Everything You Need To Know About Birth Asphyxia November 1, 2023.

A newborn getting their heart rate checked by a doctor.

For expecting parents, the hours leading up to the birth of their baby is one of the most exciting times of their lives. But, it can turn from the most exciting day to the scariest day if there are complications during birth. It is even scarier if the obstetrician and nurses are not properly monitoring the mom and baby. This can lead to life- threatening complications and serious injuries to the newborn. Unfortunately, birth injuries happen quite often with around three injuries per hour in the United States. 

Not every birth injury is severe, some can be easily treated or will heal over time without treatment. But, an injury like birth asphyxia is life-threatening and needs to be treated immediately. Birth asphyxia is one of the leading causes of neonatal death at around 900,000 deaths in the world each year.

What Is Birth Asphyxia?

According to Seattle Children's Hospital, birth asphyxia means there is a lack of oxygen and blood flow to the newborn’s brain and organs before, during, or directly after birth. Within the first 5 minutes after birth, doctors should be able to detect if birth asphyxia is occurring.

Birth asphyxia ranges from mild to severe cases, but doctors need to act fast no matter how severe it is. In mild to moderate cases the newborn will most likely have a full recovery. But, in severe cases of birth asphyxia, it could be fatal if the newborn does not get proper treatment in time. The level of harm to the newborn depends on several factors. 

These factors include:

  • How long the newborn goes without oxygen
  • The newborn’s oxygen level
  • How quickly the medical professionals treat the newborn

Risk Factors

Risk factors of birth asphyxia include:

  • Being younger (under 18) or older (35+)
  • Prolonged labor: births that last 25+ hours from when contractions start
  • Having twins or triplets
  • Preeclampsia
  • Not receiving proper prenatal care
  • The baby has a low birth weight

Receiving prenatal care and having a healthy pregnancy may help to decrease the risk of birth asphyxia, but the mother can not entirely prevent it. 


There is not always a clear indication that the child is in distress during birth asphyxia. But, there are common symptoms that healthcare professionals should look for before, during, or just after birth.

Before Birth

Before birth, a sign of birth asphyxia would be a low or weak heartbeat. A low heart rate would indicate fetal distress. Another sign of birth asphyxia is too much acid in the blood, which causes the baby’s PH levels to drop below 7.35. This life-threatening condition is called fetal acidosis, which medical professionals need to treat immediately.

Just After Birth 

Just after birth, doctors conduct an Apgar evaluation. This evaluation is used so obstetricians and nurses can quickly evaluate if a baby needs immediate emergency care. There are five categories, and each category receives 0-2 points. Two points in each category indicates a very healthy baby. But, if the baby receives a score lower than 7 then medical professionals will need to provide immediate care.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the Apgar test evaluates newborn’s:

  • Appearance: The baby’s skin should turn from blue-ish to pink if they are receiving oxygen correctly
  • Pulse: The pulse will show what the baby’s heart rate is, if it is low then this could show that they are not getting oxygen
  • Grimace: The medical professionals will see if the baby will react to simulation
  • Activity: They will look for movement of the baby's arms and legs
  • Respiration: The loudness of the baby's breathing or crying

What Are the Treament Options?

Medical professionals should be aware of the risk factors and symptoms of birth asphyxia so they can respond to any complications promptly. Mild cases of birth asphyxia can be treated but more severe cases may have life-threatening outcomes. Treatment for severe birth asphyxia includes an emergency cesarean, breathing support to the mother (during birth) or newborn (after birth), and the newborn receiving seizure and blood pressure medication. 

Can I Sue for Medical Malpractice if My Baby Suffered From Birth Asphyxia?

You may be eligible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit if your newborn suffered from birth asphyxia. If a doctor or medical professional acted negligently and failed to monitor the newborn or respond to complications promptly, then there may be a case. 

Contact Our Cleveland-Based Birth Injury Attorneys

Our attorneys are experienced in a variety of birth injury cases. The Mellino Law Firm recovered a $28.7 million verdict for a family whose baby developed cerebral palsy as a result of oxygen deprivation during birth. To see if you have a birth injury case, contact The Mellino Law Firm for a free initial consultation.