November 13, 2019 Category: Medical Malpractice
It’s easy to take for granted just how important oxygen is to our survival. Breathing sustains life, and failure to establish it at birth is one of the primary causes of infant mortality. But, thanks to medical advancements, we are improving our ability to provide oxygen to newborn babies.
Now, it’s not surprising to learn that the more time the brain goes without oxygen, the more damage that is caused to the brain tissue. This can lead to long-term developmental problems for a child. For that reason, time becomes a huge factor when determining how much harm will result from a lack of oxygen at birth.
Lack of Oxygen Leads to Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy
When a baby doesn’t receive enough oxygen during or near the time of birth, the condition is referred to as birth asphyxia. This condition can lead to a type of brain injury known as Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is a dysfunction where the brain doesn’t receive oxygen for an extended period of time.
Now, birth asphyxia can happen during labor, but it can also develop during pregnancy and postnatally. There are a number of potential causes, including:
- Lack of oxygen in the mother’s blood during birth
- Very long delivery
- Issues with the umbilical cord
- Serious infection
- Mother’s high or low blood pressure
- Baby’s airway blocked or not formed properly, and
- Anemia (baby’s blood cells can’t carry enough oxygen).
HIE results in brain tissue being destroyed as a result of not receiving sufficient oxygen. Keep in mind that, unlike other organs, brain tissue may not fully repair once it is destroyed. This can lead to further issues such as:
- Development delay
- Cerebral palsy/motor impairment
- Damage to organs
- Permanent disability, and
- Death (in serious cases).
But, note that not all cases of HIE cause development problems in a child. Instead, there may be no or only mild health issues. In most instances, the extent of the injury depends on how long the brain goes without oxygen.
Signs and Symptoms of Lack of Oxygen
Parents should be advised to look for symptoms of lack of oxygen in newborns, which may indicate HIE, such as:
- Weak breathing, or not breathing at all
- Bluish or gray skin tone
- Low heart rate
- Baby is “floppy” and unreactive, or overly tense and reactive to stimulation
- Seizures or abnormal movements
- A weak cry, or
- Weak muscles, particularly in mouth and throat leading to feeding problems.
Now, if any of the symptoms listed above are present in your newborn, a neurologist may examine the baby to confirm a diagnosis of HIE. This is done by electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to look for signs of seizures and/or brain injury.
Bear in mind that the long-term effects of HIE, such as developmental issues listed above, may not be discovered until the child is 3-4 years old.
Preventing and Treating Birth Asphyxia
People in the medical profession are trained to be on the lookout for signs of birth asphyxia. They are also educated on how to respond appropriately to the symptoms. The medical provider will monitor both mother and baby before, during, and after childbirth. This involves tracking oxygen levels, taking x-rays of the lungs and heart, ordering blood tests, and noting acid levels.
During birth, a baby’s heart rate will also be monitored. If the heart rate drops, the medical team can take action to restore the rate to normal. If there is a problem during labor, doctors can perform an emergency C-section in order to prevent asphyxia from developing.
In cases where asphyxia occurs, the first step is referred to as “cooling.” This involves placing your baby in a cooling blanket for 3 days. This treatment has been shown to lessen the likelihood of brain injury. Following cooling, your baby will be monitored with the use of an EEG and a Cerebral Function Monitor (CFM). The CFM involves placing probes into the scalp to measure electric activity. Your baby will also be checked for any signs and symptoms of seizures.
Claim Against the Hospital
If your baby suffered from birth asphyxiation, you may have a legal claim against the medical team and/or the hospital. These types of cases are known as medical malpractice and would apply in situations where the treatment provider failed to respond appropriately under the circumstances. These matters can be complex, so it’s important to speak to a qualified personal injury attorney who can evaluate your case.