Birth hypoxia, also known as neonatal hypoxia or asphyxia, means a lack of oxygen at birth. It occurs in about four of every 1,000 births and is more common in premature babies.
Infants who experience hypoxia need immediate medical attention; a delay in treatment can lead to permanent disability or even death. When doctors and hospitals do not properly plan for, diagnose, or treat neonatal hypoxia, a family may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit for their child’s unnecessary injuries.
Causes of birth asphyxia
Hypoxia occurs when oxygen can’t get to the baby’s brain or other organs. This can be caused by a number of situations, including:
- A long, difficult delivery
- Umbilical cord problems, particularly if the cord becomes compressed, knotted, or wrapped around the baby’s neck
- Problems with the placenta, especially placental abruption
- Lack of sufficient oxygen in the mother’s blood
- Excessive drinking or smoking during pregnancy
- Problems with the baby’s airway
- High or low blood pressure in the mother
Because an infant’s lungs are the last organs to develop in the womb, premature babies are highly susceptible to hypoxia.
Consequences of hypoxia at birth
One of the most serious effects of a reduced oxygen supply for a newborn is hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or HIE, which leads to brain damage. While the brain can survive for a short period of time without oxygen, prolonged oxygen loss will kill brain cells that cannot be restored.
The long-term effects of hypoxia include:
- Developmental delays (in speech, movement, or learning)
- Mental retardation
- Cerebral palsy
- Permanently damaged organs, including lungs, kidneys, and heart
Sadly, these consequences are often caused by medical errors before, during, or shortly after delivery. In these circumstances, families may be able to file a lawsuit against the hospital or doctor for their child’s injuries.
Treatment of birth hypoxia
Babies with mild asphyxia at birth are given oxygen support until they can breathe well enough on their own, and then they are closely monitored. Babies with more serious asphyxia may need mechanical ventilation (a breathing machine), respiratory therapy, fluid, and medicine to control blood pressure and prevent seizures.
A newer treatment utilizes a cooling cap or blanket. Infants are kept in intensive care while their body temperature is cooled to 33.5 degree Celsius for 72 hours. This treatment has been shown to successfully interrupt brain damage. Other treatment options include continuous dialysis for kidney failure and ECMO for heart and/or lung failure.
Hypoxia and medical malpractice
With proper monitoring and care, hypoxia in a newborn can often be prevented entirely; however, if a baby does lose oxygen during or after delivery, there are a number of treatments that can reverse or minimize damage.
If hypoxia isn’t properly managed, diagnosed, or treated, then the doctor or hospital treating the baby may be responsible for the child’s injuries. This is known as medical malpractice. Some common medical errors that lead to injuries include:
- Poor fetal monitoring before and during delivery
- Undiagnosed infections in the mother
- Delay in detecting fetal distress
- Failure to diagnose problems with the placenta or umbilical cord
- Delayed C-section
If you have questions about your child’s hypoxia diagnosis, contact Dr. Jack Tolliver. With his unique background in both law and medicine, Dr. Tolliver can quickly review the circumstances of your child’s birth. If he detects medical malpractice, he may be able to help your family secure financial help.
Contact Dr. Tolliver today for a free consultation.