When something goes wrong during the birthing process, like a birth injury, it can quickly turn from one of the happiest to one of the scariest days of someone’s life. Doctors and other medical professionals involved in childbirth typically do everything they can to prevent any issues that can lead to a birth injury. However, there are cases where a medical professional’s negligence leads to innocent children being harmed.
One of the injuries we often see appearing in birth injury lawsuits is birth asphyxia. Another name for this condition is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, or H.I.E.
What Causes Brain Damage in Utero?
The main cause of brain damage, while a baby is in utero, is birth asphyxia. Unfortunately, many asphyxiated babies have suffered this condition due to improper or negligent medical care.
Either during or directly following birth, a baby is at risk of being deprived of oxygen to the brain or other organs. This can happen before, during, or right after birth. The WHO definition of birth asphyxia is “the failure to establish breathing at birth.”
What Happens to the Brain When a Baby Doesn’t Get Enough Oxygen
Oxygen deprivation at birth in infants means their cells cannot work properly, allowing waste products (acids) to build up in the cells, causing temporary or permanent damage. This condition often leads to lifelong disability, birth defects, and sometimes even death.
Brain damage begins to occur within approximately four minutes without oxygen. After approximately 4 to 6 minutes, death is possible.
Birth asphyxia during pregnancy may be recognized either during delivery or just before by monitoring the baby’s vital signs of the baby. In these cases, an emergency c-section is often performed. In other cases the condition may not be recognized, leading to the baby being born in distress.
What Causes Birth Asphyxia?
Asphyxia may occur due to several causes, some of which result from negligent or improper medical care. Low levels of oxygen in the mother’s bloodstream could lead to asphyxia of the infant, for instance. Lowered respiration after anesthesia, such as an epidural, can also lead to a depleted oxygen supply to the baby, as can sudden drops in blood pressure prior to or during the birth.
Other common causes of birth asphyxia include:
- Umbilical cord asphyxia or problems with the umbilical cord (prolapsed or pinched umbilical cord during delivery, cord wrapping around the baby’s neck)
- Hypoxemia (too little oxygen in the mother’s blood)
- Strenuous, lengthy, or otherwise difficult birth
- Placental abruption occurring too soon (placenta separating from the uterus)
- Infection present in the mother or baby
- Blockage or defect in the airway
- High blood pressure or low blood pressure in the mother
- Fetal anemia (baby’s blood cell count is too low or the cells can’t carry enough oxygen)
- Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (amniotic fluid mixes with the first bowel movement in the baby’s lungs after birth )
- Premature birth, causing the lungs to be underdeveloped
- Delay coming out of the birth canal
In other cases, oxygen can be cut off due to placental detachment from the uterus. This condition is called placental abruption. A pinched or obstructed umbilical cord during pregnancy can also cause the mother to give birth to an asphyxiated baby.
The Two Types of Birth Asphyxia in Newborns
Two stages of injury occur when a baby is deprived of oxygen before, during, or after birth:
- The first stage begins within minutes when the baby’s oxygen is lacking or completely cut off. This causes immediate cell damage to occur.
- The second stage of damage is known as “reperfusion injury“ and can last anywhere from days to weeks. Reperfusion occurs after the normal blood flow and supply of oxygen is restored to the brain as toxins are released from the damaged cells into the organs and bloodstream.
Signs of birth asphyxia can also appear after the baby is born if the mother suffered a difficult pregnancy. Blood pressure or respiratory abnormalities may cause asphyxia in newborns. Also, blood disorders such as anemia in the infant may prevent the blood from carrying enough oxygen. Recognizable or detectable signs and symptoms of birth asphyxia include:
- The infant’s skin being blue or pale in color
- Low heart rate
- Weak breathing
- No breathing
- Poor muscle tone or weak reflexes
- Meconium (fecal matter) in the amniotic fluid
- Acidosis (too much acid in the infant’s blood)
- Infant seizures
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What Happens During Birth Asphyxia?
Two types of chemical changes can happen when oxygen levels in a newborn are decreased. The first is hypoxemia, which is a low level of blood oxygen but the supply is not entirely cut off. The second is acidosis, which is the presence of too much acid in the blood.
If a baby’s heart rate and blood pressure are lower than normal at birth or they have a low heart rate after delivery, this is an indication of asphyxia. Left untreated, the baby could suffer severe brain damage. The baby needs to be treated as soon as risk factors are detected to prevent long-term effects of fetal distress during labor and lifelong debilitation.
If the baby is still in the uterus, the mother can be given oxygen during labor and throughout the delivery. A cesarean section may be required if the problems persist. If the baby is already born, the medical team may ventilate the baby and administer heart and blood pressure medication.
