Birth asphyxia, also known as perinatal asphyxia, is a type of birth injury in which oxygen to the newborn’s brain is limited before, during, and after labor. Depending on how long the baby has difficulty breathing, complications can include mild brain damage, cognitive disabilities, seizures, and cerebral palsy. Here are the five most important things for expectant mothers to know about birth asphyxia.
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1. Birth asphyxia has many potential causes.
Reasons for decreased oxygen to the infant before or during delivery can include inadequate oxygen in the mother’s blood because of heart or respiratory problems; the effects of anesthesia; low blood pressure in the mother; limited oxygen circulation to the placenta; umbilical cord compression; or poor placental function. After delivery, the baby may not get enough oxygen because of severe anemia, shock, low blood pressure, respiratory problems, or heart or lung disease.
2. Effects of birth asphyxia can be severe and widespread.
Low oxygen levels in the blood mean that oxygen can’t be carried to organs and tissues, leading to damage to the cells and their functions. The most commonly affected organs are the brain, heart and blood vessels, GI tract, lungs, and kidneys.
3. Symptoms of birth asphyxia vary by child.
Signs that a newborn may have decreased oxygen levels include increased acid levels in the blood, abnormal heart rate or rhythm, pale or bluish skin, weak muscle tone, weak cry, weak breathing, and meconium present in amniotic fluid.
4. Weak Apgar scores often indicate a birth asphyxia diagnosis.
While doctors sometimes suspect birth asphyxia based on the symptoms above, low Apgar scores also provide a clue as to the infant’s condition. These tests, done at birth to measure color, heartbeat, reflexes, muscle tone and respiration, can indicate a problem with oxygen if the scores are between 0 and 3 for longer than five minutes.
5. Treatments are available.
The effects of birth asphyxia are unpredictable and may not manifest until the child is older. However, prompt treatment can minimize damage to the brain and other organs. Depending on the cause, measures may include giving the mother supplemental oxygen before delivery, emergency delivery, ventilation and medications to assist the baby’s vital signs, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
Whether birth asphyxia is caused by another medical condition or as a result of medical malpractice, understanding the signs of this injury can help improve the prognosis for your baby.