Birth Asphyxia

What is birth asphyxia?

Birth asphyxia, or perinatal asphyxia, occurs if the child is deprived of oxygen before, during, or shortly after delivery. The oxygen supply travels in the blood; if the blood supply is interrupted, or there is not enough oxygen in the blood, brain tissue can die.

The longer the child is without oxygen, the higher the risk of severe hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (brain damage).

Hypoxic = not enough oxygen
Ischemic = not enough blood flow
Encephalopathy = abnormal brain function

The effects of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy depend on the severity and location of damage to the developing brain.

Symptoms at the time of birth indicative of perinatal asphyxia may include:

• Baby is barely or not breathing
• Low heart rate
• High level of acid in blood — acidosis
• Poor muscle tone
• Weak reflexes
• Baby is having seizures

Diagnosis of birth asphyxia:

At birth, a low Apgar score may indicate that the baby was asphyxiated. The Apgar score is a newborn screening test which assesses the child’s breathing, heart rate, skin colour, reflexes, and muscle tone. Most babies with a low score immediately after delivery recover to near normal minutes later; however, babies will most likely require intervention to restore normal breathing and heart function if they have suffered a significant and sustained period of birth asphyxia.


The degree of damage to a newborn caused by birth asphyxia relates to the duration and severity of oxygen deprivation and whether effective treatment was given in a timely fashion. In addition to brain injury, babies who suffered significant birth asphyxia also may sustain permanent injury to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.

In the worst cases, birth asphyxia and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy leads to infant death.

Birth asphyxia and cerebral palsy:

Cerebral palsy can be attributed to birth asphyxia if the child develops hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation) — spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy being the CP type most commonly associated with asphyxia.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics established four essential criteria that define an acute intrapartum event sufficient to cause cerebral palsy:

1. Evidence of metabolic acidosis in fetal umbilical arterial blood obtained at delivery: pH of less than 7.0 and base deficit of at least 12 mmol/L [measurement of blood glucose level].
2. Early onset of severe or moderate neonatal encephalopathy in infants born at 34 or more weeks.
3. Cerebral palsy of spastic quadriplegic or dyskinetic type.
4. Exclusion of other possible etiologies such as trauma, coagulation disorders, infections, or genetic disorders.

If your child suffered birth asphyxia and has a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, there is a chance that labour and delivery were mismanaged by the healthcare professionals. In British Columbia, an investigation into the circumstances causing your child’s CP can only be instigated by a medical malpractice lawyer.

Contact Campbell, Renaud Trial Lawyers today about a free, no-obligation consultation.