Cerebral palsy, a term for several conditions resulting from brain damage, may occur from asphyxia, as may several other mental disorders and diseases. When parents are faced with this heartbreaking situation, they first need to seek expert medical attention from medical professionals specializing in asphyxia-related conditions. Time is critical here, as the situation will worsen without treatment and the baby’s lifelong outlook will diminish quickly.
Long-Term Complications of Birth Asphyxia
When birth asphyxia occurs, your child may suffer a wide range of complications that can affect their entire life and future. Some of those include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delays
- Speech delays
- Learning disabilities
- Hearing and visual impairments
- Behavioral disorders
- Feeding complications
- Orthopedic issues
Treating Birth Asphyxia
Getting fast and effective treatment for your infant as soon as asphyxia is detected is critical to decreasing the chances of short-term or long-term damage to your child. The quicker the problem is noticed and rectified, the better chance your baby has of not being permanently disabled by the lack of oxygen. Mild cases of birth asphyxia are treated with immediate breathing support until the baby can breathe well on his or her own.
Babies with more serious signs of asphyxia may need a breathing machine, respiratory therapy, fluids, and medicine to control blood pressure and prevent seizures. In extreme or unique cases, more advanced techniques can be used to treat birth asphyxia. These include:
- High-frequency ventilation
- Inhaled nitric oxide
- Controlled hypothermia
- Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation
Can Babies Fully Recover from Birth Asphyxia?
Whether a baby can fully recover from an asphyxia birth injury depends on the severeness of the initial injury or, more specifically, how long the baby’s cells went without oxygen. Babies that went shorter amounts of time without oxygen and were diagnosed with mild or moderate asphyxia have a possibility of fully recovering. However, if the baby went an extended period of time without enough oxygen to their brain or other organs, they may suffer a permanent injury.
This type of long-term deprivation of oxygen, or acute birth asphyxia, could permanently affect such organs as the baby’s:
It may also lead to organ failure and even death.
Filing a Birth Injury Lawsuit
Unfortunately, many babies do not fully recover after a devastating birth injury such as birth asphyxia. They may struggle with learning disabilities, motor coordination, feeding issues, and other developmental delays. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, our birth injury lawyers want to take the legal burdens off of your shoulders during this time.
We know the complications that can arise from birth asphyxia, and we work tirelessly to help you and your family. We can hold negligent doctors, nurses, medical professionals, and institutions accountable for the harm they’ve caused.
You and your family should not have to endure unnecessary financial burdens because of someone else’s negligence. Your child may need a significant amount of compensation to handle the medical expenses and long-term care they need after a birth asphyxia injury.
Damages You Can Claim in a Birth Injury Lawsuit
In order to properly file a birth injury lawsuit, one needs to know what damages they will seek compensation for. Your birth injury attorney will assist you in determining what damages you will be able to seek compensation for, as well as calculate the exact value of these damages. Of all of these damages, the most obvious is the medical cost of treatment for birth injuries.
Even people with excellent insurance and savings often find themselves in severe financial hardship trying to deal with endless medical bills after a birth injury. Medical expenses are considered economic damages which are damages that involve direct financial losses caused by an injury. In the case of a birth injury, economic damages can include:
- The cost of disability therapy and treatment
- Special education
- Lost parent wages
- Legal fees
There can also be non-economic damages like pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of quality of life that do not come with the easily calculable price tags of economic damages but are no less valid.
Birth Asphyxia Statistics
Birth asphyxia is a significant issue that greatly contributes to infant injuries and mortality. Some significant statistics on birth asphyxia include:
- Birth asphyxia is the 5th largest cause of infant mortality.
- Birth asphyxia accounts for 900,000 deaths each year, worldwide.
- Birth asphyxia occurs in about 4 out of every 1,000 full-term births.
- The chances of birth asphyxia increase when babies are born prematurely.
Should You Hire a Birth Injury Attorney?
It is important to speak with an attorney who is experienced in birth-related injuries. Our birth injury lawyers will help you determine if medical malpractice was wholly or partially responsible for your child’s condition. We can check the records of monitoring equipment and investigate whether the doctor took all the possible steps necessary to prevent asphyxia and the resulting damage.
If more could have been done to prevent the damage that occurred, your doctor could be held legally responsible. It is important to act quickly because the time between your child’s birth and filing your case is limited. A child who has severe brain damage from birth is going to need lifelong special care, and this care is very costly.
The birth injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA will help you recover the funds you need to properly care for your child.
Our Birth Injury Lawyers Are Ready to Help You Today
Reach out to our team today to speak with a medical malpractice attorney. There is no cost or obligation for an evaluation of your case. Call or contact us online.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765