If a baby experiences a lack of oxygen, damage is likely already being done. The symptoms of lack of oxygen to the brain may vary depending on the severity, cause, and other factors. However, many babies who suffer a lack of oxygen during labor or delivery are noticeably pale or grey on delivery, and may have very weak breathing.
Hypoxia is a lack of adequate oxygen supply, whereas asphyxia is a more extreme complete deprivation of oxygen. Perinatal asphyxia occurs in two out of every 1,000 live births in developed countries according to 2020 statistics published by the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI). These conditions may occur if something goes wrong during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or the first hours of a baby’s life, leading to potential cell death, brain injury, lasting cognitive and physical disabilities, or even fatalities.
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Warning Signs and Symptoms of Hypoxia or Asphyxia
In some cases, doctors and nurses who are attending to the labor and delivery of an infant can spot signs of breathing difficulties or lack of oxygen right away. Even if symptoms are not immediately obvious, the baby may have low Apgar scores and can undergo a thorough exam.
In addition to weak or absent breaths and a pale or grey skin color, babies experiencing a lack of oxygen to the brain may have symptoms including:
- Blue lips and fingernails
- A very low heart rate and signs of circulatory issues
- Weak reflexes
- Excess acid in their blood
- Poor muscle tone
- Blood clotting concerns
- Urinary abnormalities
- Meconium, the baby’s first poop, in the amniotic fluid
- Extreme lethargy
During pregnancy and labor, the umbilical cord supplies oxygen to the baby. If there are issues with how much oxygen the baby receives during this time, or there are problems taking air in through the lungs following delivery, the baby’s circulatory system may not be able to adapt to oxygenating blood like normal. This can lead to a condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), which requires immediate medical intervention and close monitoring.
PPHN occurs in about one out of every 1,250 live births according to the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). Without treatment, PPHN can result in serious injuries, including cognitive developmental disabilities.
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Causes of Lack of Oxygen to a Baby’s Brain
Lack of adequate blood flow and oxygenation to the brain can occur for many reasons, including:
- Umbilical cord concerns, such as prolapse, knots, or getting wrapped around the neck
- The mother’s blood pressure being high or low during labor and delivery
- A blockage of the baby’s airway, throat, or umbilical cord
- Shoulder dystocia, if the baby becomes “stuck” behind the mother’s pelvic bone
- Placental abruption, in which it separates from the wall of the uterus, or other concerns related to the placenta
- Infections, medications, or other concerns with the mother during pregnancy and delivery
- A prolonged or difficult labor and delivery
If your newborn experienced any of these issues, you and the doctors caring for your child should monitor them for symptoms of larger problems.Long-Term Complications Related to the Lack of Oxygen
If the symptoms of lack of oxygen to the brain persist for several minutes in which blood flow or oxygenation is severely restricted, or over a longer period with relatively minor restrictions, long-term medical concerns may become an issue. Long-term concerns related to a lack of oxygen to a baby’s brain include cognitive delays, movement-based impairments, and developmental disabilities.
Some children who experience a lack of oxygen to the brain may suffer from problems including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Intellectual disabilities
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Vision or hearing loss
- Damage to other organs, including the heart, lungs, or kidneys
Depending on the severity of their injuries and symptoms, these children may require special therapy, ongoing medical treatment, and long-term care.
Building a Case Based on Your Child’s Birth Injury and Ongoing Needs
In some cases, the symptoms and lasting effects of a lack of oxygen to the brain are preventable. Doctors should identify risk factors and take precautions to prevent the issue, and then treat the baby immediately if there is a problem. Failure to do so may be an indication of medical malpractice. To learn if you may be entitled to compensation for the damages your child and family has or will suffer in the future, contact a lawyer familiar with the medical malpractice laws in your state.
This process may require testimony from a medical expert witness, following specific steps to file a claim, and meeting all applicable deadlines. A lawyer can help you navigate this process.
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Talk to the Birth Injury Lawyers Group About Your Child’s Case
The Birth Injury Lawyers Group offers free case reviews for the parents of children who suffered a birth injury that they believe is due to the negligence of a medical professional. Call our team at (800) 222-9529 to find out more.