Robert A. Solomon, P.C.
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Understanding birth asphyxia

As a New Jersey mother-to-be, the health, safety and welfare of your growing baby likely are your main concerns. Unfortunately, however, pregnancy and birth are not things over which you have complete control. No matter how careful you are during your pregnancy, your baby could suffer a birth injury through no fault of yours.

Birth asphyxia is one of those injuries that could result in serious and lasting injury to your child. Asphyxia means a lack of oxygen, and birth asphyxia occurs when your baby fails to receive the necessary amount of oxygen to sufficiently supply his or her brain and other organs before, during or immediately after birth.

Causes

Any type of oxygen deprivation can cause birth asphyxia, but some of its most common causes include the following:

  • Insufficient oxygen in your blood before or during your baby’s birth
  • Separation of the placenta from your womb too soon
  • Umbilical cord problems during your baby’s birth
  • A very long or difficult delivery
  • Malformation or blockage of your baby’s airway
  • Anemia, i.e., the inability of your baby’s blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen

Apgar score

Doctors and other health care professionals will test your baby immediately after birth to determine his or her Apgar score. Apgar stands for the following five things they test:

  1. Appearance, referring to the color of the skin
  2. Pulse, meaning the heart rate
  3. Grimace response, measuring reflexes
  4. Activity, referring to muscle tone
  5. Respiration, or breathing rate and effort

They give each test result a score of zero to two and add the five scores together to arrive at the Apgar score. Obviously 10 is a perfect score. Should your baby’s first Apgar score be in the zero to three range and remain there on the second test five minutes later, this may be a sign of birth asphyxia. The amount of harm your child could suffer depends on how long (s)he is without sufficient oxygen, how low his or her oxygen level is and how quickly (s)he receives the treatment (s)he needs.

Treatment

If your baby suffers from birth asphyxia, medical personnel may give respiratory therapy, additional fluids, medicine to control blood pressure and prevent seizures, and IV nutritional support for his or her bowel. In the most severe cases, your baby could require mechanical ventilation.

If your baby’s birth asphyxia is mild or moderate, (s)he likely will fully recover. Should (s)he arrive prematurely, however, and/or suffer a severe case of birth asphyxia, (s)he could face permanent damage to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, bowel or other organs, as well as possible damage to the nervous system and eyes. All of this is extremely scary. Thankfully, only four out of every 1,000 babies born in the U.S. suffer from birth asphyxia, although that number increases if your baby is born prematurely.

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