Understanding Asphyxia as a Birth Injury

A lot of complicated medical terms are thrown around to describe causes of Cerebral Palsy. Asphyxia is often a common phrase used but is confusing to many because of how they associate the term with life. Modern dramas on TV will list ‘asphyxia’ as the cause of death when someone is strangled or otherwise can’t breathe. But a child? How does asphyxia relate to a birth injury?

Our founder Ken Stern has often used a unique analogy to describe asphyxia in the womb. While it’s a bit of a throwback image, it easily paints the picture of the circumstances taking place within the womb and how a child is impacted. The comparison is this: when a deep-sea diver goes deep underwater, their helmet is connected to a long oxygen tube that has air running through it from up top. If the diver were to have this tube pinched, or compressed, the flow of oxygen would be cut off and this becomes extremely dangerous to the diver. As time wears on, the diver’s lack of oxygen would lead to hallucinations, trauma, brain damage and possible death.

Those last three problems are at the crux of asphyxia as a birth injury. During pregnancy or delivery, if the umbilical cord (which is serving a purpose similar to that that air supply from the analogy above) is restricted or damaged in any way, the child is unable to receive key nutrients and oxygen. While the fetus can handle this on a better scale than the aforementioned diver, each minute counts. Without immediate action, this asphyxia can result in brain damage and injury, resulting in a Cerebral Palsy diagnosis, or even death.

What Are The Complications Of Birth Asphyxia? from The CP Lawyer | Stern Law, PLLC on Vimeo.

Asphyxia presents itself in a number of ways to medical professionals, who must immediately identify these red flags and take action. Meconium is one sign of fetal distress (meaning something wrong, including possibly asphyxia, is occurring) that may show itself during labor. The child’s first bowel movement, meconium is not itself a problem but can cause other severe problems, including aspiration, if the child inhales it upon delivery. Another way asphyxia may show up is on fetal monitor strips – when the heart rate (represented by beeps and a steady number) can rise and fall dramatically to indicate distress in the womb.

So how can a medical professional prevent a birth injury caused by asphyxia? There are several considerations that must be accounted for. Beyond keeping an eye out for red flags like meconium or signs of distress on the fetal monitor, doctors must also be sure to know about issues like previous difficult pregnancies of the mother, as well as possible obstructions of delivery. “Naturally occurring” issues like a small cervix or poor positioning of the child in the womb can lead to the umbilical cord becoming pinched and result in asphyxia. These are just some of the issues but help highlight why a doctor’s full attention and vigilance are critical. Signs of asphyxia in a newborn include poor coloring at the time of birth, the need for a NICU stay, delays in reaching milestones and more.

If your child was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, it’s important you understand its root cause and if everything was done that needed to be done to prevent CP. For a Medical Legal Review to examine the circumstances surrounding your child’s birth and potential eligibility for Lifetime Benefits, call us at (800) 462-5772 today.

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