standard of care, birth injuries occur.
Some birth injuries are preventable, including the following:
- Delivery is delayed
- Failure to check the mother or baby’s heart rate
- Incorrect use of forceps or vacuum
- Improper anesthesia
- Failure to perform an emergency C-section
Brain Damage Lawsuits
Brain damage is a heartbreaking result of birth asphyxia. If your baby suffered from this condition due to a preventable birth injury, you could be entitled to compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other losses. An incompetent or unscrupulous medical professional should be held responsible for your baby’s brain damage.
A birth injury lawyer is familiar with birth asphyxia and how it is caused, and can file a brain damage lawsuit on your behalf to recover your rightful compensation. Call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group for a free consultation with a birth injury lawyer in your state. Please do not delay because each state has its own statute of limitations. Call 1-800-222-9529 to connect with a birth injury lawyer in your state.
Asphyxia, a condition in which an individual’s body is deprived of oxygen, may be difficult to diagnose in cases involving newborns especially. Some of the common signs and symptoms of asphyxia include irregular heart rate before birth, and weak breathing after birth.
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Signs of Asphyxia Before Birth
Birth asphyxia may occur during or after the delivery process. Medical professionals may be able to detect birth asphyxia before your child is born by monitoring your child’s vital signs while they are in the womb.
If a child’s heart rate or rhythm becomes irregular, it could indicate that they are experiencing birth asphyxia. These kinds of changes to a child’s vital signs may require immediate medical intervention to prevent the effects of birth asphyxia from becoming very severe.
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Symptoms of Asphyxia After Birth
In some cases, birth asphyxia may only become obvious after a child is delivered. There are a number of physical symptoms associated with birth asphyxia in newborns. For instance, it is a sign that your child may not have gotten enough oxygen if they are born with:
- Bluish or pale skin
- Poor reflexes or muscle tone
- A weak cry or breathing
These physical symptoms are only some of the signs that a child has experienced birth asphyxia. Healthcare workers may also check the blood in the umbilical cord for acidity. A high level of acidity may be an indication of oxygen deprivation, for example. Newborns who experienced birth asphyxia may also have seizures after they are born.
Potential Causes of Birth Asphyxia
Birth asphyxia is a serious hazard for newborns, and accounts for more than 30 percent of neonatal deaths around the world according to a study hosted by the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI). There are a number of reasons that birth asphyxia could occur. In some cases, infants do not get enough oxygen because the mother’s blood is not able to carry enough, for instance, if the mother is anemic.
In other situations, medical conditions associated with the birthing process could result in birth asphyxia. If the placenta becomes detached, for example, it could cut off much of the oxygen flow to a child, resulting in birth asphyxia.
Unborn children also rely on the umbilical cord to receive oxygenated blood. Birth asphyxia may be the result if the umbilical cord becomes twisted or crimped. The umbilical cord could even become prolapsed if it passes through the cervix before the baby.
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Treatments to Address Birth Asphyxia
There are a number of possible treatments available for children who have experienced birth asphyxia. A doctor should monitor your child’s vital signs before they are born, and if a child appears to be in distress the medical professional may need to order an emergency C-section.
A C-section can allow medical professionals to handle birth asphyxia before it becomes severe, quickly getting your child into a more oxygen-rich environment. Over 30 percent of deliveries in the U.S. were C-sections in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, there are other risk factors associated with performing a C-section, which should be considered before the decision is made.
If your child is born with symptoms of birth asphyxia, other medical treatments may be available to help them. In some cases, a doctor may order:
- Hypothermic treatments (or body cooling)
- Support from breathing tube
- The use of a heart-lung pump
- Seizure and blood pressure medication
These treatments may help limit the effects of birth asphyxia for your child.
Liability for Cases of Birth Asphyxia
If your child was injured due to birth asphyxia, there may be long-term health issues. Children who are denied oxygen during childbirth could have problems with their vision or hearing, for instance, or they may suffer from damaged brain tissue. Others may develop conditions like cerebral palsy. All of these conditions could come with high costs for medical treatment.
Your family may be entitled to receive compensation for your child’s healthcare expenses if a medical professional’s negligence contributed to your child’s asphyxia. Medical professionals sometimes take improper actions or inactions before, during, or after childbirth.
A lawyer can assess your case to determine if the correct steps were taken during the delivery of your child. Consider reviewing your family’s specific situation by reaching out to a legal team.
