Sometimes a child fails to receive an adequate supply of oxygen before or during childbirth, or sometimes they may not receive enough oxygen shortly after birth. This complication of childbirth is called perinatal asphyxia. Before or during birth, perinatal asphyxia may result from low oxygen levels or low blood pressure in the mother, as well as problems with the placenta, uterus, or umbilical cord. When it occurs after birth, this condition may arise from low blood pressure, breathing problems, anemia, or heart or lung disease in the baby.
Perinatal asphyxia can cause severe damage to many organs in a child. This is because it can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow from the heart to organs and tissues. Cells may suffer damage that prevents them from functioning properly. Perinatal asphyxia may contribute to brain injuries, as well as respiratory conditions, digestive conditions, and problems with the heart or the kidneys.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Perinatal Asphyxia
When a fetus has an abnormal heart rate or rhythm, a doctor may suspect perinatal asphyxia. If their blood shows a higher acid level, this also may indicate oxygen deprivation. Once a baby has been born, signs suggesting perinatal asphyxia may include:
Weak breathing or cry
Low heart rate
Weak muscle tone
Overly pale skin color
The presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid, which can disrupt the breathing of a child
A doctor may confirm that a child has perinatal asphyxia after testing the acid level in the arterial blood of the umbilical cord. A pH measurement under 7 may indicate this condition. In addition, a doctor will assess the heartbeat, muscle tone, reflexes, and breathing of an infant by conducting an Apgar test after their birth. If they score between 0 and 3 for more than five minutes, this may indicate perinatal asphyxia. Any complications involving circulation, breathing, or digestion, as well as seizures and other neurological disorders, may support this diagnosis.
Treatment for Perinatal Asphyxia
Once this condition is diagnosed, a health care provider should promptly proceed with treatment to avoid potentially devastating consequences. A doctor may schedule a C-section for a mother if a fetus shows signs of perinatal asphyxia, or they may provide extra oxygen. If a baby develops problems with their breathing or blood pressure, they may receive mechanical ventilation, respiratory therapy, and medications.
Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation
ECMO can help some babies who are suffering from heart or lung failure caused by perinatal asphyxia. An ECMO device transfers blood from an infant into an artificial lung. There, the blood receives extra oxygen, while carbon dioxide is reduced. The blood is then transferred back from the artificial lung into the infant.
Legal Claims Based on Errors Involving Perinatal Asphyxia
Perinatal asphyxia is a potentially life-changing complication that demands immediate attention. If a doctor fails to diagnose and treat perinatal asphyxia appropriately, a baby may develop permanent disabilities. These can impose a significant financial burden on a family, while causing immense physical and emotional harm to a child. Through a medical malpractice lawsuit, parents can recover compensation for medical costs associated with the effects of perinatal asphyxia, while a child can recover compensation for their pain and suffering.
To get compensation for a birth injury, parents will need to show that the defendant physician or other health care provider did not meet the professional standard of care. This means that a competent doctor would have addressed the perinatal asphyxia differently under the circumstances, preventing or reducing the harm to the child.
Experts Are Critical
A qualified medical expert must describe how medical malpractice caused injuries to a child and explain what the defendant should have done instead.
Retaining experts and building these complex cases can be challenging to do without an attorney. Thus, parents should seek legal representation as soon as they suspect that medical malpractice may have harmed their child.