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Published: 2008-03-26

The Perils of Oxygen Deprivation During Childbirth



Article provided by Phillips & Lyon. Please visit our Web site at www.phillipsandlyon.com.

Oxygen deprivation to a fetus can occur at any stage of the pregnancy, but most injuries occur during childbirth due to negligent medical care. It is essential that medical staff recognizes and treat symptoms of oxygen deprivation immediately to avoid serious injury to the baby.

Oxygen deprivation during childbirth can lead to serious abnormalities that can be devastating for the child and the family, emotionally and financially.

If you think your child has suffered from oxygen deprivation during childbirth, continue reading to discover common symptoms associated with this birth injury.

Causes of Oxygen Deprivation During Childbirth

Oxygen deprivation occurs when the brain does not receive adequate oxygen therefore causing the cells in the brain to die. Although this can happen at any stage throughout pregnancy, there are some difficulties during delivery that cause this to occur:

  • Umbilical cord twisted or compressed - An umbilical cord can become twisted or compressed during labor due to the positioning of the cord in relation to the baby. The umbilical cord is how a fetus receives all its nutrients and most importantly, oxygen. If it becomes twisted or compressed during the labor, your baby will show signs of distress.
  •  Umbilical cord around neck - Due to the placement of the cord in relation to your baby and its movements down the birth canal, the umbilical cord may become wound around the neck. Monitoring during labor will show the baby becoming distressed if the cord is around its neck cutting off essential oxygen supply.
  •  Positioning of baby in birth canal - A difficult labor may result in the baby becoming lodged or resting in the birth canal for too long. Medical staff must intervene immediately if this occurs as a baby will be deprived of oxygen.

Responsibility of Medical Staff in Attendance

It is the responsibility of the professionals in attendance during childbirth to monitor the infant to ensure that it is not in distress. Most oxygen deprivation injuries occur when a fetus has not been monitored carefully, when a doctor is not advised immediately of possible distress, or through failure to perform an emergency caesarean when it's needed.

Immediately Noticeable Symptoms

An infant who has suffered oxygen deprivation during childbirth may show the following symptoms immediately:

  • Low Apgar score - Immediately after a baby is delivered the nurse or midwife will perform a series of tests that detect responses in newborn babies. A low score may be relevant if the infant has suffered from oxygen deprivation.
  • Seizures within the first 24-48 hours after delivery
  • Difficulty feeding and inability to latch, suck or swallow milk
  • Apnea, which occurs when a baby holds their breath for any amount of time or other breathing problems.
  • Difficulty in waking baby from sleep
  • Low cord pH indicating that there is too much acid in the umbilical cord caused by lack of oxygen

A parent or health care provider should detect any of the above symptoms immediately. Depending on the extent of the oxygen deprivation that has occurred, a baby may suffer cerebral palsy, mild to severe brain damage, problems with mobility or — in cases of severe oxygen deprivation — death.

Long Term Effects of Oxygen Deprivation

When the brain has been deprived of oxygen, some symptoms may not be apparent immediately but are noticeable as the child grows and fails to reach certain milestones.

Signs of oxygen deprivation that become apparent as your child grows may include the following:

  • Speech disability
  • Problems with mobility, including walking, balance and coordination
  • Learning difficulties, including memory loss, inability to concentrate, poor judgment and behavior problems

Autism and epilepsy have also been associated with oxygen deprivation at birth.

A child who has suffered from oxygen deprivation during childbirth may exhibit detrimental problems that may affect them for the rest of their lives. If the child survives, they may require on-going, expensive and lifelong care that may be affect their quality of life and be devastating for all concerned.