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What is birth asphyxia?

The birth of a child is typically celebrated, but the time leading up to that celebration can be intense. A mother must work through labor, C-sections, natural deliveries or other ways of giving birth just to see her child. Sometimes, these deliveries take too long or errors happen, and that can lead to the child suffering from birth asphyxia.

Birth asphyxia is a problem some babies suffer when they don't get enough oxygen during or immediately following birth. Sometimes, this problem occurs naturally due to a long delivery or issue with the placenta, but typically the medical team will be able to catch the problem before it becomes dangerous for a child.

If there are problems with the umbilical cord, if the baby's airway hasn't formed correctly or if the baby has anemia, asphyxia is possible. A blocked airway, a mother's high or low blood pressure or a mother's lack of oxygen due to anemia or other issues can also cause asphyxia.

Statistics show that birth asphyxia takes place in approximately 4 out of 1,000 full-term births. If a baby is born prematurely, it's possible for asphyxia to take place due to the baby's lack of development. In either case, time is of the essence. The first stage of asphyxia results in cell damage, which is generally something that can heal. A reperfusion injury can also take place, which is when toxins that have built up from a lack of oxygen are released into the child's cells.

Mild cases of asphyxia may cause temporary problems, and the child may heal. Severe cases could lead to cerebral palsy, organ failure, impaired sight or death.

Source: Seattle Children's, "Birth Asphyxia," accessed June 17, 2015

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