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Let’s take a deep breath and talk about birth asphyxia

You expected the day you gave birth to be one of the most exciting and joyous times of your life. Instead, you now find yourself worried over the health and well-being of your infant. For one reason or another, your baby didn’t receive enough oxygen during labor and delivery. Even when this doesn’t prove fatal, this lack of oxygen during the birthing process — known as birth asphyxia — can have devastating long-term effects.

So what, exactly, is birth asphyxia? What are the signs, and how can you tell if your baby suffered this condition at birth? What can you do now and how can you get your child the help he or she needs?

Common causes of birth asphyxia

Birth asphyxia goes by many names, from perinatal asphyxia to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy to asphyxia neonatorum. No matter what you call it, though, the bottom line is the same:  Something deprived your baby of the oxygen he or she needed at birth. There are many reasons this may have occurred, including:

  • Fetal distress
  • A blockage in your baby’s airway
  • A difficult delivery that lasted too long
  • The mother didn’t receive enough oxygen before or during delivery
  • During delivery, the mother’s blood pressure was too high or too low
  • An infection that went unnoticed or untreated
  • The placenta separated from the uterus too quickly
  • The umbilical cord wrapped around the infant in a way that restricted airflow

Because there is such a vast variety of factors that can affect an infant’s ability to take in oxygen, and because this lack of oxygen can cause immediate and lasting damage, doctors must carefully manage oxygen levels for both mother and baby to reduce risk. Proper fetal monitoring to detect distress and quick intervention to perform a C-section if necessary can make all the difference in avoiding asphyxia and the permanent injuries it can cause. When doctors fail to do so, the results can be catastrophic or even fatal.


You may not have noticed the symptoms of birth asphyxia right away, though some immediate indications a baby may display right after birth can include:

  • A heart rate that is too low or too high
  • Pale or bluish skin tones
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weak muscle tone

The longer your baby goes without oxygen, the more serious and lasting the symptoms will be. In fact, severe symptoms can even include kidney, lung or heart failure, or even permanent brain damage.

What can I do?

Available treatments and their efficacy will vary based on how severe your baby’s oxygen deprivation was and how soon doctors recognized and began addressing the condition. After birth, babies who suffered oxygen deprivation may need ventilation to support breathing, and doctors will need to monitor their blood pressure and fluid intake to ensure they get enough oxygen. Unfortunately, if doctors did not check for the condition early on and your baby was oxygen-deprived for any lengthy period of time, asphyxia neonatorum can result in major, permanent disabilities.

Birth asphyxia is one of the world’s leading causes of infant brain damage and death. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial. If your baby suffered serious complications during labor or delivery, he or she may require costly ongoing medical treatment for the foreseeable future. While nothing can restore your baby’s health, there are options and professional resources in Ohio that may be able to help get your child the care he or she needs.