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Philadelphia Med Mal & Birth Injury Lawyer / Blog / Birth Injury / Lack of Oxygen at Birth & the Long-Term Effects

Lack of Oxygen at Birth & the Long-Term Effects


Oxygen deprivation at birth, called birth asphyxia, is a leading cause of infant brain damage in infants. Even mild cases can result in lifelong problems such as developmental delays, cognitive functioning problems, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, ADHD, and epilepsy.

If your baby suffered birth asphyxia, the experienced birth injury lawyers at The Villari Firm can help you determine whether medical malpractice was at fault. For over twenty years, we have helped families in the Philadelphia area get justice and compensation for the negligence of their medical care providers. Call us today to discuss your birth asphyxia case.

Lack of Oxygen at Birth Explained

When a baby is starved of oxygen during delivery, their brain and other organs suffer damage. Once this damage reaches a certain level, the baby suffers permanent disabilities.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is the term referring to improper brain function resulting from a lack of blood flow and oxygen. In moderate cases of HIE, a child may develop cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, developmental delays, feeding problems, muscle spasms, or seizures and even ADHD, as well as behavioral problems In severe cases, a child may develop any or all of the previous conditions or even die.

Causes of a Lack of Oxygen at Birth and During Labor

The most common causes of lack of oxygen at birth are:

  • Trauma to the infant in utero
  • Too much pitocin given to the Mom while fetus is in utero causing a condition known as tachysystole which means 5 or more contractions within a 10 minute period
  • Placental abruption (placenta partially or completely separates from uterine wall too soon)
  • Umbilical cord prolapse (umbilical cord presents before baby during labor or delivery)
  • Umbilical cord around baby’s neck
  • Not enough oxygen in the mother’s blood
  • Mother has high or low blood pressure
  • Infection such as chorioamnionitis
  • Baby’s airway is blocked

Any one of these complications can constitute medical malpractice if caused by the negligence or mistake by medical providers in failing to anticipate or respond appropriately to them.

Sign & Symptoms of a Lack of Oxygen at Birth

Doctors use a system called Apgar scores to rate a newborn’s heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes, and skin color. Apgar scores range from 0 to 10, 10 being optimal. Apgar scores of 0 to 3 lasting longer than five minutes can be a sign of oxygen deprivation during labor or delivery.

How Common is Oxygen Deprivation at Birth?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimate four percent of babies suffer some oxygen deprivation at birth.

Lack of Oxygen at Birth & Learning Disabilities

Children who suffered mild oxygen deprivation at birth generally have lower IQ scores, poorer memory, and decreased processing speeds than their peers. Mild to moderate HIE can cause delays in speech development, autism, ADHD, and dyspraxia (a neurological disorder affecting the ability to plan and process motor tasks).

Determining Responsibility for Birth Asphyxia

Each member of the team of medical providers caring for you and your baby during labor and delivery has a role to play. If they fail to adhere to the standard of care in executing that role, causing lack of oxygen at birth, they can be held legally responsible for your child’s condition.


Nurses are responsible for supporting doctors and checking monitors including the fetal heart monitoring strips so as to predict the condition of the baby in utero and mother during labor and delivery. If they are inattentive or fail to recognize when a birth complication occurs, causing lack of oxygen at birth, they may be liable for your baby’s condition.


Doctors are responsible for assessing the condition of mother and baby and anticipating complications that may arise due to that condition. For example, if the baby is abnormally large or has an abnormally large head, a doctor might recommend a C section due to the risk of oxygen deprivation during a difficult vaginal birth. If a doctor fails to anticipate complications or does not recognize a complication causing oxygen deprivation, they may be liable.


Hospitals have policies and procedures for labor and delivery. Those policies and procedures must be effective in providing treatment and support to mothers during labor and delivery. If upon review they are not, the hospital may be liable for your baby’s condition.

If the hospital’s policies and procedures were appropriate but not followed, such as if the birth was understaffed, inadequately staffed, lacked necessary equipment or monitors, or the medical team caused or failed to identify the birth complication resulting in oxygen deprivation, the hospital may be liable.

Legal Options If Your Child Suffered a Lack of Oxygen at Birth

If your child suffers from a lack of oxygen at birth, you may have a valid medical malpractice claim. You may be eligible for compensation for your child’s medical expenses, lost wages in caring for them, and other damages.

Talk with an Experienced Birth Injury Lawyer

We have helped families in the Philadelphia area hold medical providers responsible for their negligence for over twenty years. Let us help you get the compensation you deserve. Call today to discuss your case.

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