The Consequences of Oxygen Deprivation during Birth

By | March 1, 2016

Expecting a baby is an exciting time for moms, dads, and their loved ones. Many mothers-to-be make sacrifices to help ensure the health of their baby, by quitting smoking, not drinking alcohol, cutting back on caffeine, and giving up deli meat. Some even go the extra distance by exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, and attending childbirth classes. But even after all that hard prep work, there’s no guarantee that everything will go smoothly in the delivery room.

While accidents do happen, sometimes unexpected difficulties are made worse by a health care professional’s failure to act in an appropriate or timely manner. One of the most common complications is oxygen deprivation (more scientifically known as perinatal asphyxia). A lack or interruption of oxygen during birth can be caused by a number of factors, all of which can be made worse by a doctor’s mistake. If the care given by the physician deviates from accepted medical practices and the baby or the mother is unnecessarily harmed as a result, then there is likely a basis for filing a successful medical malpractice lawsuit.

According to the American Journal of Neuroradiology, at least two to ten out of every 1,000 newborns experience lack of oxygen. Being deprived of an adequate oxygen supply is known as hypoxia, while being totally deprived of oxygen is called anoxia. Causes of these conditions include inadequate fetal monitoring, placental abruption, maternal anemia, maternal smoking, blocked airways (meconium aspiration syndrome), getting stuck in the birth canal, or umbilical cord issues (may be twisted, knotted, pinched, or prolapsed).

Both hypoxia and anoxia can lead to brain damage, organ damage, cerebral palsy, seizures, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioral disorders, and even death. Some of the severe effects that stem from these conditions can be substantially diminished if the infant is attended to immediately. Treatments vary, depending on the specific cause, and may involve fluid suction, a respirator, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, or hyperthermia therapy. Low levels of oxygen in the infant’s blood can also produce acidosis, a circumstance which develops when too much acid accumulates in the blood and leads to complications.

Medical staff should be monitoring the vital signs of mother and baby before, during, and after birth. They should be properly trained to recognize when a decrease in an infant’s oxygen is cause for alarm and to know what to do to get the child to breathe as quickly as possible. Failing to identify when an infant is in fetal distress is a common birthing error that can have serious, long-term consequences.

Quality of life due to an asphyxia birth injury varies greatly, depending on the severity and amount of damage the infant sustained. In some instances, a baby will go on to live a normal life; in others, adjustments will have to be made in order to give the injured child as healthy and productive a future as possible. Given the complexity of medical mistake cases, it is important to contact an attorney if you believe your baby’s oxygen-related injury was preventable. Although financial compensation cannot make up for the harm, it can help pay for the expensive, life-long care that such a child will likely need.

About the Author

Steven G. Wigrizer is an attorney for the Philadelphia based Personal Injury Law Firm, Wapner Newman Attorneys at Law. Mr. Wigrizer focuses his attention on civil litigation, and is a past President of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association.

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