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What is Birth Asphyxia?

a newborn baby's feet

Birth asphyxia, also known as perinatal asphyxia, is a severe medical condition that can lead to permanent physical and neurological damage in infants. When an infant's oxygen-rich blood supply is interrupted during delivery, the result can be devastating. Let's take a closer look at this important issue.

What Is Birth Asphyxia?

Birth asphyxia occurs when an infant's oxygen supply is cut off before or during childbirth. This lack of oxygen can cause severe damage to the baby's brain and other organs. The most common causes of birth asphyxia include:

  • Inability to tolerate contractions and the stress of labor
  • Excessive uterine activity, often as a result of too much Pitocin (a.k.a. oxytocin)
  • Umbilical cord problems such as knots or compression;
  • Infection or trauma;
  • Placental insufficiency
  • Placental abruption
  • Uterine rupture
  • Prolonged labor, especially a prolonged pushing stage
  • Improper use of medical equipment

Timing of Injury

While asphyxia can occur at any time during pregnancy all the way up to delivery, studies have shown that birth injuries from asphyxia most commonly occurs around the time of labor and delivery. In fact, radiology studies that have examined the brains of injured infants have determined that upwards of 80 to 90 percent of infants suffered from asphyxia around the time of birth. The researchers determined that injuries occurring in the early months of pregnancy were extremely rare.

Based on what we know about pregnancy and childbirth, this makes sense. Generally speaking, pregnancy is not stressful for the fetus. It is only when labor begins, that contractions and pushing efforts put stress on the baby by interfering with the oxygen delivery to the baby. Labor and delivery are the most stressful time for the fetus. While most babies can tolerate the stresses of labor and be delivered safely, others may become too hypoxic (not enough oxygen) and suffer asphyxia and brain injury. This type of injury is called Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE). Infants that suffer HIE at birth often go on to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy as they grow older and their developmental delays become more apparent.

It is also important to note that in some cases, infants that are born depressed and in need of resuscitation may suffer additional injury if resuscitation is not performed immediately or effectively. This may be as a result of inadequate training, lack of preparation, or failing to have the right equipment or personnel present at the delivery to handle the resuscitation.

Neonatal Cooling Therapy

Neonatal cooling therapy (also known as therapeutic hypothermia) has been used to reduce both short-term and long-term effects associated with birth asphyxia in newborns who suffer from a lack of oxygen at birth or during pregnancy/delivery complications. This therapy involves cooling an infant's body temperature using special cooling caps that are placed on their head or whole body blankets in order to slow down metabolic processes within cells that have been affected by a lack of oxygenation during childbirth.

Related Reading: "Can Neonatal Cooling Improve Outcomes Following Birth Injuries?"

Studies have shown that infants who receive this treatment within six hours after being born have higher rates of survival without major neurological disabilities than infants who did not receive treatment at all or received it later than six hours after being born.

Birth Injury Attorneys in Wilmington, NC

The attorneys at Daniel, Holoman & Associates LLP have extensive experience representing families of infants who have been injured due to birth asphyxia or other forms of medical malpractice. If your child has suffered from a birth injury, our team is here to help. We can provide legal guidance and support throughout the process of seeking compensation for the damages caused by birth asphyxia or other forms of medical negligence.

If your baby was injured due to birth asphyxia which was brought on by negligence, call us today at (866) 380-2281 for a free consultation.

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