kids health

How serious is it if your baby is deprived of oxygen during birth?

While most births in the UK are relatively straightforward with few complications, one issue that can potentially have serious health implications for your baby is if they are deprived of oxygen during the birth.

Figures suggest that around 1,200 babies a year are deprived of oxygen during their birth. This is known as birth asphyxia and while in some cases the baby can make a complete recovery with the right treatment, in others there can be serious long-term effects on your child’s health.

How birth asphyxia affects a baby

Exactly how much damage being deprived of oxygen during birth does to a baby depends on how severe the deprivation is and how long it lasts for. In some cases, the birth asphyxia can be relatively mild, for example caused by a slight drop in the mother’s blood pressure or a minor blockage of the newborn’s airways.

If these kind of issues are identified and acted on quickly by the medical team, the effects on the baby can be minimal. However, if more severe oxygen deprivation occurs, or the medical team do not take appropriate action quickly enough, more serious consequences can result.

Within minutes of oxygen being cut off to the brain, some amount of cell damage can occur. If the oxygen is cut off for too long, brain cells will die and, unlike most other cells in your body, these cannot be replaced.

A secondary problem can then occur when the oxygen supply is re-established as this can trigger toxins to be released from the damaged brain cells, which can then cause further damage to other parts of the brain.

Health conditions related to oxygen deprivation during birth

While babies who experience mild or moderate birth asphyxia may be able to make a full recovery with the right treatment, other can be left with a number of different long-term health conditions.

Common health conditions caused by birth asphyxia include cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and impaired vision or complete blindness. Some of these conditions are not immediately obvious and it may take months or even years for the effects to become apparent.

Treatments for birth asphyxia

Babies who experience mild oxygen deprivation will normally be given breathing apparatus to assist them until they can breathe properly on their own. They will need to be closely monitored, but in most cases can be expected to make a full recovery.

Those who suffer more serious birth asphyxia may need to be placed on a mechanical ventilator, as well as being given other treatments such as nitric oxide, cooling treatment and a heart-lung pump. This can help to minimise the damage from oxygen deprivation and aid recovery.

Where a child is left with a life-long condition, such as cerebral palsy, they may need continuing treatment and support, such as medication, surgery, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.

While much of this treatment and support can be accessed via the NHS, some services may need to be paid for privately. This is one reason  parents whose child suffers oxygen deprivation choose to pursue a clinical negligence claim against the hospital responsible for the birth.

If the problem was due to mistakes made by doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, it may be possible to win a significant financial settlement. Birth injury compensation claims can help to ensure your child gets the help and support they need to live a full, happy life.

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