What Parents Need to Know About Birth Asphyxia


Birth asphyxia happens when infants don’t get enough oxygen around the time they are born. It’s a serious medical event that can cause brain injury, disability, and death.
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Birth asphyxia, also known as perinatal asphyxia, happens when a baby doesn’t get enough oxygen before, during, or right after birth. Many babies experience limited levels of reduced oxygen after birth, and this usually isn’t a problem. But when the lack of oxygen is severe and long lasting, it can have harmful effects on an infant.
Let’s take a look at what birth asphyxia is, what the signs are, how it’s diagnosed and treated, the outlook, and what can be done to prevent it.

What is birth asphyxia?

What is birth asphyxia?
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes birth asphyxia as the failure to establish breathing at birth and notes that it accounts for about 900,000 infant deaths around the world each year.
Birth asphyxia usually refers to any instance of oxygen deprivation or inadequate blood flow to vital organs that happen during or close to the time of childbirth. When asphyxia is severe or sustained, it usually first causes damage to the brain and then can damage organs such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys.

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What are the symptoms of birth asphyxia?

What are the symptoms of birth asphyxia?
Lack of oxygen at birth can cause mild to severe symptoms in infants. Some potential signs and symptoms may include:
breathing issues and respiratory distress
signs of hypoxia, such as turning blue or grayish
at first, infants may have trouble settling and being wakeful
later, infants may be lethargic and exhibit low muscle tone (hypotonia)
infants may have decreased muscle reflexes (hyporeflexia)
seizures may occur in severe cases

What causes birth asphyxia?

What causes birth asphyxia?
There are various conditions or circumstances that can cause birth asphyxia. These can occur during pregnancy, during childbirth, or post-birth.
Some of the causes of birth asphyxia include:
heart and respiratory issues in a birthing parent, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the infant
problems with the uterus, such as uterine rupture
problems with the placenta, such as placenta abruption
umbilical cord issues, including cord knotting, cord compression, cord prolapse
infection in the birthing person
a birthing person deprived of oxygen for any reason
hemorrhaging during childbirth

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What are the complications of birth asphyxia?

What are the complications of birth asphyxia?
The complications birth asphyxia can cause depend on how severe the lack of oxygen is and how long it lasts.
Birth asphyxia has several stages. First, it can affect an infant’s brain. Then, it can cause damage to organs. Though less common, severe birth asphyxia can result in infant death.
Babies who survive birth asphyxia may face disabilities, and the condition is a top cause of brain injury in newborns. Birth asphyxia can cause the following conditions:
brain injuries
cerebral palsy
intellectual disabilities
developmental delays
behavioral disorders
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

What is the treatment for birth asphyxia?

What is the treatment for birth asphyxia?
The treatment for birth asphyxia will depend on when and how the condition is presenting. Some strategies medical providers use to treat birth asphyxia include:
treating any conditions in the birthing parent that are contributing, such as providing oxygen to a parent who is oxygen deprived
infants with signs of oxygen deprivation may need oxygen supplementation, breathing support, or intubation
infants may also need medication for blood pressure issues and dialysis for kidney failure
therapeutic hypothermia, which means cooling of the body, is performed in the hours and days after birth asphyxia and is considered an effective technique to prevent further damage

What’s the outlook for people with birth asphyxia?

What’s the outlook for people with birth asphyxia?
Birth asphyxia is a serious condition that may result in severe complications and death. The condition is more common in underdeveloped countries with less advanced medical care, but it affects infants in more developed countries as well.
In developed countries, birth asphyxia impacts roughly 2 out of every 1,000 births. In developing countries, the rate can be as much as 10 times as high. Severe birth asphyxia can lead to infant death about 15–20% of the time. About 25% of infants are left with neurological injury.

How is birth asphyxia diagnosed?

How is birth asphyxia diagnosed?
The following criteria may be used to diagnose birth asphyxia in newborns:
signs of brain or neurological damage, such as weak muscle tone, a weak suck, breathing issues, and seizures
signs of organ failure
high acid levels (a pH less than 7) in the infant’s blood or umbilical cord
an APGAR score of five or less 10 minutes after birth, along with a prolonged requirement for resuscitation

Can you prevent birth asphyxia?

Can you prevent birth asphyxia?
Not all instances of birth asphyxia can be prevented, but in countries with more thorough prenatal care and advanced medical care, rates of birth asphyxia are lower. Advanced medical care can treat many of the complications that happen at delivery that can lead to birth asphyxia, such as hemorrhaging and umbilical cord issues.
Certain risk factors increase the chances of birth asphyxia, and some of these risk factors are modifiable, which can prevent the occurrence of birth asphyxia. Preventable or controllable risk factors include:
high blood pressure (hypertension) or low blood pressure (hypotension) during pregnancy
pregnancy anemia
low attendance at prenatal visits
premature delivery
untreated infections during pregnancy

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