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What is birth asphyxia, and can a baby recover?

Many kinds of birth injuries can happen, but one that can lead to lasting complications is called birth asphyxia. Birth asphyxia happens when a baby doesn't get enough oxygen at or around the time of birth. This is one of the most common causes of infant brain damage.

Birth asphyxia can be caused by many factors. Some include:

  • Inadequate oxygen levels due to the mother's respiratory or heart problems
  • Poor placenta function
  • Compression of the umbilical cord
  • Placental abruption

It's important for medical providers to be able to identify these issues and address them before they negatively impact an unborn child. Birth asphyxia can be identified by recognizing respiratory distress in the mother, placental abruption or other signs that the baby is in distress.

After birth, Apgar scores of 0 to 3 for five minutes or longer may indicate birth asphyxia. Severe acid levels, respiratory distress and neurological problems may as well.

Can birth asphyxia be treated?

It's possible that it could be treated, but it depends on the severity of the injury. Treatments can include:

  • Assisted ventilation
  • ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) support

This is a complex condition, so there can be no guarantee that a child will recover from what they've been through. However, with early and prompt treatment, they will have a better chance of recovery with minimal damaging effects.

The best treatment for this condition is actually preventative: The baby's mother may have needed an emergency C-section or supplemental oxygen during labor to help.

This kind of birth injury isn't always a result of mistakes, but if a medical provider doesn't recognize the signs of distress in a mother or infant, then it may be their fault that the child went without oxygen and ended up injured. If you suspect that your child was harmed at birth by a medical mistake, find out more about your legal options.

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