Lack of Oxygen during Labor and Delivery Can Cause Serious, Lifelong Damage to a Baby
Most babies are born healthy and happy. That is the hope and prayer of every parent. Unfortunately, some babies suffer very serious injuries during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Injuries caused by lack of adequate oxygen to the baby can be very serious or deadly. During the mother’s pregnancy and during labor and delivery, the baby must receive adequate oxygen from the mother which is necessary for the baby’s brain, heart, other organs, tissues and cells to function properly. When the baby is still inside the mother, the baby does not breathe oxygen. Rather, the baby gets oxygen from the mother through the blood flow that passes from the mother to the baby in the umbilical cord.
Oxygen deprivation at the time of labor and birth is known as birth asphyxia. Asphyxia is a medical term that really means suffocation. The baby is essentially suffocated inside the mother causing serious injury to the baby’s brain and other vital organs that depend on oxygen to function.
There are several medical terms that parents may hear that are related to birth asphyxia of a baby.
Hypoxia is a medical term that means a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues of the baby’s body. In other words, there may be enough blood actually getting to the brain and organs, but the blood does not have enough oxygen in it.
Hypoxemia means an abnormally low amount of oxygen in the blood. There may be enough blood, but there is not enough oxygen in it. Hypoxemia can lead to hypoxia in the baby’s organs and, if the baby is not timely treated or delivered, that can lead to birth asphyxia and permanent brain damage or death.
Ischemia is a term that means there is not enough blood supply actually reaching the brain, other organs or tissues. There can be certain conditions that actually restrict or disrupt the amount of blood that flows through the placenta and the umbilical cord to the baby causing ischemia in the brain, organs or tissues. In those situations, if the baby is not treated or delivered quickly, ischemia can lead to birth asphyxia and permanent brain damage or death.
Known Causes of Oxygen Deprivation at the time of Labor and Delivery:
Oxygen deprivation and birth asphyxia can be caused by different types of medical complications, many of which are preventable or treatable to save a baby from serious injury or death:
Umbilical cord problems:
When the umbilical cord is compressed or kinked, the flow of blood between the mother and the baby can be reduced or stopped entirely.
- Umbilical cord compression – the baby’s body can compress the umbilical cord against the bones of the mother’s pelvis restricting the blood flow. Sometimes physically moving the mother and the baby can relieve the compression. Sometimes movement doesn’t solve the problem.
- Umbilical cord prolapse – the umbilical cord comes out of the mother’s body before the baby’s head such that the baby’s head is pressed or forced on the cord and can kink the cord.
- Nuchal cord – the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the baby’s neck. Nuchal cord is not uncommon, but if the cord becomes tightly wrapped around the neck, the blood flow can be slowed or stopped causing serious injury.
Hospitals, nurses and doctors must watch carefully for signs of umbilical cord problems and must be prepared to act quickly to protect the baby.
The uterus is the organ of the mother’s body that houses the baby during pregnancy. The uterus is a muscular organ that can contract and relax. There are different types of complications involving the uterus that can affect flow of blood and oxygen to the baby.
- Uterine rupture – the uterus can tear open due to the force of contractions. This can disrupt the flow of oxygen to the baby. There is an increased risk of uterine rupture in VBAC deliveries. A VBAC delivery is a vaginal birth after the mother has previously had a cesarean section delivery (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). The uterus is scarred from the previous cesarean delivery, and the scar is weak and can split or tear.
- Uterine hyperstimulation or Tachysystole happens when the contractions are too strong or come too close together. During a contraction, the blood flow to the baby is temporarily reduced because the uterus, which is a very muscular organ, squeezes the baby to force the baby down the birth canal. During the time period between the contractions, the baby rests and has a chance to catch up on the oxygen delivery to prepare for the next contraction. When the uterine contractions are too strong or happen too frequently, the baby does not have time to rest and to catch up on the oxygen delivery. This can cause a baby to have hypoxia and, if not treated, birth asphyxia causing serious injury.
- Uteroplacental Insufficiency is a medical complication of of pregnancy in which the placenta is not able to deliver an adequate supply of nutrients and oxygen to the baby.
The placenta is an organ of the mother’s body that is created during pregnancy. It exists inside the mother’s uterus. The placenta attaches to the inside of the uterine wall and attaches to the baby by the umbilical cord. The exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nutrients between the mother and the baby happens in the placenta. There are complications with the placenta that deprive the baby of adequate oxygen.
- Placental abruption – the placenta tears away from the mother’s uterus disrupting the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby.
- Placenta Previa – a condition in which the placenta is physically located low in the mother’s uterus and partially or completely obstruct or block the cervix. When the mother’s cervix dilates, this can damage the placenta and cause serious bleeding or hemorrhage which is very dangerous to both the mother and the baby.
- Preeclampsia – a potentially dangerous complication of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure, protein the mother’s uterine, and oftentimes swelling of the hands and feet due to excessive water retention. It is believed that the mother’s high blood pressure can cause the placenta to function poorly resulting in less oxygen to the baby.
Many Causes of Oxygen Deprivation and Birth Asphyxia are Preventable and Treatable
Medical professionals must be well-trained to recognize these complications and to act quickly to protect the baby. When hospitals employees, including nurses, and doctors fail to recognize the abnormal fetal heart rate patterns indicating that the baby is being deprived oxygen and fail to act to protect the baby, this is a form of medical negligence which can result in a birth injury.
Examples of preventable medical errors that can lead to hypoxia, ischemia and birth asphyxia include failure to train nurses on fetal heart monitoring and interventions for hypoxia, inadequate fetal heart monitoring, failure to communicate timely and appropriately between medical professionals etc.
Consequences of Hypoxia and Asphyxia Include Permanent Injury and Lifelong Disability
Hypoxia and Ischemia can both lead to Birth Asphyxia, which is extremely dangerous and can result in life-threatening conditions. Hypoxia and ischemia during labor and delivery can progress to asphyxia (absence of oxygen), acidosis and brain injury including hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). Babies who suffer birth asphyxia may initially have depressed neurologic function and/or seizures. Those who survive may later be diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, requiring lifelong treatment, rehabilitation, and support.
Legal Rights of a Baby who suffered a Birth Injury
If your child was born with a serious birth injury, you may have questions about whether or not the birth injury could have and should have been prevented. If your baby’s injury was caused by medical negligence, the law may permit recovery of damages for medical bills, hospitalization, surgeries, rehabilitation, cost of future treatment, etc.
Contact Birth Injury Safety for a Free Consultation
If you have questions about newborn oxygen deprivation and your child’s rights, Birth Injury Safety can help you find the answers you’re looking for. Birth Injury Safety is an accessible resource for both expectant and new parents, and can be reached at (214) 974-4121. If your child has suffered due to newborn oxygen deprivation, give us a call today to schedule a free consultation.