Experts have long known that babies can suffer lasting injuries when they don’t get enough oxygen at birth. A study from Ireland suggests that even a mild amount of oxygen deprivation creates an increased risk of developmental delays and can have lasting effects on infants.
The study, published by the University College Cork, investigated 60 infants who experienced hypoxic-ischaemic-encephalopathy, or HIE, a condition in which the baby’s brain doesn’t have enough oxygen around the time of birth.
What Causes a Mild Lack of Oxygen at Birth?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that four percent of babies suffer from insufficient oxygen at birth, though some studies have placed the number as high as 23 percent. Many factors can cause a baby to have insufficient oxygen. Some of the most common are:
- Not enough oxygen in the mother’s blood
- The placenta separating from the uterus too soon
- Problems with the umbilical cord during delivery, such as a prolapsed cord or a cord around the baby’s neck
- A very long or difficult delivery
- The baby’s airway is blocked
- The mother has high or low blood pressure
- Negligence or a mistake on the part of doctors or hospital staff in failing to anticipate complications in a birth
All of these things can constitute medical malpractice. Although not every delivery goes smoothly, healthcare providers must anticipate complications and act accordingly.
What Can Oxygen Deprivation at Birth Cause?
The lasting effects of insufficient oxygen (“born blue”) depend on how long the baby was without oxygen and how quickly treatment was started. Babies can suffer cell damage right away. Additional damage can occur because of toxins released from damaged cells after the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain is restored.
Per Newborn and Infant Nursing Review, HIE can result in:
- The journal notes that 40 to 60 percent of infants with HIE do not live past their second year of life.
- Severe disabilities. Affected children can suffer brain cell death, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and mental retardation.
- A lack of mobility. Cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and nerve damage can impact a child’s ability to move independently. They might also suffer muscle spasms throughout their lifetime.
- Mental health complications. The struggle of living with a permanent disability can take a toll on your child’s mental health. Per JAMA Neurology, children who suffer from cerebral palsy (but not mental retardation) are at an increased risk of anxiety and depression in the future.
HIE Can Cause Lifelong Cognitive Problems
The study from University College Cork found that HIE can permanently alter a child’s ability to think rationally and process information. The doctors recorded the brain waves of the babies at birth and over the course of the next five years. They found that subtle learning deficiencies were common in children who had suffered both moderate and mild HIE.
About 18-20 percent of the children who suffered mild HIE at birth had learning or behavioral difficulties at age five, including speech delays, autism, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and dyspraxia. In addition, moderate and mild cases of HIE were linked to overall lower IQ scores, poorer memory, and decreased processing speeds.
Treatment Options for Children Suffering From HIE
Currently, babies who suffer moderate HIE are treated with therapeutic hypothermia, also known as a cooling chamber. The chamber uses a special cap, blanket, or mattress to lower the newborn’s body temperature to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours after birth. Babies who suffer mild HIE are not typically placed in a cooling chamber.
The study’s authors believe that some children who suffer mild HIE could benefit from the cooling chamber treatment or from repeated follow-up and assessment during early childhood. The goal of this procedure is to slow the death of brain cells, although this procedure isn’t exactly reliable, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Who is Responsible when a Child Suffers HIE?
These parties could bear some or all of the blame if a child suffers HIE at birth:
Healthcare providers are responsible for monitoring fetal distress, anticipating high birth weight, and navigating other potential issues. If they anticipate that a child will have issues leaving the birth canal without oxygen deprivation, then they should consider how a C-section could benefit their patients.
Some doctors operate under the purview of a medical facility. If the facility did not have procedures in place for this situation or did not provide the doctor with tools to do their job, they could be held accountable.
Nurses are responsible for notifying doctors when something goes wrong. They are sometimes also responsible for checking monitors and gauging fetal distress. If they don’t do these tasks, then the doctor might not have enough information to do their job.
What Can You do if Your Child has HIE?
Caring for a child who suffered from HIE depends largely on how the condition affected them. If your child has a learning disability because of their condition, then you can support them by finding a private tutor, enriching their interests, and enrolling them in extracurricular activities. If your child has reduced mobility, then they could benefit from some forms of physical therapy.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician about how you can help them navigate their life. They can give you recommendations based on your child’s physical and cognitive abilities.
You Have Legal Options if Your Child Suffered Mild Oxygen Deprivation at Birth
If your child suffered HIE at birth, you could have the basis of a medical malpractice team. With our firm’s help, you could seek compensation for your child’s healthcare expenses, your lost wages, and other damages. We can build your case in accordance with how Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research defines negligence in medical malpractice cases:
- A medical professional had an obligation to provide you with their field’s standard of care.
- The medical professional failed to uphold this obligation, providing care that fell short of their field’s accepted standards.
- You suffered injuries.
- You suffered losses.
The Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP Can Help Prove Your Case
Oxygen deprivation at birth can happen for a lot of reasons. However, sometimes, it’s due to the negligence of a healthcare provider. If your child suffered a preventable injury during birth at the hands of a negligent doctor or nurse, our Long Island medical malpractice attorneys may be able to help.
Our team has an in-depth understanding of the impairments oxygen deprivation at birth can cause. That’s because our co-founder, Richard Jaffe, is a certified brain injury specialist. With over 200 hours in the field, he can determine how medical malpractice affected your child and build your case accordingly. To learn more about your options in a free consultation, dial (516) 358-6900.
For a free legal consultation, call 516-358-6900