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There are a number of possible causes for birth asphyxia. This type of asphyxia generally occurs when infants do not receive the oxygen they need due to issues with the umbilical cord, placenta, or uterus. Minor issues may result in hypoxia, or a partial lack of oxygen. More serious circumstances could cause anoxia, in which oxygen flow halts completely. Anoxia may be caused by:
- Placental abruption.
- Umbilical cord compression.
Note that prolonged labor may be a factor in many cases involving birth asphyxia. A prolonged labor could be a labor where the time it takes to complete the first and second stages of labor takes longer than:
- Twenty hours for a first pregnancy.
- Fourteen hours for a woman who previously had a child.
Extending the time it takes to deliver a child could increase the odds that there will be issues with the umbilical cord or the placenta. For this reason, a doctor may need to intervene with a C-section if your labor goes on too long.
Factors of the Mother’s Health That may Cause Asphyxia
Sometimes, birth asphyxia occurs due to factors related to the mother’s health. Some women, for example, have low oxygen levels in their blood during delivery. This could be caused by:
- Maternal heart problems
- Maternal respiratory problems
- Issues related to anesthesia
In these situations, a mother’s blood may not be carrying enough oxygen through the umbilical cord to support the health of the child, which could lead to birth asphyxia. In some situations, asphyxia could also occur if a mother is anemic and her blood naturally cannot hold a sufficient amount of oxygen.
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Asphyxia Caused by Issues With the Placenta
The placenta plays an important role in transmitting oxygen to an unborn child. If there is an issue with the placenta before or during childbirth, a child may experience perinatal asphyxia. This may occur in cases where a mother has very high blood pressure, or if a pregnancy has gone over-term by several weeks.
The placenta may also be impacted if the uterus does not relax sufficiently during childbirth. This could prevent a proper flow of oxygen to the placenta, resulting in perinatal asphyxia.
In some cases a placental abruption could result in asphyxia. Placenta abruption occurs if the placenta comes partially or totally off of the uterus before the child is delivered, which may cut off the supply of oxygen to the child and lead to heavy bleeding in the mother. This is slightly more common in the United States, and may be partially explained by prevalence of smoking according to a 2015 study hosted by the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI).
Asphyxia Related to Issues With the Umbilical Cord
The umbilical cord carries oxygenated blood directly from the mother to an unborn child. However, during childbirth the umbilical cord can become bent or crimped, preventing proper oxygen flow and potentially resulting in birth asphyxia.
In some situations, the umbilical cord may become prolapsed. This means that it could exit the cervix before the child. Once this occurs, a child may be unable to receive oxygen through the umbilical cord, resulting in birth asphyxiation.
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Catching Birth Asphyxia Early
Birth asphyxia may lead to a number of serious medical conditions, including seizure disorders and cerebral palsy. It may also be fatal. For this reason, it’s important that your child receives immediate care if they display signs of birth asphyxia.
Medical professionals should monitor the vital signs of your child during delivery. If your child’s heart rate becomes uneven or weak, it could be a sign that they are not getting sufficient oxygen. In this situation, a doctor may decide to perform an emergency C-section.
Emergency C-sections allow doctors to begin giving your child sufficient oxygen before serious effects occur. Over 30 percent of deliveries in the U.S. were C-sections in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, there may be other health concerns associated with a C-section. You should consider discussing the pros and cons with your healthcare provider.
Diagnosing Asphyxia After Birth
In some situations, a medical professional may not realize that your child was getting insufficient oxygen until after they are born. Your child may be diagnosed with birth asphyxia after they are delivered if they have:
- A low heart rate and weak breathing
- Poor reflexes or muscle tone
- Pale or bluish skin
These symptoms should be addressed right away to limit the damage caused by birth asphyxia. There are a number of treatments possible for children who did not receive enough oxygen during the delivery process, including:
- Using a respiratory assistive device to help provide your child with oxygen.
- Using hypothermic therapy to bring your child’s body temperature down.
- Treating your child with medications to support their blood pressure and prevent seizures.
Taking immediate steps to handle birth asphyxia may be important to protect your child’s long-term health. If a doctor fails to monitor your child’s vital signs during childbirth, or does not take proper steps to care for your child after birth, this could be considered medical malpractice. In this situation, you may be entitled to compensation for your family’s losses.
Can asphyxia cause brain damage for newborns? Any time our brains are denied the oxygen they need to function properly it could lead to severe repercussions, including damage to the brain. This holds true even for very young children. Use this article to learn more about the possible results of asphyxia for infants, treatment options for this condition, and more.
