What is Birth Asphyxia, and What Causes it?

Birth asphyxia is a condition in which a baby does not get enough oxygen before, during, or immediately after birth.  A lack of oxygen can lead to waste build up in a baby’s body and can cause permanent injuries.  Occurring in four out of every 1,000 births, asphyxia is more common among infants born prematurely.  Asphyxia can result in injuries to a baby’s brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, bowels and other organs.  In some cases, asphyxia can result in death.  Asphyxia in premature babies can lead to cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, vision problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Sometimes, asphyxia can occur without anyone knowing.  The damage done to a baby as a result of asphyxia depends upon how long the child went without oxygen, and how quickly the baby is properly treated.  The first injurious stage of asphyxia occurs the first few minutes the baby is without oxygen.  During this time, the baby suffers cell damage as a result of oxygen deprivation.  The second stage, known as “reperfusion injury,” occurs after normal restoration of blood flow and oxygen, and is caused by toxins released from damaged cells.  Reperfusion injuries last days or weeks.

Asphyxia can be caused by lack of oxygen in the mother’s blood before or during birth.  It can also be caused by problems with the placenta separating from the uterus too quickly.  A long or difficult delivery or an infection in the mother or baby may cause asphyxia.  In addition, a mother with high or low blood sugar may have a baby with birth asphyxia.  A child with a blocked airway or an airway that is not properly developed may be deprived of oxygen.  Finally, a baby with anemia, a condition in which an infant’s cells can’t properly carry oxygen to organs, may suffer from asphyxia.

A child suffering from oxygen deprivation may have weak breathing or may not be breathing at all.  It may be bluish and pale in color and may have a low heart rate.  Infants with asphyxia often have poor reflexes and muscle tone and may have seizures.  Lastly, acidosis, a condition in which there is too much acid in the blood, is another symptom of oxygen deprivation.

How is Birth Asphyxia Treated?

How and when a baby with asphyxia is treated can determine extent of injuries an infant suffers as a result of the condition.  Babies with mild asphyxia are given breathing support until they can breathe on their own.  However, babies with severe asphyxia may require a ventilator, respiratory therapy, and fluids and medicine to prevent seizures and control blood pressure. 

Some hospitals use a high-frequency ventilator which delivers rapid, small puffs of oxygen to a baby’s fragile lungs to prevent lung damage.  In addition, some doctors may administer nitric acid through a breathing tube to dilate blood vessels in the lungs.  Medical professionals may also cool a baby’s body to 91 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 72 hours to help prevent brain damage during the “reperfusion” stage.  Finally, some babies may be hooked up to an extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, a heart-lung pump which provides temporary life support to a baby with heart and lungs that aren’t functioning properly.

How Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC Can Help If Your Child Suffered from Birth Asphyxia

If your child suffered from birth asphyxia, Gallivan & Gallivan may be able to help.  Birth asphyxia can lead to brain damage and other organ damage.  We will closely examine the cause of your child’s injury to determine if it was caused by failure on the part of medical providers to properly ventilate your child before, during or immediately after birth.  If the cause of the injury is a result of medical malpractice or negligence, we will recover compensation for you and your child.

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