Perinatal asphyxia is a medical condition that newborns suffer if they lose their oxygen supply for long enough to cause a physical problem to their development. Typically, perinatal asphyxia results in some form of brain damage, in large part because that is the organ that relies most heavily on a steady stream of oxygen. However, damage from perinatal asphyxia can also reach other organs in a newborn baby, including their heart and lungs. If it is severe enough, perinatal asphyxia can cause serious physical or mental disabilities as a newborn grows older, and can even be fatal.
Perinatal Asphyxia Statistics
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), perinatal asphyxia happens in approximately one out of every thousand births in developed countries like the United States. In less developed countries, though, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that perinatal asphyxia is multiple times more common, with nearly a million newborns dying from the condition every year. Additionally, the chances of a baby being born with perinatal asphyxia increases if they are born prematurely.
With that said, perinatal asphyxia has an entire spectrum of severity, meaning it can range from being a minor medical situation to a severe and potentially fatal one. This makes it very difficult to precisely account for all of the times it happens. Because they are less severe, minor instances of perinatal asphyxia are likely to be far more common than severe ones and are also likely to be underreported or to even go unnoticed, precisely because of their lack of severity.
Causes of Perinatal Asphyxia
Because perinatal asphyxia is in the middle of a string of medical conditions, it is both the outcome and the source of other medical problems and symptoms.
Any kind of medical issue that leads to a deprivation of oxygen in a newborn, including before delivery, can cause perinatal asphyxia. Some of the most common causes of perinatal asphyxia include:
- Low Maternal Blood Pressure During Delivery. This can happen for any of a number of reasons, from a mother's poor circulation during delivery to ventilation so bad that it prevents her from getting enough air during the delivery process.
- A Blocked Airway. If a baby is born with a compromised or blocked airway, they will be unable to get the oxygen they need soon after birth. This can lead to perinatal asphyxia if it is not fixed quickly.
- Knotted Umbilical Cord. One of the most common causes of perinatal asphyxia is when the baby's umbilical cord gets knotted around his or her neck. There is little room in the uterus for the fetus to move around and become untangled, and the delivery process is a traumatic one. Together, this puts a severe risk on the baby's well-being if the umbilical cord becomes knotted during the delivery. The strain that the birth puts on the umbilical cord during delivery makes it come tight around the newborn's neck, cutting off blood and, therefore, oxygen to the child's brain, causing perinatal asphyxia.
- Drug-Induced Hyperstimulation. During delivery, if the labor is long and difficult and there are not enough contractions, doctors can use drugs to stimulate the process. However, these drugs might work too well, in this sense, and lead to hyperstimulation. When this happens, contractions happen too often or too intensely, keeping the placenta from recharging with an adequate supply of blood and oxygen in between them. If hyperstimulation continues, the newborn could face an oxygen deficiency that gets progressively worse.
- Placental Separation. The placenta is an organ inside the uterus which runs blood, nutrients, and oxygen from the mother to the fetus. While it is designed to separate from the wall of the uterus and come out during delivery, it can separate prematurely in a process called placental abruption. This often happens during labor, typically from the force of the mother's contractions. If this happens, the newborn will lose its supply of oxygen, which can lead to perinatal asphyxia.
Fortunately for expectant mothers, perinatal asphyxia is often preventable. Unfortunately for victims, this typically means that their injuries and disabilities were avoidable.
Conditions Caused by Perinatal Asphyxia
As a medical condition, the danger of perinatal asphyxia lies much more in the problems that it can cause than by itself. Losing oxygen to any part of your body is a significant medical condition. As a newborn, though, it is far more extreme, especially if the organ that has lost its oxygen supply is the brain. Some of the worst conditions that perinatal asphyxia can cause are:
- Death. In the most severe cases of perinatal asphyxia, doctors are unable to restore the flow of oxygen before the lack of it becomes fatal. If the organ that is missing oxygen is the baby's heart, it often leads to cardiac arrest, while if the organ lacking oxygen is the brain, it can leave the newborn brain dead.
- Mental Disabilities. The lack of oxygen at such a crucial part of a newborn's life can have lasting implications for their mental development and can prevent the child from reaching their maximum or expected mental ability.
- Physical Disabilities or Weakness. If the lack of oxygen is to an organ or body part other than the brain, it can prevent that part of the body from developing as well as it otherwise would have. This can leave it underdeveloped in the baby's early days, which can make it difficult or even impossible to overcome as the child grows.
Medical Malpractice and Birth Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
Perinatal asphyxia is a relatively common kind of birth injury that is often preventable or quickly curable. However, not all doctors are up to the task, and many miss significant warning signs that are typical of unborn babies that face increased risks of being born with perinatal asphyxia.
If this happens to someone you love, you need legal representation to get the financial compensation you need and deserve. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or call their law office for a free consultation at (800) 529-6162.