Brain Damage Associated with Asphyxia
In some cases, asphyxia may lead to brain damage. In cases where the asphyxia involves a newborn, it may be called “birth asphyxia.” Birth asphyxia could lead to hypoxia, or a reduced supply of oxygen to the brain. In some cases, asphyxia could result in anoxia, or the complete loss of oxygen supply to the brain. According to a study cited by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, infants that experience these conditions may have greater odds of developing:
- Seizure disorders.
- Blindness or impaired hearing.
- Cerebral palsy (CP).
Cerebral palsy is not a single medical disorder. Instead, it is a group of conditions that may impact your child’s health and wellbeing. Children who have cerebral palsy may be unable to control their muscles properly, as a result of the brain damage that they experienced during childbirth.
Additionally, these infants may have problems with their hearing or vision. They may experience developmental delays or physical disabilities, and infants could even become paralyzed as a result of birth asphyxia. In severe cases, birth asphyxia could result in the death of your child.
Preventing Birth Asphyxia Through Medical Intervention
It is important that medical professionals take steps to reduce the odds of your child experiencing birth asphyxia. This requires a healthcare professional to keep an eye on your child’s vital signs throughout the entirety of the delivery process and even after your child is born.
In some cases, the effects of birth asphyxia may be mitigated by changing the delivery plan for your child. A doctor may decide to order an emergency C-section, for example. This may allow your child to receive medical treatment and oxygen supplementation quickly, reducing the effects of birth asphyxia.
However, in some cases, doctors may not be aware of birth asphyxia until they have delivered your child. In this situation, additional medical treatment may be necessary, depending upon the severity of your child’s condition. Your child could require:
- Breathing support.
- A heart-lung pump.
- Medications to prevent seizures.
- Body cooling.
These treatments may prevent brain damage by helping your child get the oxygen they require quickly. While hypothermic treatment may unnerve many parents, it has very good results in long-term studies, like those performed by the NICHD Neonatal Research Network.
Infants who receive this type of treatment have lower odds of experiencing brain damage after birth asphyxia. Discuss all your treatment options with a medical professional if you believe your child did not get enough oxygen during childbirth.
Signs of Birth Asphyxia in Newborns
Identifying the symptoms of asphyxia in a newborn is very important. Medical professionals cannot begin providing your child with medical treatment until they have identified your child’s needs for healthcare. Birth asphyxia is often diagnosed if your child has:
- Gray, bluish, or pale skin.
- A weak pulse or heart rate.
- Weak breathing or respiration.
- Acidosis or seizures.
If a medical professional failed to diagnose your child with birth asphyxia in a reasonable amount of time, you could be eligible to receive compensation for your losses. You could also have a case if a medical professional did not act properly during childbirth to protect your child’s health and well-being.
Are The Effects Of Birth Asphyxia Temporary Or Permanent?
Temporary effects of birth asphyxia can include the need for immediate resuscitation efforts which can take place in two forms. If your child requires resuscitation, he might be revived with the use of a resuscitation bag and mask that will force air into your newborn’s lungs. Resuscitation might also take the form of endotracheal intubation.
Long-term or permanent effects of birth asphyxia can include permanent brain damage. Your child might also suffer from permanent moderate to severe injuries to their brain that result in a range of learning disorders, delays in reaching developmental milestones, or cognitive disorders such as cerebral palsy. Sadly, some newborns who suffer from birth asphyxia will not survive.
IF YOUR NEWBORN’S ORGANS ARE AFFECTED BY BIRTH ASPHYXIA
If your newborn has birth asphyxia, he might suffer from injuries to one or more of his organ systems that can include:
- Your newborn’s heart might show signs of poor color and low blood pressure
- Your newborn’s lungs may show signs of difficulty breathing and exhibit low oxygen levels
- Your newborn’s brain might show signs of lethargy, seizures, or even coma
- Your newborn’s kidneys might have a reduced output of urine
- Your newborn’s liver may have difficulty digesting milk
- Your newborn’s blood-forming system might display a low platelet count and bleeding
Most organ damage results in a favorable diagnosis and recovery within a week, however, brain damage may persist and may be permanent.
Overview of Endotracheal Intubation
Endotracheal intubation is a medical procedure where a tube will be placed into your baby’s windpipe, also called the trachea. A medical device called a laryngoscope will be used to view your child’s vocal cords and the upper part of his windpipe. A tube will be inserted right above the spot where the trachea branches into the lungs and can then be used to connect to a mechanical ventilator to assist with your child’s breathing. Endotracheal intubation is used to keep your newborn’s airway open and to support breathing in cases of severe birth trauma.
