Perinatal Hypoxia

What is Perinatal Hypoxia?

Hypoxia is a condition when oxygen can’t get to tissue, and perinatal means immediately before and after birth. While the direct translation of perinatal hypoxia means a deficiency of oxygen to the tissue before and after birth, there’s a little more to it than that. Due to birth complications, the baby stops breathing after birth, depriving the brain of essential oxygen, causing an oxygen-related brain injury which kills some brain cells and, in essence, could lead to cerebral palsy.

How Does Perinatal Hypoxia Happen?

Perinatal Hypoxia is an oxygen deficiency for the infant, and there can be a number of reasons that the child does not get the required amount of oxygen. The most common reasons that infants experience perinatal hypoxia include:

  • Maternal smoking
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Maternal anemia
  • Birth asphyxia
  • Inadequate fetal monitoring

Perinatal Hypoxia can also happen when there is a problem with the umbilical cord (such as a prolapse or if it was pinched closed) or placental abruption. All of these conditions should be diagnosed by the doctor during pregnancy as they could lead to birth complications, an emergency caesarian section (C-section), and more.

What Can Perinatal Hypoxia Lead to?

Perinatal hypoxia can lead to a number of serious medical conditions, such as  Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) and brain injuries related to birth asphyxia. All three of these injuries are serious brain injuries that may lead to paralysis and severe brain damage. Generally, these three injuries develop within 48 hours of perinatal hypoxia, so if the baby is treated immediately, several of the severe after effects can be substantially diminished.

However, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), perinatal hypoxia and perinatal asphyxia accounts for close to 1/3 of neonatal deaths.

Other medical conditions associated with perinatal hypoxia include:

  • Cerebral palsy (CP)
  • Severe seizures
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Behavioral disorders

What Kind of Treatment Should Follow Perinatal Hypoxia?

Hypothermia is a medical term that essentially means freezing to death, but neonatal therapeutic hypothermia is a form of treatment that has been effectively used following perinatal hypoxia. When the hypothermic treatment is commenced within 6 hours of the baby’s birth, results indicate that mortality rates and long-term neurological disorders can be cut in half.

Controlled, clinical neonatal therapeutic hypothermia works because during birth, the body switches into emergency mode, sometimes starting a chain of events that lead to seizures, which in turn leads to brain damage. When you cool the baby with ice blankets or a special ice cap, the cellular responses slow down which allows more time for the doctors to concentrate more oxygen on the infant. The oxygen level, then, restores to a natural level.

Hypothermia treatment is generally used after stabilizing the infant shortly after birth, according to the WHO Reproductive Health Library.