Posted on 06/06/2022

Fetal Hypoxia: What is it and what causes it?

Fetal Hypoxia: What is it and what causes it?

If you’re a parent and have noticed developmental delays or alarming symptoms in your child, you may want to learn about fetal hypoxia. 

When a fetus or newborn is deprived of oxygen, it can result in severe and permanent birth injuries and even death. 

\Without oxygen, cell death and brain damage can occur in as little as 4 minutes. 

Most doctors are aware of the signs and symptoms of fetal hypoxia and will treat them promptly while monitoring the mother and her baby. 

Unfortunately, there are instances where medical malpractice and negligence occur, and the baby is left untreated. 

You should always reach out to a medical malpractice lawyer if you suspect inadequate healthcare led to a birth injury. 

Below we will discuss the signs of fetal hypoxia, what causes it, how it’s treated, and how to get a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer

What is fetal hypoxia?

Fetal hypoxia, also known as intrauterine hypoxia, occurs when a fetus is starved of oxygen.

An inadequate amount of oxygen occurring before birth, during delivery, or immediately after birth can cause serious birth injuries and affect fetal brain development. 

There are various reasons why oxygen deprivation happens. 

When a mother has certain medical conditions, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, her fetus will be at a higher risk for hypoxia. 

With this knowledge, medical professionals should monitor the mother and baby for signs of fetal distress. 

During labor, healthcare professionals should keep an eye out for low fetal oxygen levels since prevention is better than treatment. 

If doctors are aware that a fetus may be getting less than enough oxygen and do not treat the fetus or baby promptly, they may be liable for damages under medical malpractice laws. 

Signs of fetal hypoxia

Learning the signs of fetal hypoxia gives medical professionals the chance to save the lives of unborn babies, and prevent children from growing up with developmental delays and lifelong injuries. 

Fetal heart monitoring is one way for healthcare professionals to monitor a fetus and ensure that it’s getting enough oxygen. 

Below are the most common signs of hypoxia and when they are most likely to occur. 

Before and delivery 

  • Decreased fetal heart rate
  • Erratic fetal heart rate
  • Lack of fetal movement 

After birth 

  • Acidosis (too much acid in the blood)
  • Bluish skin tone
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low heart rate
  • Meconium (stool in the amniotic fluid)
  • No cry or weak cry 
  • Neonatal seizures
  • Poor reflexes
  • Weak muscle tone 

What causes fetal hypoxia?

There is no single risk factor of fetal hypoxia. 

While at times medical professionals can be at fault, there are times that hypoxia may unexpectedly occur. 

However, knowing the most common causes of fetal hypoxia can help doctors pay closer attention to babies that are considered at higher risk. 

Factors that can result in inadequate oxygen levels before or during delivery include: 

  • Placental abruption 
  • Poor placental function associated with post-date babies 
  • Uterine rupture 
  • Compression of the umbilical cord 
  • Umbilical cord knots 
  • Prolapse of the umbilical cord
  • Low maternal blood pressure 
  • Mother’s low oxygen levels, often secondary to decreased respiration from anesthesia
  • Overstimulation of the uterus, secondary to Pitocin 
  • Maternal smoking
  • Multiple fetuses
  • Maternal pelvis is too small for delivery 

How is fetal hypoxia managed?

One of the most common fetal hypoxia treatments is therapeutic hypothermia, also known as brain cooling therapy. 

During this type of therapy, a newborn’s brain and body temperature are lowered, which can reduce the risk of permanent brain damage. 

Other forms of treatment after birth may include blood pressure drugs, machine-assisted breathing, dialysis, heart pumps, breathing tubs, and seizure-inhibitor medications. 

The type of treatment a newborn receives will depend on what is causing low oxygen levels, their gestational age, and the severity of their oxygen deprivation. 

In some cases, a c-section may be needed, as delivery can help ensure fetal survival, or brain damage, if the placenta is the cause of low levels of oxygen.

In other cases, treating a mother’s preeclampsia and blood pressure, with magnesium sulfate and low-dose aspirin can help. 

If your medical professional was aware of maternal health conditions and did not treat you or your fetus with the proper standard of care, you may have a medical malpractice case 

How does a fetus respond to fetal hypoxia?

When a fetus is deprived of oxygen and it’s not properly addressed, it can result in the following: 

  • Brain injuries
  • Cognitive problems
  • Developmental delays
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Nerve damage
  • Heart defects
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Coma
  • Death 

The more severe the fetal hypoxia the higher a baby’s risk of suffering a lifelong disability or injury. 

Becoming a new parent is challenging and expensive enough without raising a baby with disabilities and healthcare needs. 

Since there is no cure for brain damage, the cost of treatment can be more than most families can afford. 

Coping for babies and children with cognitive problems or brain damage can even lead many families to seek therapy. 

With all these expenses, it’s wise to speak with a medical malpractice attorney, so they can investigate your malpractice claim. 

If you have evidence that healthcare professionals could have prevented your baby’s birth injury by treating fetal hypoxia our lawyers can help you build your case.

The experts at Grover Lewis Johnson will fight for you 

Becoming a parent should be one of the happiest days of your life. When traumatic labor or delivery occurs your memory will be tainted. 

Grover Lewis Johnson understands your concerns and is here to help you and your family get the compensation you deserve. 

Birth injuries can have a lifelong effect on families. 

When you win your case, it can help you and your family pay for the costs related to birth injuries, surgeries, therapies, and prescriptions. 

Contact us for a free consultation and to learn more about medical malpractice, negligence, and birth injuries.