Birth asphyxia occurs when a baby doesn't receive enough oxygen before, during or just after birth. There are many reasons that birth asphyxia may occur.
Umbilical cord prolapse: This birth complication occurs when the umbilical cord leaves the cervix before the baby.
Compression of the umbilical cord
Meconium aspiration syndrome: This syndrome occurs when a baby inhales a mixture of amniotic fluid and meconium, their first feces.
Premature birth: If a baby is born before 37 weeks, their lungs may not yet be fully developed, and they may be unable to breathe properly.
Amniotic fluid embolism: Although rare, this complication — in which amniotic fluid enters the pregnant person’s bloodstream and causes an allergic reaction — is very serious.
Uterine rupture: Research has shown a significant association between tears in the muscular wall of the uterus and birth asphyxia.
The placenta separates from the uterus: This separation can happen before the birth.
Infection during labor
Prolonged or difficult labor
High or low blood pressure in pregnancy
Anemia: In a baby with anemia, the blood cells are not carrying enough oxygen.
Not enough oxygen in the pregnant person’s blood: The level of oxygen may be insufficient before or during birth.
Unusual skin tone
The baby being silent and not crying
Low heart rate
Weak muscle tone
Lack of breathing or difficulty breathing
Amniotic fluid stained with meconium
The baby being limp or lethargic
Low blood pressure
Lack of urination
Abnormal blood clotting
The short-term effects of birth asphyxia can include:
Acidosis, which is when too much acid builds up in the blood
High blood pressure
Blood clotting problems
Long-term effects may include:
Autism spectrum disorder
Low intelligence quotient score
Psychotic disorders in adulthood
Severe asphyxia can cause:
Sight or hearing impairment
Immediate treatments include:
Providing extra oxygen to the pregnant person if birth asphyxia happens before delivery
Emergency or cesarean delivery
Suctioning fluid away from the airways in the case of meconium aspiration syndrome
Putting the newborn on a respirator
For severe cases of birth asphyxia, treatment may include:
Placing the baby in a hyperbaric oxygen tank, which supplies 100% oxygen to the baby
Induced hypothermia to cool the body and help prevent brain damage
Medication to regulate blood pressure
Dialysis to support the kidneys and remove excess waste from the body
Medication to help control seizures
Intravenous (IV) nutrition
A breathing tube to supply nitric oxide
Life support with a heart and lung pump
Steps may include:
Controlling body temperature
Ensuring that the correct equipment is available
Having properly trained and skilled healthcare providers present for every birth
Pretreatment with certain medications, such as barbiturates, to reduce the risk of brain injury
Treatments, such as body cooling, to prevent secondary complications from asphyxia due to damaged cells releasing toxins.
Frequently asked questions
Q.What is the cause of birth asphyxia?
Decreased oxygen before or during the birth process may include
Inadequate oxygen levels in the mother's blood due to heart or respiratory problems
Lowered respirations caused by anesthesia
Low blood pressure in the mother
Q.How common is birth asphyxia?
Perinatal asphyxia happens in 2 to 10 per 1000 newborns that are born at term and more for those that are born prematurely.
Q.How is birth asphyxia treated?
Mild cases of birth asphyxia are treated with immediate breathing support until the baby can breathe well on their own. Babies with more serious signs of asphyxia may need a breathing machine, respiratory therapy, fluids, and medicine to control blood pressure and prevent seizures.
Q.How can birth asphyxia be prevented?
Use partograph for vigilant labor monitoring
Allow companionship during labor and birth
Ensure supportive 2nd stage management based on fetal and maternal condition
Avoid incorrect practices
Manage pre-eclampsia correctly
Q.What are the symptoms of asphyxia?
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
A slow heart rate.
A sore throat.
Loss of consciousness.
Q.What are the complications of asphyxia?
Cerebral palsy and other motor disorders
Epilepsy and seizure disorders
Behavioral and emotional disorders
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