Hypoxia, birth asphyxia, and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) are all terms for a lack of oxygen to a baby before, during, or following birth. Lack of oxygen can cause serious birth injuries. Fortunately, birth injuries can often be prevented if medical professionals follow the standard of care by watching for the first signs of hypoxia.
This information was compiled from government sources, educational non-profits, and medical experts.
To learn more about the first signs of hypoxic brain injuries at birth, keep reading.
Four Types of Hypoxia
There are four types of fetal hypoxia:
- Acute Hypoxia
- Subacute Hypoxia
- Evolving Hypoxia
- Chronic Hypoxia
The types of hypoxia describe the severity and duration of the condition.
Getting help for a child with HIE or Cerebral Palsy
can make a big difference
Because early intervention is often key to helping improve a child’s wellbeing, it’s important to act swiftly. At the Brown Trial Firm, our Houston birth injury attorneys can help you investigate your case, find answers to your questions, and determine whether you are entitled to compensation. We offer case reviews at no cost or obligation. Many birth injuries that cause cerebral palsy could have been prevented.
Common Signs of Hypoxia in Newborns
Because hypoxia can lead to serious and permanent birth injuries, medical professionals should always be watchful for the signs of lack of adequate oxygen to the baby. This includes watching for the signs before, during, and after the child is born.
What is the first sign of hypoxia in newborns?
One of the earliest indications that a baby is having difficulty breathing is an erratic or irregular heart rate. Doctors should be closely monitoring the fetal heart rate both during and after labor to ensure that the newborn is getting ample oxygen.
Other common signs of hypoxia (or lack of oxygen) in the baby include:
- A lack of fetal movement
(infant lethargy or fatigue)
- Bluish or pale skin tone
- Poor / weak muscle tone
- Poor reflexes
- Weak / no cry
- Difficulty breathing
- Neonatal seizures
- Acidosis (too much acid in the blood)
- Meconium (stool) in the amniotic fluid
Medical professionals can observe the baby’s heart rate in the womb using a fetal heart monitor.
Fetal Heart Monitoring
There are two ways to do fetal heart monitoring: internally and externally.
External monitoring can be done using a Doppler ultrasound device. For continuous monitoring, the medical professional can attach an ultrasound probe (called a “transducer”) to the mother’s belly. This probe sends the sounds of the baby’s heart to a computer, where the rate and pattern are shown on a screen or printed on a paper.
Internal monitoring can be done by affixing a thin wire (an electrode) to the baby’s scalp. The wire runs from the baby, through the mother’s cervix, and then to a monitor. This method gives more reliable readings than external monitoring, but can only be used after the amniotic sac has broken and the cervix is open.
Whether internally or externally measured, a baby’s heart rate provides medical professionals with valuable information about whether the baby is receiving enough oxygen. An abnormal heart beat should be attentively monitored and treatment options should be evaluated. Medical professionals may order an emergency C-section if the baby is at risk of injury due to hypoxia.
Common Factors that Cause Hypoxia
There are many reasons why a baby may not be receiving enough oxygen before, during, or following birth. Common factors can include:
- Placental abruption
- Uterine rupture
- Compression of the umbilical cord
- Umbilical cord knots
- Prolapse of the umbilical cord
- Mother’s low blood pressure
- Mother’s low oxygen levels
Treatment for Hypoxia in Newborns
Infants who experience lack of oxygen during labor or delivery can undergo several treatments to help minimize the damage to the baby’s developing brain.
Therapeutic hypothermia, or brain cooling therapy, is one of the most common treatments for hypoxia. This type of therapy helps improve outcomes by lowering the infant’s brain and body temperature, thus altering the chemical processes of the brain and reducing the infant’s risk of sustaining permanent brain damage.
Other treatments for hypoxic brain injuries at birth might include prescribing blood pressure drugs, machine-assisted breathing, dialysis, heart pumps, breathing tubs and seizure-inhibitor medications.
Of course, as the saying goes, “prevention is the best cure”. If a medical professional fails to prevent permanent brain damage caused by lack of oxygen during labor and delivery, they may be liable for damages under medical malpractice laws.
Talk to an experienced birth injury attorney to learn more about your legal options.
The first sign of hypoxia is often an irregular heart beat. An erratic beat, or decelerations of the heart may be a sign of oxygen deprivation. Lack of movement may also be a sign of hypoxia. Medical professionals should always carefully monitor potential signs of hypoxia because a lack of oxygen can cause serious and permanent birth injuries, including HIE and cerebral palsy.
Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy Clinical Presentation: History, Physical Examination. (2020). Emedicine.medscape.com. Retrieved 26 February 2020, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/973501-clinical#b2
Yatham SS, e. (2020). Types of intrapartum hypoxia on the cardiotocograph (CTG): do they have any relationship with the type of brain injury in the MRI scan in term babies? – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 19 March 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31612740