First words, first steps, first smiles—there are so many milestones when you have a baby, and the first breath is just the beginning. But your baby requires oxygen even before that first breath, and if they don’t get what they need, there could be serious medical problems later.
Everyone needs oxygen in order to survive, and that includes babies—before they’re even born. Outside the womb, humans breathe oxygen into our lungs through our mouth and nose. An unborn baby receives oxygen from their mother through an umbilical cord that connects the baby to the mother’s placenta. The placenta, which forms and attaches to the inside of the mother’s womb, provides all the oxygen and nutrients that the baby needs during pregnancy.
Because a baby is fully reliant on their mother’s placenta to grow and thrive in the womb, the baby must have a functioning umbilical cord that can transfer oxygen from the placenta up until the moment they’re born and can take their own first breaths through their mouth and nose.
Sometimes, complications arise during labor and delivery that cause a baby to be deprived of oxygen, and this can result in serious issues or death. Some of these complications are preventable, and if your baby suffered a birth injury because of oxygen deprivation due to a doctor’s negligence, you could recover damages through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Asphyxia caused by oxygen deprivation to a baby
Asphyxia (also sometimes called suffocation) is a condition in which a person is deprived of oxygen and experiences a period of unconsciousness. It can result in death if the person isn’t immediately revived and oxygen can’t reach their brain and vital organs.
When an infant is deprived of oxygen during the process of labor and delivery and survives, they can suffer severe and irreversible brain damage. Oxygen deprivation and asphyxia can also cause other neurologic, developmental, physical and growth abnormalities and mental health conditions.
Even a few minutes of oxygen deprivation can result in death or severe injuries in a newborn. Infants who experience asphyxia are more likely to have learning disabilities and behavioral problems that last into adulthood.
Mild or moderate asphyxia can result in conditions that include hyperactivity, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficits, low IQ, schizophrenia or other adult psychiatric disorders.
Some of the most common conditions that result from oxygen deprivation at birth include:
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is also called perinatal asphyxia. This condition is the direct result of acute or subacute brain injury from a loss of blood and oxygen flow to a baby’s brain during pregnancy or birth. When deprived of oxygen, the baby’s cells in their developing brain will decay and eventually die.
- Anoxia is a complete lack of oxygen in the body. Usually, it is the result of hypoxia (low oxygen levels in the blood). This could happen when a baby is born, regardless of whether they are preterm (gestational age less than 37 weeks) or full term (gestational age of 37 weeks or more).
Anoxia may result from low oxygen or blood pressure in the mother during labor and delivery or placenta or umbilical cord issues that result in inadequate blood flow to the baby.
Causes of oxygen deprivation birth injuries
There are a number of ways a baby could experience a lack of oxygen during labor and delivery. These include:
- Too little oxygen in the mother’s blood before or during labor and delivery
- The placenta separated from the womb too soon
- Prolonged labor or difficult delivery
- Umbilical cord prolapse or other complications
- Baby is anemic, a condition in which their blood cells are unable to carry enough oxygen
- Infection in either mother or baby
- Mother has high or low blood pressure
- Baby’s airway is blocked or not formed properly
Birth injuries to babies who are deprived of oxygen
The CDC estimates that about one in every 700 births has some oxygen deprivation-related complication. Other studies have indicated that as many as one in 200 babies experiences these problems.
Some of the birth injuries that could result from asphyxia include:
- Lung development problems caused by an underdeveloped placenta or poor blood flow through the umbilical cord during pregnancy. Sometimes the baby can’t breathe properly after birth, which could lead to lung collapse or infection if left untreated.
- Skeletal deformities (when bones do not grow correctly) could affect a baby’s long-term health and mobility. Babies who are deprived of oxygen before birth are more likely to develop these problems as they grow. It can lead to conditions like scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine.
- Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to certain areas of the brain while it’s developing in the womb. Cerebral palsy causes a child to have difficulties with movement and coordination due to physical abnormalities affecting their muscles and joints. This brain damage could be caused by reduced oxygen to the brain in the womb or oxygen flow that is interrupted during childbirth.
Symptoms of birth asphyxia
If a baby is monitored during labor, fetal heart rate abnormalities or low blood pH levels can indicate excess acid, which could be a symptom of birth asphyxia.
Once the baby is born, the doctor or attending staff should be monitoring for signs that include:
- Lack of crying (baby is silent)
- Low heart rate
- Weak reflexes
- Weak muscle tone
- Abnormal blood clotting
- Low blood pressure
- Lack of urination
- Difficulty breathing
- Meconium in amniotic fluid
- Limpness or lethargy
As soon as the baby is born, the doctor should perform an Apgar test, which is a test that is routinely done at 1 and 5 minutes after birth to assess how well the baby tolerated labor as well as their overall health.
Is a birth injury from asphyxia medical malpractice?
It’s possible, but not always. There are some conditions that result in oxygen deprivation that a doctor would not be able to detect prior to birth through standard medical practice and prenatal care.
The only time you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit is if the doctor or hospital was negligent in not providing the reasonably accepted standard of care for your circumstances.
If the doctor failed to reasonably detect oxygen deprivation and take steps to prevent or treat it, then it’s possible you could recover damages from a medical malpractice claim.
Consult a birth injury attorney
These types of cases are complex. Sometimes a brain injury isn’t immediately apparent at birth, and the symptoms only appear later. If that’s the situation, it could be difficult to prove that the condition was caused by oxygen deprivation, especially if the condition develops gradually.
Raising a child who has a disability or requires extensive medical treatment is significantly more costly than raising a child who doesn’t have advanced medical or educational needs. If your baby’s issues would be different or wouldn’t have happened if your doctor hadn’t been negligent, then you could be entitled to recover compensation for their medical care and other expenses related to a lifetime of care and treatment.
If you believe your child suffered a birth injury because of oxygen deprivation at birth, contact the Brown Trial Firm. Laura Brown has years of experience in birth injury law, helping families like yours all across the U.S. get the compensation they deserve. If you need help with your birth injury lawsuit, contact us today for your free consultation.
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