Even with the advent of new technology and procedures, the birth of a child is a complicated process. Many things can go wrong during the labor process and immediately after delivery. One of the leading complications for newborns is a condition known as perinatal asphyxia. It is not typically fatal. However, the longer it affects the infant, the more likely the infant is to exhibit developmental problems.

What Is Perinatal Asphyxia?

Perinatal asphyxia is defined as a lack of an adequate supply of oxygen to the baby’s brain and vital organs. It occurs in roughly one out of every one thousand newborns. It is even more prevalent in cases of premature birth. When it occurs, it is often accompanied by a change of skin color to a blue or purple color. This is known as cyanosis and is a sign of oxygen deprivation. Perinatal asphyxiation can lead to heart failure and death if not treated rapidly.

How It Affects Children

Perinatal asphyxia can cause damage to any organ as a result of low oxygen supply. The amount of time they are deprived of oxygen is a determining factor in the amount of damage to the child’s body and brain. Sustained deprivation increases the risk of irreversible tissue or organ damage. When a newborn does not have an adequate supply of oxygen, his or her body becomes highly acidic. This can damage body systems and result in physical and neurological disorders and ultimately death.

Perinatal Asphyxia Complications

There is a large range of complications resulting from perinatal asphyxia. It is possible to have no long-lasting effects. However, the longer it lasts, the more likely it is that the child will have irreversible damage. This is a result of oxygen-deprived cells releasing toxins. There are various physical and neurological complications that can arise from perinatal asphyxia.

Traditional complications associated with perinatal asphyxia include:

  • Organ damage
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Lack of muscle mobility or motor skills
  • Delay in development
  • Mental disabilities
  • Heart failure
  • Coma
  • Death

Perinatal Asphyxia and Physical Development

One of the most pronounced effects of perinatal asphyxia is the development of spasticity, which is a more general term for conditions like cerebral palsy. This results in a permanent reduction of function of motor skills and muscle control. It also leads to delayed physical development and other complications. Perinatal asphyxia can also cause permanent organ damage. Vital organs like the heart are affected and cardiac arrest and coma can cause long-term problems.

Neurological Effects

Perinatal asphyxia can result in permanent neurological damage. By reducing the supply of oxygen to the brain, asphyxia can affect brain cells and destroy vital tissues resulting in irreversible neurological or cognitive deficiencies. Children who have experienced perinatal asphyxia often exhibit signs of delayed intellectual development as well as other social impairments such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Perinatal Asphyxia Causes

The root cause of perinatal asphyxia is inadequate supply of oxygen to the body. This can occur in many ways. One of the most recurrent causes is a large or sudden drop in the mother’s blood pressure. This can sometimes be caused from exhaustion or excess anesthesia.

Other causes of perinatal asphyxia include:

  • Long delivery process
  • premature separation from the uterus
  • Blocked or constricted airways
  • complications with the umbilical cord
  • Infection

Treatment Options

Various treatments exist to offset the damages caused by perinatal asphyxia. However, the determining factor is usually the amount of time between the diagnosis and the treatment. Most newborns who experience perinatal asphyxia are sent to a neonatal ICU for monitoring and stability. There are many methods for preventing asphyxia during delivery. Mothers may be given additional oxygen before and during the delivery process. In some cases, a cesarean section might be ordered to avoid depriving the unborn baby of oxygen once the delivery has begun.

Legal Recourse for Perinatal Asphyxia

Perinatal asphyxia is a serious condition that has the potential to affect a child for the rest of his or her life. If a child has experienced it, there is a chance that it resulted from poor judgment or provision of services. If your child has suffered from perinatal asphyxia, it is imperative to discuss your case with a birth injury lawyer who will have the expertise to earn adequate compensation for your family.




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“Birth Asphyxia.” Birth Asphyxia. Seattle Children’s Hospital. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. <http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/airway/birth-asphyxia/>.