Oxygen Deprivation Birth Injury

The birthing process can be difficult for babies, who are subject to the incredible forces of contractions during labor.  Medical education and experience has taught obstetricians and nurses that there are significant risks if protocols are not followed.  When doctors or nurses ignore their duties, babies can have life-threatening injuries or lifelong injuries.

One significant risk is oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery.  Also known as asphyxia, the medical terms are hypoxia (when too little oxygen reaches the brain) and anoxia (when no oxygen reaches the brain).

Causes of oxygen deprivation

Oxygen deprivation can be caused by many things at the time of labor and delivery.

For each cause there are required procedures that doctors and nurses must use to recognize the problem and solve it.  Failure to do so can result in prolonged oxygen deprivation and permanent injury.  Importantly, doctors must be trained to accurately interpret electronic fetal monitor strips (also known as fetal heart tracings) to gauge whether the baby is having any problems during labor and delivery.

Injuries caused by lack of oxygen

Whether an injury is caused by lack of oxygen to the brain (called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, or HIE) depends on how long the brain was deprived of oxygen.  In most cases, even a baby’s developing brain can quickly recover from a hypoxic or anoxic event without any signs of damage.  However, a severe insult during labor and delivery can cause brain cells to die, resulting in damage to crucial parts of the brain.  Damage to the Broca’s area or Wernicke’s area of the left side of the brain can result in problems with speech and language.  Damage to the right side of the brain can affect emotion.  Injury to either side of the brain may cause paralysis in the opposite side of the body.  Other medical problems caused by lack of oxygen include mental retardation, cerebral palsy, vision impairment, hearing loss and developmental delays.


  • Between two and four of every 1,000 births involve hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (brain damage due to lack of blood and oxygen to the brain).
  • Intrapartum asphyxia (lack of oxygen during labor) causes cerebral palsy 12 to 23% of the time (Joseph J. Volpe, M.D., Harvard professor and chief of neurology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital).
  • Premature babies (12% of U.S. births in 2001) are at higher risk for injury as a result of hypoxic/anoxic injury.
  • 25% of babies who experience hypoxic/anoxic injuries at the time of labor will have permanent neurological problems.

Diagnosing oxygen deprivation injuries

Tests are available to determine whether and to what extent a child suffered a hypoxic or anoxic injury at the time of birth.  The medical team may order MRIs, both close in time to birth and in the months after, to see whether there was injury to specific parts of the brain; blood gas testing is done immediately after birth; and seizures shortly after birth are often a sign of an oxygen-deprivation injury.  Other useful tests may include electrocardiograms (EKG), and electroencephalograms (EEG).

Was my child’s birth injury caused by medical malpractice?

If your child has a birth injury, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, or developmental delays and you would like to know if that injury could have been prevented by your doctor, contact our medical malpractice attorneys at (855) 712-7818 or online for a free consultation.  We have investigated hundreds of birth injury cases across the country, and have a proven track record of settlements and verdicts.  Your child may be entitled to money that can pay for your child’s medical care and therapies.

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