A baby needs a constant supply of oxygen, during the “perinatal” period immediately before and after birth, which is delivered from the mother via the placenta and umbilical cord until the baby is born and can breathe on its own.
“Hypoxia” is concentration of oxygen in the blood that is lower than normal. A baby can only survive for a very short period without sufficient oxygen. Perinatal hypoxia is often caused by birth asphyxia, which is when the baby stops breathing as a result of some type of birth trauma.
“Hypoxia” is when oxygen can’t get to tissue; “perinatal” means immediately before and after birth. Perinatal hypoxia and perinatal asphyxia are responsible for nearly a third of all neonatal deaths. A child who survives but has received too little oxygen in the perinatal period of delivery is likely to suffer some degree of brain damage as a result.
Damage to a Baby from Perinatal Hypoxia
Perinatal hypoxia can cause Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) and brain injuries related to birth asphyxia, including cerebral palsy, resulting in developmental and cognitive delays and/or motor impairment.
The first 48 hours after the birth incident causing perinatal hypoxia are critical in mitigating the harm to the child. Preventing this type of birth complication through excellent prenatal care and careful monitoring of the mother and child during labor and delivery is the best way to prevent life-long impairment; when it does occur, immediate diagnosis and treatment are essential.
Conditions associated with perinatal hypoxia include:
- Cerebral palsy (CP)
- Intellectual disabilities
- Seizure disorders
- Behavior disorders
What Are Some Preventable Causes Of Perinatal Hypoxia?
Perinatal hypoxia and its health consequences can often be prevented by excellent quality prenatal care for the mother so that potential problems are diagnosed in advance of the birth, including:
- Premature separation of the placenta
- Placenta covering the mother’s cervix (placenta previa)
- Maternal infection, such as chlamydia
- Cephalo-pelvic disproportion
- Breech or other abnormal presentation
- Inhalation by the baby of meconium (earliest stool) that has been released into fluids during birth
- Careful monitoring of mother and baby during labor and delivery
- Avoiding the use of forceps or vacuum extraction unless absolutely necessary, and if so, using skill and care to avoid head injury to the baby
- Taking prompt action, such as performing a forceps delivery or C-section, when monitoring indicates fetal distress
- Employing proper delivery methods to release a cord around the baby’s neck or other body part that first becomes apparent in the course of a vaginal delivery
- Suctioning the baby’s airway immediately after birth if there is a possibility of inhaled meconium
- Immediately reviving and treating a baby who appears hypoxic
Perinatal Hypoxia Treatment
Perinatal hypoxia is not a “wait and see” situation. It requires prompt action. Employing controlled neonatal therapeutic hypothermia within six hours of delivery can reduce death and brain damage by half. This involves cooling the baby with ice blankets and an ice cap to slow damaging cellular responses while the medical team works to restore blood oxygen to a normal level.
Who Is Responsible?
As a pregnant woman, you have the right to expect that your obstetrician or nurse-midwife and all other labor and delivery room personnel in a hospital or birthing center are thoroughly trained to monitor you and your baby closely and act without delay if any indication of a problem should occur.
You should also be able to rely on the skill of the professional delivering your child when performing procedures like forceps deliveries and vacuum extractions and dealing with issues involving the umbilical cord or possible meconium inhalation.
And you should be able to count on the hospital to have a team of neonatal specialists ready to act without delay if an unexpected problem should arise that threatens your baby’s life or health.
If the doctor, nurse-midwife, or other birthing professional fails in their duty to provide you and your baby with the appropriate standard of care—that which another competent obstetric professional in your area would give—and your child is seriously harmed as a result─ then you might have a case for medical malpractice.
Get Help from a Lawyer Who Is Also a Doctor
If you are a parent who suspects that your child is suffering the consequences of oxygen deprivation at birth, contact the Phoenix law offices of Arizona birth injury lawyers Cullan & Cullan.
Our attorneys are qualified physicians who can advise you as to whether you have a valid cause of action to recover money for your child’s injuries. The consultation is free.