Perinatal and Neonatal Asphyxia

A birth injury is different from a birth defect: a birth defect is something that your child was going to be born with due to genetic predisposition. A birth injury, on the other hand, is indicative of some kind of mistake that changed (what would have been) your normal delivery into a traumatic experience for your infant (and also for you). Birth injuries have many different facets to them. Sometimes a birth injury could seem like an isolated injury, or a birth injury could be related to a network of related injuries, all affecting your child in different ways. Perinatal asphyxia, or neonatal asphyxia, is one such birth injury: it is an initial birth injury that–if gone untreated–could expose your child to a whole network of related birth injuries.

What is Perinatal Asphyxia?

Perinatal asphyxia is the name for when your child doesn’t breathe normally just before, during, or after birth. Asphyxia is a condition that describes a decreased or discontinued level of oxygen, and perinatal is the period that describes just before, during, and after delivery.

What Happens During Perinatal Asphyxia?

Because the perinatal period is a brief window, a child with perinatal asphyxia is typically born quiet. Sometimes a pediatrician can be monitoring the vital signs of the baby, recognize an alarming decrease of oxygen and perinatal asphyxia, and result in a baby delivered via emergency c-section. Other times, a baby is born vaginally and is silent or limp with perinatal asphyxia. During both scenarios, the medical staff members work to get the child to breathe as quickly as possible.

What Causes Perinatal Asphyxia?

There are a number of ways the baby could stop breathing. Sometimes it’s related to a prolapsed umbilical cord (when the cord comes out before the baby does), or it’s related to the umbilical cord being pinched somehow. Sometimes a baby stops breathing because of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome, a situation in which the baby is stressed, defecates meconium, and breathes it in either before, during, or just after vaginal delivery. Sometimes a child is born prematurely (before 37 weeks) and his or her lungs are under developed resulting in the inability to breathe his or herself. The cause is usually related to the extenuating circumstances, and the perinatal asphyxia describes the low level of oxygen the child is getting as a result of that.

What are the Symptoms of Perinatal Asphyxia?

The symptoms of a child not breathing are pretty obvious. If the child is crying and breathing normally, he or she does not have it, but if a child is silent, limp, blue, or has trouble breathing (including rapid breathing), it’s fairly obvious that the child has the condition.

What is the Treatment for Perinatal Asphyxia?

If the child isn’t breathing because of something like meconium aspiration syndrome, the medical staff needs to work to suction out the fluid so that the child can breathe normally. For other causes, the medical staff needs to respond to these obstacles as they come, though one of the many options may be to put the child on a respirator. If a child hasn’t been breathing for a long period of time, the medical staff may choose to proactively attempt to reverse any brain damage by putting the infant in a hyperbaric oxygen tank, a therapy intended to expose the child to a 100% oxygen environment and to flood the body with as much restorative oxygen as possible.

What are the Risks for a Child that Hasn’t Been Breathing for a Long Period of Time?

When a child hasn’t been breathing for any period of time, you may experience even a mild risk of brain damage. Low levels of oxygen in the blood also create acidosis, a condition when too much acid in the blood builds up (another condition that could be treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy). Any time a child stops breathing for close to five minutes, there is a very real risk of brain damage include intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and other problems such as seizures. For this particular birth injury, the timing of the perinatal asphyxia will determine whether the child has other more severe birth injuries.