What is Birth Asphyxia?
Birth asphyxia—also called neonatal or perinatal asphyxia—is the failure to maintain adequate oxygenated blood flow to the baby. Perinatal or birth asphyxia is a direct cause of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.
Birth asphyxia is a lack of blood flow or gas exchange to or from the fetus in the period immediately before, during, or after the birth process. It can result in profound systemic and neurologic injuries due to decreased blood flow and/or oxygen to a fetus or infant during the peripartum period.
When placental (prenatal and/or during delivery) or pulmonary (immediate post-natal) gas exchange is compromised or ceases altogether, there is partial (hypoxia) or complete (anoxia) lack of oxygen to the vital organs. This results in progressive hypoxemia, in which the oxygen levels in the blood are below normal. It can also result in hypercapnia, a condition in which carbon dioxide builds up in the blood.
If the hypoxemia is severe enough, the tissues and vital organs (muscle, liver, heart, and ultimately the brain) will develop an oxygen debt. Additionally, this leads to anaerobic glycolysis and lactic acidosis (too much lactic acid accumulates in the body), which is demonstrated by low blood pH.
What Are Common Causes of Birth Asphyxia?
As indicated above, the exchange of blood and oxygen between mother and fetus during pregnancy and birth are critical to the baby’s health. Therefore, chief among the common causes of birth asphyxia is the failure to recognize a lack of oxygen in the fetus’ blood before or during birth. Other common causes of birth asphyxia are:
- A protracted or difficult delivery
- Problems with the umbilical cord during delivery (such as wrapping around the baby’s neck)
- The placenta separates from the womb too soon (cutting off the baby’s sole supply of blood flow and oxygen)
- Serious infection in the mother or baby
- Abnormal maternal blood pressure (too high or too low)
- Problems with the baby’s airway – improperly formed or blocked (as in the meconium aspiration syndrome that causes HIE)
- Anemia in the baby (blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen)
- Negligence by the medical team by not recognizing or anticipating complications that lead to this birth injury
Recognizing the Signs & Symptoms of Birth Asphyxia
The most common symptoms of birth asphyxia can show up before or at birth. Before birth, signs are abnormal fetal heart rates and patterns that are caused by low oxygen and pH levels. Non-reassuring fetal heart monitor patterns can suggest hypoxia in utero and an increased level of lactate in the blood. At birth, the baby will be depressed, have poor skin color, low heart rate, poor reflexes, and weak muscle tone. The baby will also be gasping for breath or show weak breathing. The amniotic fluid may be stained with meconium (the fetus’ fecal matter) which is released during stress. These symptoms of birth asphyxia can contribute to a low Apgar score.
Establishing Medical Negligence
Birth asphyxia usually stems from natural causes but there are cases of medical negligence in the matter. A birth injury attorney will work to establish medical negligence if a) your doctor failed to recognize the warning signs or b) the doctor did not respond quickly enough to the signs of birth asphyxia (or other birth injuries), and this led to irreversible damage.
A case of medical negligence must prove that the doctor did not practice the standard of care that requires physicians adapt to situations that arise in the delivery room—such as failing to recognize the warning signs that appear through monitoring of the baby’s acid levels or fetal heart rate. In addition, the physician may have failed to measure the Apgar score immediately after birth and look for signs of neurological problems. Further, if complications during the birth called for performance of a c-section or assisted delivery with instruments, and the obstetrician failed to do so, you may have a birth injury lawsuit for medical malpractice due to this medical negligence.
Proving that a birth-related neurological injury was caused by birth asphyxia requires an analysis of the prenatal, delivery and birth records. Other causes such as genetic or second trimester injuries need to be ruled out, and supportive evidence of a hypoxic injury needs to be found by looking at all the available information. An experienced birth injury attorney can analyze the prenatal records, perinatal care, and postnatal care to determine those cases of birth asphyxia that were caused by negligence.
Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney
If you believe your medical provider did not exercise reasonable care during your labor and/or delivery, and that this failure directly caused a birth injury, you should contact an experienced birth injury attorney. At Britcher, Leone & Sergio, LLC you will find an experienced team of birth injury attorneys and medically trained personnel who listen to your concerns and discuss your options regarding a claim. Call our office to schedule a free consultation. We understand how to examine all the records and if you have a legitimate claim, we will help you get the compensation you and your child deserve.