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Birth Injuries: Hypoxia and Birth Asphyxia

Lack of oxygen can lower fetal heart rate and cause brain injury or developmental delays. If left untreated, birth asphyxia may lead to permanent disorders like cerebral palsy or HIE (Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy).

However, birth asphyxia itself does not necessarily lead to a permanent disability. Most babies born with mild birth asphyxia can fully recover. However, moderate to severe birth asphyxia substantially increases the risk of a lifelong impairment.

This article explains what causes birth asphyxia, common treatments, and legal options available if your child suffers this type of birth injury.

What Is Hypoxia/Birth Asphyxia?

Hypoxia can occur when a person has low oxygen levels. If left untreated, hypoxia can lead to organ, heart, and brain damage.

When presented in babies, hypoxia has many names, including:

Birth asphyxia occurs when a baby's brain does not get enough oxygen and blood flow before, during, or after birth.

What Causes Birth Asphyxia?

The longer birth asphyxia goes untreated, the higher the chance that birth asphyxia may lead to a permanent disability. Therefore, it is important to identify birth asphyxia as soon as possible.

Potential risk factors for birth asphyxia include:

Treatment Options

The first step in treatment is to resuscitate the infant and stabilize oxygen flow. Treatment may include:

  • Hypo- or hyperthermia management
  • Fluid management
  • Ventilation
  • Extra oxygen for the mother before birth
  • Cesarean section (C-section)

In recent years, cooling therapy has become a popular treatment. Cooling therapy involves a plastic blanket that is circulated inside with cool water. The cooling therapy is usually sustained for less than three days. This slows down brain swelling and cell death — which would otherwise cause permanent brain damage.

What happens if birth asphyxia leads to a permanent brain injury, cognitive deficit, or cerebral palsy?

In this case, treatment focuses on a combination of medicine and long-term therapy. There is no cure for the permanent brain injury caused by extended hypoxia, so the treatment is necessarily lifelong.

The costs for lifelong biological and psychological therapy (plus supportive care costs) can be very high. Families may also need psychological therapy themselves to help cope with the emotional trauma and financial burdens.

Medical Malpractice and Legal Remedies

Birth injury cases fall under medical malpractice law. In cases of birth asphyxia, injury is swift but preventable. If the right steps are taken, permanent disabilities can often be avoided. Given the advancements in birth asphyxia identification and treatment in the past 15 years, permanent disabilities can be a sign of medical negligence.

In medical malpractice cases, parents can show that birth asphyxia progressed into permanent injury. Parents can introduce evidence in court through expert witnesses to show that:

  • There were signs of fetal distress
  • The doctor should have noticed the signs and should have taken action
  • The permanent injury stemmed from the doctor or medical professional's medical negligence

Under medical malpractice law, medical professionals owe a duty of care to the patient. If a doctor fails to uphold the standard of care and an infant is permanently injured as a result, the doctor could be liable for medical malpractice.

Get Legal Advice About a Birth Injury Claim

When a doctor causes a personal injury to a baby, all parents want to think about is getting help for their child.

After receiving the necessary information, treatment, and support from your doctor, the next step may be getting the legal help you need.

If you think your child's injury could have been caused by the negligence of a health care provider, you may want to start by discussing your case with a skilled medical malpractice attorney.


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