Birth Asphyxia and Brain Damage: How Oxygen Deprivation Can Lead to Injury October 23, 2013.

Birth asphyxia (a lack of oxygen to the brain prior to or during birth) can lead to serious brain damage. Oxygen deprivation can occur during birth for many reasons. As such, it is crucial that medical personnel identify and address the situation in as swift and capable a manner as possible. Correct diagnosis and treatment may, in some cases, lessen the negative effects of a lack of oxygen to the brain. If you suspect that a medical mistake caused brain damage, attorney Chris Mellino welcomes you to contact our Cleveland office for a free consultation. You may also download or request attorney Chris’s free guide to filing a malpractice claim in Ohio.

What Is Birth Asphyxia and What Causes It?

Asphyxia occurs when a baby’s brain or organs are deprived of oxygen during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or after birth. Cells require oxygen to function properly, and when there isn’t enough, waste products (like acids) can build up in the cells, causing damage. This damage may be temporary, long-term, and even permanent in some cases.

There are many potential causes to consider, including (but not limited to) physiological abnormalities or traumatic birth and medical error. Some of the factors in birth asphyxia may include:

  • maternal blood (damage occurs if the mother’s bloodstream is on short supply of oxygen before or during labor and delivery, which may be caused by respiratory problems, possibly relating to anesthesia);
  • premature placental separation from the uterus (this cuts off the baby’s blood supply);
  • delayed or difficult labor;
  • umbilical cord issues during delivery (this includes compression of the umbilical cord, which leads to decreased blood flow);
  • untreated or serious maternal infection;
  • untreated or serious fetal/neonatal infection;
  • mother’s blood pressure (too low or too high);
  • blocked or malformed airway on the baby;
  • anemia (when the baby’s blood cells can’t carry sufficient oxygen); and
  • heart or lung disease in the infant (this is a factor in neonatal asphyxia).

One children’s hospital has reported that asphyxia occurs in about 4 out of 1,000 full-term deliveries and may be more common in premature births.

Signs and Symptoms of Birth Asphyxia

Quickly identifying and addressing the medical or physical causes of a lack of oxygen to the brain can have life-saving results. Medical providers, such as an obstetrician and delivery room staff, should be alert to the following signs that may indicate a lack of oxygen to the brain:

  • abnormal heart rate/rhythm;
  • acidosis (increased level of acids in blood;
  • skin color (a bluish tint or pale skin can indicate trouble);
  • weak muscle tone;
  • poor reflexes;
  • weak or no breathing;
  • weak cry (sometimes indicated as "failure to cry"); and
  • meconium (when the baby’s first stool is present in the amniotic fluid and blocks airways).

For precise treatment, doctors and hospital staff have numerous tools and tests that will assist in the diagnosis of asphyxia such as:

  • tests that show severe acid levels in the umbilical cord blood (a pH level less than 7.00 is an indicator of trouble); and
  • APGAR scores of 0 to 3 for longer than 5 minutes (the APGAR test measures pallor, heartbeat, reflexes, muscle tone, and respiration).

Treating Birth Asphyxia

Prompt treatment of birth asphyxia can minimize damage. Proper protocol will depend on the baby’s age, health, and overall condition. Treatment options include:

  • providing the mother with supplemental oxygen during labor;
  • performing an emergency cesarean or inducing labor;
  • providing the baby with supplemental ventilation or medication; and
  • extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (a technique that provides cardiac and respiratory support to patients in severe distress).

Failure to provide proper medical attention can be disastrous in such a scenario. Lack of oxygen to the brain may lead to brain injury or brain damage relating to birth trauma. The March of Dimes reports that five to 10 percent of cases of cerebral palsy are caused by birth injury, for example, including lack of oxygen to the brain during birth.

Do You Have Questions for Birth Asphyxia Attorneys Chris Mellino?

If you have questions or concerns about birth asphyxia, attorney Chris Mellino invites you to contact our Cleveland office for a free consultation before Ohio’s statute of limitations expires in your potential claim. You may also download or request Chris Mellino‘s free guide on how to file a claim.