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Paul M. D'Amore

Lack of Oxygen at Birth: Signs, Long-Term Effects, and Prevention of Birth Asphyxia

We all need oxygen in full and constant supply to keep our brains, hearts, and internal organs functioning well.

Even in the womb, unborn babies — who can’t breathe in open air — require an adequate supply of oxygen in order to thrive.

As adults, any interruption to our oxygen supply becomes readily apparent. But how can you tell if your baby is suddenly suffering from a lack of oxygen in the womb?

Birth asphyxia refers to the inadequate flow of oxygen-rich blood to an unborn baby’s brain. It can be extremely serious, and in some cases may even be deadly.

Newborns who survive asphyxia during pregnancy, labor, or delivery are still at higher risk of developmental delays, as well as other long-term health complications.

Causes of Oxygen Deprivation at Birth

A number of factors can contribute to a deprivation of oxygen at birth. These include:

  • Prolapsed umbilical cord (or other problems with the umbilical cord)
  • Abnormal maternal blood pressure (whether high or low)
  • Eclampsia / Preeclampsia
  • A blockage in the baby’s airway
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Placental abruption or other problems with the placenta
  • In-utero trauma
  • Inadequate oxygen in the mother’s blood
  • Improper medication of the mother
  • Infections
  • Complications during delivery / a difficult or prolonged delivery

While some cases of birth asphyxia are unavoidable, many can be prevented through diligent and attentive medical care.

Unfortunately, when doctors, nurses, or midwives make mistakes — or fail to monitor their patients comprehensively — oxygen deprivation becomes more likely.

Long-Term Effects of Birth Asphyxia on the Child

A lack of oxygen during birth is associated with several serious medical conditions, many of which may be permanent. These include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Behavioral problems
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Delayed development
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Permanent organ damage (brain, heart, lungs, etc.)
  • Seizures
  • Vision impairment

Indeed, cerebral palsy is one of the biggest concerns in any case of birth asphyxia. Children diagnosed with cerebral palsy may face physical, emotional, social, and financial challenges for the rest of their life. That’s why medical teams should take great care to avoid the long-term effects of oxygen deprivation before it happens.

Even a brief or mild lack of oxygen can result in developmental delays or life-long complications.

Lack of Oxygen at Birth: Signs and Symptoms to Look For

There are several warning signs of birth asphyxia that may become apparent at birth. These include:

  • Weak or abnormal breathing (or absence of breathing)
  • Abnormal skin color (pale, blue, or gray)
  • Low heart rate
  • Weak reflexes
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Acidosis (excess acid in the blood)
  • Stool (meconium) in the amniotic fluid
  • Seizures
  • Problems with blood clotting
  • Urinary problems (e.g. baby does not urinate)
  • Lethargy (infant fatigue)
  • Signs of inadequate blood circulation

Just as importantly, doctors and health care providers should monitor mothers and their unborn babies throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery to screen for common health issues that make a lack of oxygen at birth more likely.

Skilled monitoring and expert treatment are critical to avoiding developmental delays.

Birth Asphyxia: Monitoring, Prevention, and Treatment

Physicians, midwives, and many nurses receive special training in the dangers of birth asphyxia. They are expected to know the potential causes and should take steps to avoid them. This includes closely monitoring both mother and child for any abnormalities — before, during, and after delivery.

Treatment might include blood pressure medication, body cooling, breathing tubes, machine-assisted breathing, dialysis, seizure-suppressing drugs, heart pumps, and more.

Of course, the best treatment is prevention. Failure to prevent, diagnose, or treat birth asphyxia may constitute medical malpractice in Maryland and in Washington, D.C.

Talk to an Experienced Maryland Birth Injury Lawyer Today

You and your child deserve the very best medical care. Your doctor and midwife should be diligent, well trained, and highly responsive. There is simply no excuse for an oxygen-related birth injury caused that is caused or made worse by preventable medical negligence.

If you or your child has suffered and you believe a health care provider’s carelessness might be to blame, please contact D’Amore Law right away. Our experienced Maryland birth injury attorneys are here and ready to fight for you.

Call 410-324-2000 or contact us online to get started with a free consultation today.

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