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What Treatment is there for Birth Asphyxia?

Birth asphyxia is an extremely dangerous condition caused by oxygen deprivation at birth which, if not immediately assessed and treated, can easily cause permanent brain damage in new-born infants.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), birth asphyxia is one of the leading causes of neonatal mortality. However, if birth asphyxia is diagnosed and treated quickly, it’s likely the baby will make a full recovery with no adverse long-term effects. Therefore, if medical professionals fail to deal with birth asphyxia appropriately, the baby’s parents or carers may be entitled to make a claim for birth injury compensation.

What is birth asphyxia?

Birth asphyxia is caused by a deprivation of oxygen before, during, or just after birth. There are a number of reasons birth asphyxia can occur, including:

  • Low blood pressure in the mother
  • Compressions or kinks in the umbilical cord or the cord wrapping round the baby’s neck
  • Heart or respiratory issues in the mother
  • Placental abruption (the placenta coming away from the uterus too early)
  • Obstruction of the baby’s airways immediately after birth
  • Low blood pressure or shock in the baby
  • Anaemia or inability to carry enough oxygen in the blood

If birth asphyxia is not caught quickly, the lack of oxygen going to the brain or muscles can lead to birth injuries such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, developmental delays, learning disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, emotional disorders, and respiratory conditions. If birth asphyxia is not treated in time, the baby may die.

What are the symptoms of birth asphyxia?

It is essential to diagnose birth asphyxia as soon as possible to prevent oxygen deprivation causing long-term damage. Symptoms of birth asphyxia at birth include:

  • Not breathing or weak breathing
  • Blue or greyish skin colour
  • Low heart rate
  • Poor reflexes
  • Neonatal seizures
Symptoms of birth asphyxia prior to birth include:
  • Increased acid in the baby’s blood
  • Irregular heart rate or rhythm

How do you treat birth asphyxia?

Immediately after birth, the medical professionals on the scene should take steps to ensure the baby is dried, warmed, and to clear their airways if they are in distress.

A combination of the following treatments may also be necessary to resolve birth asphyxia:

  • Machine breathing support to pump air into the baby’s lungs
  • Nitric oxide delivered through a breathing tube
  • Therapeutic hypothermia – cooling the baby’s brain to slow down any dangerous effects of birth asphyxia
  • Blood pressure medicine
  • Dialysis for any kidney problems
  • Medicine to prevent seizures
  • Giving the mother oxygen before delivery
  • Emergency caesarean section

Where the baby is experiencing heart or lung failure as a result of birth asphyxia, a treatment called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) can be used to deliver oxygen to the baby’s brain. The machine works by draining the baby’s blood into an artificial lung, adding oxygen, removing carbon dioxide, then pumping it back into the baby.

Follow-up treatment for birth asphyxia

In most situations, birth asphyxia is mild, and the baby suffers no long-term injuries or problems. However, the baby should be monitored for the first few years of life for potential issues, such as problems with muscle tone, feeding, or developmental delays.

Where the baby shows signs of long-term issues, interventional investigations, treatments, and therapies should be deployed, such as:

  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Eye and hearing examinations
  • Developmental assessments
  • Psychological assessments

Claiming compensation for injury caused by birth asphyxia

In most situations, babies are able to fully recover from birth asphyxia with the right treatment. However, in some circumstances, medical treatment falls short. Medical negligence is unfortunately one of the most common causes of injuries by birth asphyxia, and can be the result of:

  • Poor foetal monitoring during labour and delivery, particularly in cases already allocated as high-risk
  • Failure to recognise the condition
  • Failure to follow clinical guidelines
  • Failure to inform a senior medical professional of the problem

If your child has experienced birth asphyxia injuries as a result of medical negligence, it is essential to consult an expert birth injury claims solicitor specialised in birth asphyxia claims for advice on starting a medical negligence compensation claim for the injuries and damage caused.

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