What Causes Birth Asphyxia

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Birth asphyxia is a medical condition that occurs when a newborn baby is deprived of oxygen for such a period of time that it causes lasting physical harm, most commonly to the brain. This is also sometimes referred to as perinatal asphyxia and neonatal asphyxia.

There are a number of things that can cause birth asphyxia and it can lead to a range of different conditions for the child, many of which have lifelong consequences.

Causes of birth asphyxia

Some of the most common causes of birth asphyxia include:

  • Lack of oxygen in the mother’s blood e.g. due to hyperventilation during anaesthesia or respiratory failure
  • Low maternal blood pressure
  • The umbilical cord becoming wrapped around the infant’s neck
  • Infection of the mother or baby
  • The baby’s airways being blocked
  • The placenta separating from the uterus too soon

Risk factors for birth asphyxia

There are various things that can increase the risk of birth asphyxia for a new-born child. These include:

  • An elderly or very young mother
  • Having twins, triplets or other multiple births
  • Low birth weight
  • The baby being in an abnormal position in the womb
  • Having a particularly long labour
  • Lack of proper antenatal care

Treating birth asphyxia

The medical team handling the birth should stay on top of any risk factors and take appropriate steps to mitigate them e.g. performing a caesarean section promptly if the labour is taking too long or the baby appears to be at risk.

Medical staff should also take actions such as making sure the baby’s airway is open and providing treatment, such as suctioning if this is not the case. They may also need to use chest compression, medication or more invasive treatments, such as an endotracheal tube to ensure the baby can breathe correctly and get enough oxygen.

If the medical team handling your child’s birth fail in their duty to identify risk factors and take appropriate action, they may be guilty of medical negligence.

Conditions caused by birth asphyxia

Babies that experience mild birth asphyxia, i.e. only a short period of oxygen deprivation, may be able to make a full recovery. However, if the new-born did not receive sufficient oxygen they may be left with permanent damage to their brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs.

This can lead to a variety of lifelong conditions, including cerebral palsy, blindness or partial sight, deafness and various intellectual and developmental issues. In the most extreme cases, birth asphyxia can even lead to the death of the infant.

Children affected by conditions caused by severe birth asphyxia, such as cerebral palsy, will often benefit from on-going treatment and professional support throughout their lives, but some degree of lasting consequences are inevitable.

If your child has been negatively affected by birth asphyxia due to clinical negligence, you may be able to claim birth injury compensation. This can help to fund any on-going treatment your child needs and help them to live a full and happy life.

If you think you may be eligible for compensation, it may be worth speaking to a specialist birth injuries solicitor to see if you are likely to have a strong claim and how much compensation you may be entitled to.

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