Neonatal asphyxia, also called birth asphyxia or perinatal asphyxia, is a serious condition. If your child does not get enough oxygen before, during, or after childbirth, they could be diagnosed with birth asphyxia.
The complications of neonatal asphyxia may have serious and lasting effects on their health, including brain damage, developmental delays, or the development of other conditions such as cerebral palsy.
Long-Term Health Effects of Neonatal Asphyxia
Between 2000 and 2002, at least 20 percent of deaths reported in a Global Burden of Disease Study occurred to children younger than five years old, mostly due to perinatal conditions according to the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI). Birth asphyxia is considered a major complication for children around the world. An oxygen deficit during childbirth may lead to organ damage, including to the brain. In some cases, lack of oxygen before, during, or after childbirth may lead to the loss of your child. In other situations, children could be left with:
- Developmental delays
- Epileptic disorders
- Neurodegenerative diseases
Even relatively minor cases of neonatal asphyxia may have serious impacts on your child’s future health. For example, neonatal asphyxia is associated with child developing conditions like ADHD according to a study in the journal Pediatrics reported by Kaiser Permanente in 2012.
Neonatal Asphyxia and Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy describes a group of medical conditions that may be caused by an insufficient oxygen supply before, during, or after childbirth. Children with cerebral palsy can face developmental delays, or have unusually stiff or resistant muscles that impair their ability to move and function.
There is no cure available for cerebral palsy at this time. However, children who are diagnosed with the condition may receive treatments to handle the symptoms in some cases.
Physical Effects of Neonatal Asphyxia
Insufficient levels of oxygen around childbirth may have serious effects on the physical development of your child. Children who do not receive enough oxygen in childbirth may have problems with their hearing and vision, for example.
In addition to this, your child could experience physical disabilities. Children may recover from these disabilities through medical intervention and therapy, but in other situations these disabilities may be permanent. In some cases, neonatal asphyxia could lead to paralysis.
Preventing Neonatal Asphyxia for Your Child
There are a number of long-term consequences associated with neonatal asphyxia, so it is important to take as many steps as possible to reduce the odds of your child receiving insufficient oxygen during or after childbirth.
A doctor should monitor your child’s vital signs throughout childbirth. A faltering or irregular heartbeat may be a sign that your child is not getting enough oxygen, and thus may be experiencing birth asphyxia.
In this situation, a doctor may need to order an emergency C-section. Emergency C-sections allow your child to be born more quickly, which may allow a medical professional to begin administering proper medical care to ensure they are receiving enough oxygen. Fast action in the delivery room can sometimes help prevent birth asphyxia.
Treating Neonatal Asphyxia After Birth
If medical professionals do not act quickly enough to ensure your newborn has a sufficient oxygen supply, he or she may suffer from birth asphyxia. If your child has birth asphyxia, they may be born with:
- Bluish or pale skin
- Weak breathing or a weak pulse
- Poor reflexes
In this situation, there are medical interventions available that may help your child recover from neonatal asphyxia. For instance, there are breathing apparatuses available for newborns designed to put minimal strain on their lungs.
A doctor may also order hypothermic treatment for neonatal asphyxia. This involves bringing your child’s body temperature down to reduce the effects of oxygen deprivation. Your child can also be put on medications to prevent seizures and support their blood pressure.
However, some medical professionals may not take the steps necessary to help your child recover from neonatal asphyxia. In this situation, providing your family with improper care can be considered an act of medical malpractice. If your family did not receive proper medical care during or after childbirth, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses and the potential long-term damage done to your child’s health.
How Does Fetal Distress Differ From Birth Asphyxia?
When your unborn child is in fetal distress, it means their supply of oxygen has been disrupted. It can happen when long labor or another unusual occurrence makes your labor challenging. Doctors can tell your baby is feeling the stress of labor by an unusual pattern in their heartbeat. They might treat the distress by giving you oxygen, having you lie on one side, or delivering your baby as quickly as possible.
Your baby might have a condition called birth asphyxia, which means their oxygen supply has been cut off during labor and delivery. Their heart and brain might be in trouble. Birth asphyxia can have a second stage that lasts for weeks after your baby’s birth called reperfusion injury, which happens after they’ve started getting normal amounts of blood and oxygen.
One significant way fetal distress differs from birth asphyxia is that birth asphyxia is assessed and diagnosed at or after your baby’s birth.