When a baby is developing in the womb, it relies on a steady supply of oxygen, blood, and nutrients from the mother. Oxygen is necessary to help the organs, including the brain, to develop normally. The growing brain is very sensitive to oxygen levels. Even a small decrease in oxygen supply can cause damage. Cutting off oxygen for just a few minutes can cause permanent brain damage.
A baby may be at the greatest risk of an oxygen emergency at the time of labor and childbirth. This is the time when the baby transitions from oxygen supply from the umbilical cord to breathing oxygen in the air. It is important for doctors and medical staff to properly monitor the health of the mother and baby during labor to make sure the child is receiving enough oxygen.
Oxygen Deprivation in the Womb and During Labor
When a baby is developing in the womb, the umbilical cord carries oxygenated blood and nutrients to the fetus and carries away the deoxygenated and nutrient-depleted blood. Up until the baby and placenta are delivered, the baby will continue receiving oxygen through the umbilical cord.
The lungs that will eventually allow the baby to breath are not fully developed until the third trimester. If the baby is delivered before the lungs are fully developed, the baby may have difficulty breathing on its own. In some cases, antenatal steroid treatments can speed up development of the baby's lungs.
Until the child is delivered, the baby relies on the mother and umbilical cord to get oxygen. If the mother's oxygen level is compromised then it will also cause the baby to be deprived of oxygen. If there are complications with the placenta or umbilical cord, it can also cause the baby to be deprived of oxygen.
Causes of Oxygen Deprivation for the Mother
There are a number of possible causes for oxygen deprivation in an adult, including a pregnant woman. Oxygen deprivation can be caused by a decrease in oxygen absorption, including breathing problems or lack of oxygen in the air. Oxygen deprivation can also be caused by cardiovascular problems.
Oxygen is carried throughout the body by the blood and the blood also carries away carbon dioxide to be exhaled through the lungs. Damage to the body that harms the blood and oxygen supply can be caused by traumatic injuries or medical conditions. Lack of oxygen can also be caused by outside conditions.
Traumatic injuries, like a car accident, fall injury, or strangulation can all cause oxygen deprivation. Injury to the face or upper airways can prevent the person from being able to breathe normally. Injury to the lungs, like a collapsed lung, can make it more difficult for the person to get enough air to saturate the blood with oxygen. Serious bleeding and hemorrhage can lower the blood volume so there is not enough blood to circulate through the body and maintain a steady oxygen supply.
Medical conditions can also affect the lungs and heart, causing oxygen deprivation. This includes pneumonia, paralysis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and severe allergic reactions.
Lower oxygen levels in the air or the presence of other dangerous gases can lower a person's blood oxygen levels. The most common experience for people with lower oxygen levels occurs when traveling to a higher altitude. Carbon monoxide poisoning or trying to breath when there is a fire in the building may also lower oxygen levels.
When a mother's oxygen supply is lowered it will lower the oxygen levels in the blood supplied to the fetus. Injury and damage can begin to occur within a couple of minutes if the oxygen levels are not restored. When blood oxygen levels for the mother return to normal, the blood and oxygen supplied to the baby should also return to normal.
Causes of Oxygen Deprivation in the Womb
Even if the oxygen levels for the mother are fine, problems occurring in the uterus can deprive the baby of oxygen. This generally involves a problem with the placenta or the umbilical cord. Some causes of oxygen deprivation in the womb may include:
- Uterine rupture
- Umbilical cord prolapse
- Nuchal cord (umbilical cord wrapped around the baby's neck)
- Umbilical cord knots
- Umbilical cord cyst
Oxygen Deprivation and Brain Injury
All organs and tissues need oxygen but oxygen is extremely important to a baby's developing brain. During labor and childbirth, the child may be especially sensitive to changes in oxygen levels as the baby transitions from getting oxygen through the womb to breathing outside air. Lack of oxygen during labor or after birth can cause damage to the brain.
Damage to the brain can begin within minutes of reduced oxygen levels. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation due to hypoxic or anoxic injuries. Hypoxia involves reduced blood oxygenation to the brain. Ischemia is diminished blood flow to the brain. Depending on the level of oxygen deprivation, anoxia or hypoxia can cause brain cell and neuron damage and death. Brain injuries caused by lack of oxygen are generally permanent. The extent of damage depends on the amount of ischemia (tissue death) and what parts of the brain were affected by the oxygen deprivation.
If a child is deprived of oxygen in the womb or at birth, it can cause developmental delays and brain damage. Unfortunately for parents, they may not know the extent of the damage until years later. Severe brain damage may be evident at birth. Other brain damage may not become known until the child begins missing developmental milestones.
Medical Malpractice Causes of Oxygen Deprivation
During pregnancy, labor, and after birth, doctors and medical professionals should be aware of the importance of oxygen supply to the baby. Failure to properly monitor the pregnant mother and baby for oxygen deprivation may cause serious injury to the mother and baby, including cerebral palsy, seizures, and fetal death.
Oxygen Deprivation Birth Injury Lawyers
It only takes a matter of minutes for oxygen deprivation in a fetus or baby to cause permanent brain damage. Delayed treatment, misdiagnosis, or other medical errors may be responsible for delayed development, brain damage, and other birth injuries. Doctors and other medical professionals are held to a certain standard of care. If a doctor breaches that standard of care, they may be liable for damages and injuries.
When a child suffers a birth injury, the child may need medical care and treatment for the rest of their lives. A medical malpractice lawsuit may allow the family to recover compensation to provide for their child, including medical expenses, future treatment, and damages for pain and suffering.
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate birth injuries to determine if the injury was caused by malpractice or negligence. Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in compensation related to birth injuries. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.