Full Guide to Birth Asphyxia: Signs, Causes and Effects

Birth Injury | July 4, 2022

Many different things can go wrong during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Some complications, however, can be avoided with preventive measures, such as identifying risk factors in the mother and carefully monitoring the baby for signs of distress during childbirth. It is a physician’s duty to prevent serious medical conditions whenever possible. This includes birth asphyxia.

What Is Birth Asphyxia?

Asphyxia is when the body does not get enough oxygen. Without enough oxygen, the brain and body cannot function normally. If not immediately remedied, asphyxia can result in brain damage, organ failure and death. Birth asphyxia specifically refers to a loss of oxygen supply to a fetus before, during or just after birth. Decreased oxygen can damage a baby’s organs, including the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and brain.

What Causes Birth Asphyxia?

Birth asphyxia can be caused by many issues and complications before or during labor and delivery. Examples of issues that can put an infant at risk of oxygen loss are:

  • Heart or respiratory problems in the mother, resulting in inadequate oxygen levels in her blood to be given to the infant. Low oxygen can also result from anesthesia.
  • Placental abruption, where the placenta separates early from the uterus, or poor placenta function. This is especially common in mothers with high blood pressure and during post-term pregnancies.
  • Inadequate relaxation of the uterus during labor, blocking oxygen from circulating to the placenta.
  • Umbilical cord prolapse, where the cord is compressed between the infant and cervix, or the umbilical cord getting wrapped around the infant’s neck.

Asphyxia can also occur shortly after birth due to low blood pressure in the infant, anemia, respiratory problems, and heart or lung disease.

What Are the Signs of Birth Asphyxia?

Birth asphyxia is noticeable almost immediately if doctors and other medical professionals in charge of labor and delivery pay enough attention. It is typically diagnosed through careful monitoring of the infant for signs of distress. The symptoms of birth asphyxia while the infant is still in the womb are:

  • Abnormal heart rate or heart rhythm
  • Increased acid in the infant’s blood (pH less than 7)

Once the baby is born, other signs of birth asphyxia may become apparent, such as:

  • Low or no breathing
  • Respiratory distress
  • Pale, blue, gray or abnormal skin color
  • Low heart rate
  • Weak reflexes
  • Meconium in the amniotic fluid

Early detection is critical for remedying birth asphyxia and restoring the flow of oxygen to the infant. If a doctor is negligent and does not notice birth asphyxia right away, the infant can suffer even more devastating effects – and may not survive due to a prolonged loss of oxygen.

What Are the Effects of Birth Asphyxia?

Brain damage is the most worrisome effect of birth asphyxia, as the brain is less likely to make a full recovery than the other organs. However, a loss of oxygen to a developing infant can result in many short-term and long-term effects, including:

  • Permanent organ damage
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Brain damage
  • Intracranial hemorrhage
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Autism
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Impaired vision
  • Seizures

Treating birth asphyxia or managing symptoms may require cooling the infant’s body, using breathing tubes or machines to assist with breathing, blood pressure medication, dialysis, and a heart pump. Available treatments and the prospects for recovery depend on the severity of the baby’s condition and his or her overall health.

Filing a Lawsuit for Birth Asphyxia in Kentucky

Birth asphyxia is often preventable. Doctors and OBGYNs often have the power to notice the signs of something wrong early on, while it is still possible to prevent the issue or quickly restore oxygen to normal levels. Unfortunately, medical malpractice can lead to undiagnosed medical conditions, improper birthing techniques, birth asphyxia and severe birth injuries.

If your child has suffered from birth asphyxia in Louisville, Kentucky, discuss the possibility of filing a birth injury lawsuit with an attorney at Hendy | Johnson | Vaughn | Emery. Your family may be entitled to financial compensation from the negligent doctor or hospital. Our lawyers offer free consultations.

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