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Brain Damage at Birth

What is perinatal asphyxia?

Perinatal asphyxia occurs when an infant is deprived of oxygen at birth. Depending on the length of oxygen deprivation, children can suffer varying levels of brain damage, while many do not survive. In fact, according to recent data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), 25-50 percent of infants who suffer severe asphyxia (also known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy) die within the first week after birth.

Causes of perinatal asphyxia

While many factors can cause oxygen deprivation during childbirth—and in some cases it is not possible to determine the cause—the following conditions and situations can put a baby more at risk:

  • The placenta (which provides oxygen to the fetus during labor) fails to function properly
  • A trauma causes the fetus to suffer sudden blood loss
  • The fetus develops abnormally due to genetic abnormality
  • Fetal viral infection
  • Fetal drug exposure during pregnancy
  • Pressure on the umbilical cord
  • Blood clot in the umbilical cord

Some causes of perinatal asphyxia are unavoidable, while others are identifiable at different stages during pregnancy and childbirth. A careful, diligent doctor can often catch warning signs early and address them. If there is a risk of suffocation because the umbilical cord is twisted around the baby’s neck, for example, sometimes performing a C-section can eliminate the risk. On the other hand, a doctor could be found negligent if he or she misses key warning signs that lead to perinatal asphyxia and subsequent brain damage.