Birth Asphyxia and Brain Damage: How a Lack of Oxygen to the Brain Can Lead to Injury

Birth asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain prior to or during birth) can lead to serious brain damage and birth injury. To better understand how lack of oxygen to the brain and injury are related, it’s important to look at the causes, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of birth asphyxia. 

There are many reasons that oxygen deprivation at the time of birth may occur. As such, it is crucial that medical personnel are equipped to prevent asphyxia and when this is not possible, to identify and address the health crisis in a swift and capable manner. Correct diagnosis and treatment may, in some cases, help to lessen the negative effects of a lack of oxygen to the brain. Those who suspect that medical negligence could be responsible for the severe brain trauma during birth or birth asphyxiation may consult a Cleveland birth injury attorney.

What is birth asphyxia and what are the causes? 

Asphyxia – lack of oxygen – occurs when a baby’s brain or organs are deprived of the vital element during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or directly 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. The damage may be temporary or long-term, and even permanent in some cases.

What can cause asphyxia? 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).

Seattle Children’s Hospital, whose neonatalists conduct research into improving treatments for babies suffering asphyxia, reports that asphyxia may occur in about 4 out of 1,000 full-term deliveries and it may be more common in pre-mature 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).

If proper protocol was not followed and it resulted in serious injury, aClevelandbirth injury attorney may discuss legal recourse with the parents.

Treating Birth Asphyxia 

Prompt treatment of birth asphyxia is instrumental in controlling the damage that can result from a lack of oxygen to the brain. The proper protocol will depend on the baby’s age, health, and overall condition. Among the possible courses of treatment are: 

  • 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.

As such, birth asphyxia can be considered a costly and devastating birth injury, and one that may be caused (in some instances) by medical negligence or error in which case a Cleveland birth injury attorney can help parents recover compensation for damages.

Did medical negligence contribute to a birth injury? Contact a Cleveland Birth Injury Attorney 

A Cleveland birth injury attorney can analyze the details of your situation and help you determine if there is evidence of liability on behalf of a medical team related to a lack of oxygen to the brain that resulted in serious injury. In Cleveland, birth injury attorneys at Mellino Robenalt LLC can consult with parents who suspect medical negligence may have caused or contributed to their child’s injury related to birth asphyxia.