Birth Injury - Perinatal Asphyxia

What is perinatal asphyxia?

Perinatal asphyxia
is the neurological condition that results when a newborn infant is deprived of oxygen long enough to cause damage.  If an infant fails to establish adequate, sustained respiration after birth, the infant is said to have perinatal asphyxia. The term “perinatal” refers to that period of time either during or close to the time of delivery. Other terms used for perinatal asphyxia include intrapartum asphyxia or birth asphyxia.  If the cause of the oxygen deprivation is not corrected, the organs, the brain in particular, may be damaged, sometimes irreparably.

How common is perinatal asphyxia?

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), in 2002, infant mortality caused by perinatal asphyxia amounted to 14.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in the United States, representing the tenth leading cause of infant mortality. Worldwide, more than 1 million babies die annually from complications of perinatal asphyxia. According to the World Health Organization, perinatal asphyxia is one of the leading causes of newborn deaths in developing countries, in which 4 to 9 million cases of perinatal asphyxia occur each year, accounting for about 20 percent of the infant mortality rate.

What are the effects of perinatal asphyxia?

Perinatal asphyxia may cause developmental delays that may affect quality of life, ability to work or even the capacity to live independently. If the perinatal asphyxia is severe, an infant may die, or survive with life-long neurological disabilities, most often cerebral palsy.

Can perinatal asphyxia be prevented?

Perinatal asphyxia can frequently be avoided by good obstetric and neonatal care. Failure to timely treat perinatal asphyxia can give rise to a medical negligence claim. Events that happen in labor or delivery and during the baby’s hospitalization following birth can be examined by qualified experts to determine what caused the perinatal asphyxia. Fetal monitor strips, delivery records and other neonatal records can be reviewed by experts to determine what caused the perinatal asphyxia.

Medical mistakes can cause perinatal asphyxia.

If a doctor or other health care professional fails to monitor or to respond properly to certain situations that arise during the delivery, that individual could be considered negligent with regard to the duty owed to patients. A delivery medical team should monitor the mother and baby throughout pregnancy, labor and delivery in order to be aware of any complications that may develop. Negligence of doctors, nurses, (See "Nursing Negligence") and other medical personnel can lead to situations which may result in perinatal asphyxia. Examples of such negligence include:

  • Failure to provide appropriate prenatal care and appropriate interventions during labor and delivery
  • Failure to diagnose and treat an infection in the mother
  • Failing to rapidly diagnose and treat preterm labor
  • Failure to diagnose macrosomic (large) baby
  • Failure to properly manage prolonged or post term pregnancy
  • Failing to respond appropriately to bleeding
  • Failure to treat maternal elevated blood pressure (preeclampsia)
  • Negligent management of labor and delivery
  • Failure to appropriately respond and intervene to non-reassuring fetal heart monitor changes and evidence of fetal distress.
  • Misuse of a vacuum extractor or forceps during delivery
  • Failure to perform a timely vaginal delivery or a cesarean section (c-section) to deliver a baby in distress
  • Failure to properly resuscitate a newborn

Only a careful review of the medical records can support a likely cause of injuries and whether the actions of the delivery team played a part in causing a baby's perinatal asphyxia. Our lawyers and medical advisors who handle birth injury cases have experience investigating medical mistakes and birth injury malpractice and have access to the type of qualified medical experts necessary to review complicated birth injury cases.

If your child suffered perinatal asphyxia resulting in cerebral palsy or other injuries due to improper care during your pregnancy or at the time of delivery, perhaps we can help. Contact one of our medical analysts - all are professionally licensed - they will understand the complex issues of labor and delivery that can result in medical conditions like perinatal asphyxia. Please call our Medical Malpractice group, which handles birth injuries that result in cerebral palsy, at 1.800.552.7115 or contact us. If you think you have a medical malpractice case within MN, ND, SD, IA or WI, please call 1.800.207.6771.

References and Resources

Laciou-Petruccell MD, Alberto, Perinatal Asphyxia, Vantage Press, New York, NY, 2006.

Bedrick M.D., Alan D. Perinatal Asphyxia and Cerebral Palsy, Journal of Diseases of Children, American Medical Association, 1989.

Simon M.D., Neal P., "Developmental Follow-up of Infants Experiencing Perinatal Asphyxia." 2007. Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Neonatology

The articles on our Website include some of the publications and papers authored by our attorneys, both before and after they joined our firm. The content of these articles should not be taken as legal advice.