Birth asphyxia is a medical condition that occurs when a baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen long enough to cause injury. Asphyxia is one of the most common causes of birth injuries and can lead to intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, Cerebral Palsy and more.
While in the uterus, oxygen is delivered to the fetus from the mother in the form of oxygen-rich blood. The oxygen-rich blood is delivered through vessels in the placenta and womb, then through the umbilical cord, directly into the baby’s body. A baby’s oxygen supply can be compromised by anything that impedes the vessels in the umbilical cord, placenta or womb.
Birth injuries during labor or delivery can cause asphyxia. Some examples of these injuries include:
- Placental abruption: When the placenta prematurely separates from the uterine wall, it is referred to as placental abruption. This serious complication can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients while causing heavy bleeding in the mother. If placental abruption is detected, an immediate delivery (usually in the form of a C-section) may be required.
- Prolapsed umbilical cord: In a typical delivery, a baby leaves the mother’s body before the umbilical cord. In the event of an umbilical cord prolapse, that order is reversed, and the cord can become trapped against the baby’s body, possibly restricting the necessary oxygen and blood flow. Immediate C-sections are often required in these obstetrical emergencies.
- Nuchal cord: This refers to a complication in which the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the neck of the fetus. This can result in serious injuries if the nuchal cord interrupts the normal exchange of blood, nutrients and oxygen from the mother. When detected in time, doctors can take steps to avoid umbilical cord compression either prior to or during labor and delivery. In some cases, emergency C-sections are necessary.
A 2013 Norwegian study found that human error is the most common cause of infant asphyxiation at birth. The study, published in a journal of the Nordic Federation of Societies of Obstetrics and Gynecology and encompassing 15 years of research, indicates that lack of clinical skills, inadequate fetal monitoring and failure to obtain senior medical staff assistance are the most common causes cited in Norwegian compensation claims.
According to the study, half of all compensated birth asphyxia claims were linked to improper fetal monitoring. The established standard of care involves the continual monitoring of a baby’s heart rate with a fetal heart monitor. The monitor displays the baby’s heart rate in response to contractions. If a baby is deprived of oxygen, the monitor will detect that the baby is in stress. In most of these cases, an immediate C-section delivery is performed.
We have briefly mentioned just some of the many ways a birth injury during labor or delivery can lead to asphyxia. To truly understand the cause of your child’s birth injury, a professionally conducted Medical Legal Review is necessary. If the investigation into your child’s situation reveals that an injury could have been prevented, your child could be eligible for Lifetime Benefits, which can help with, but are not limited to financially assisting with medical expenses, assistive equipment and living expenses now and in the future.