What is Birth Asphyxia?

Asphyxia is a medical condition in which there is lack of oxygen in the body resulting in numerous complications. When this condition strikes at birth, then it is termed as Birth Asphyxia. In this condition, the baby when born does not receive enough oxygen to the brain and other vital organs of the body. This may happen during birth or right after the birth of the baby. Since the symptoms of Birth Asphyxia take a while to come up usually the diagnosis of Birth Asphyxia is delayed.


With Birth Asphyxia, the cells in the body are not able to function adequately due to lack of oxygen and there is gradual build up of waste products in the body which may result in temporary or in some cases permanent damage to the cells or organs. It is estimated that Birth Asphyxia occurs in 1 of every 1000 live births across the United States. Birth Asphyxia is seen more commonly in premature deliveries.

How much damage Birth Asphyxia has done depends on how severe the condition is and for how long the baby has been battling Birth Asphyxia, and also how soon the treatment for it is started. The injury due to Birth Asphyxia happens in two stages of which one starts within minutes after delivery when the baby is deprived of oxygen. There is substantial cell damage that occurs due to oxygen deprivation. The second stage of damage occurs when normal blood flow and oxygen has been restored in the baby but there is build up of waste material within the body which contains toxins which lead to cell damage.

Babies with mild Birth Asphyxia tend to recover fully without any complications if appropriate treatment is given on time. Permanent injuries may occur in those babies who have been deprived of oxygen for a prolonged period of time and the injuries may include to vital organs like lungs, heart, brain, kidneys, and liver due to Birth Asphyxia. In cases of a premature baby having Birth Asphyxia, it may lead to developmental delays, ADHD, and other psychiatric abnormalities in the baby. In some cases, the eyesight of the baby may also get impaired because of Birth Asphyxia.

What is Birth Asphyxia?

What Causes Birth Asphyxia?

Some of the causes of Birth Asphyxia are:

  • Oxygen deprivation with extremely low levels of oxygen in the blood of the mother at the time of delivery of the baby or just before it
  • Condition in which the placenta moves away from the uterus much before than anticipated
  • Prolonged and complicated delivery
  • Issues with the umbilical cord at the time of delivery
  • Infection in the mother or the baby at the time of delivery or just after birth
  • Hypo or hypertension in the mother
  • Airway of the baby either being blocked or not formed appropriately at birth resulting in the baby not being able to breath in air normally causing Birth Asphyxia
  • The baby is born anemic meaning that there are extremely low levels of red blood cells in the baby.

What are the Symptoms of Birth Asphyxia?

Some of the symptoms of Birth Asphyxia are:

  • Labored or very poor breathing in the baby
  • Cyanotic skin
  • Bradycardia
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Weak reflexes
  • Acidosis in the baby
  • Seizures in the baby in some cases.

How is Birth Asphyxia Diagnosed?

Birth Asphyxia can be diagnosed based on the Apgar score of the baby that is born. Apgar score is a rating given by physicians to the baby depending on skin color, heart rate, pulse, reflexes, muscle tone of the baby, and the breathing pattern of the baby.

This rating is given from 1-10. If the Apgar score of a baby is less than 3 for longer than a period of five minutes after birth then it is a clear sign of Birth Asphyxia, as the baby who has poor inflow of oxygen in the body will tend to have bluish discoloration of the skin, will find it hard to breathe, and will overall be lethargic. The urine output of the baby will also be very low suggesting retention of waste products in the body further confirming the diagnosis of Birth Asphyxia.

How is Birth Asphyxia Treated?

Babies who have mild form of Birth Asphyxia can be given breathing support till the time they can breathe on their own and are closely observed for any sign of deterioration. In cases where the baby has a more serious form of Birth Asphyxia then ventilatory support may be required along with medications and fluids to control blood pressure and for prevention of seizures due to Birth Asphyxia. There are also certain advanced treatment options available for treatment of Birth Asphyxia but these are reserved for extreme cases. These advanced treatments are:

  • High-frequency Ventilation
  • Inhaled nitric oxide
  • Hypothermia
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

These advanced treatments are also quite helpful and effective in treatment of Birth Asphyxia.

Also Read:

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: July 22, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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