Oxygen Shortage at Birth Is Usually the Result of Human Error

New born baby

Mistakes by medical staff are usually to blame in cases where a baby suffers a lack of oxygen at birth, according to a new study from Norway.

Birth asphyxiation, or hypoxia, happens when a baby does not get enough oxygen before, during or right after birth. Oxygen deprivaton can result in brain damage, mental disabilities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or even death to the infant.

Researchers looked at 161 compensation claims for birth asphyxia in Norway between 1994 and 2008. Fifty-four infants had died and 107 had survived; of the babies who lived, 96 suffered brain damage.

The most common cause of birth asphyxia was found to be human error. Half of the cases were the result of inadequate fetal monitoring; 14 percent stemmed from lack of clinical knowledge; 11 percent were the result of failure to follow clinical guidelines; 10 percent stemmed from a failure to ask senior medical staff for assistance and 4 percent resulted from mistakes in drug administration.

In cases where the care was found to have been substandard, obstetricians were identified as the staff responsible for the errors 49 percent of the time, and midwives were found to be responsible for the errors 46 percent of the time.

In most compensated cases, poor fetal monitoring had led to an inadequate supply of oxygen for the babies, according to study author Dr. Stine Andreasen, of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Nordland Hospital in Bodo, Norway. He stated that training for midwives and obstetricians, and “high-quality audits” at hospitals could help resolve birth asphyxia and reduce compensation claims.

The review was published recently in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.

Other Causes for Birth Asphyxia:

In a small percentage of cases, birth asphyxia can be caused by factors that are not under the control of obstetricians or midwives. These factors include:

  • Too little oxygen in the mother’s blood before or during birth
  • High or low blood pressure in the mother
  • Placental abruption, where the placenta detaches from the uterus prematurely
  • A very long or difficult delivery
  • The umbilical cord collapses or gets entangled around baby’s neck
  • A serious infection in the mother or baby
  • Baby’s airways are not formed properly
  • Baby’s airways are blocked
  • Baby’s blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen (anemia)

It is important for moms-to-be to get periodic check-ups during pregnancy, so that your doctor can monitor the status and health of your fetus, and your own.

Additionally, living a healthy lifestyle is especially important when you are expecting. A healthy lifestyle includes:

  • eating a balanced diet of whole foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • avoiding cigarettes (including exposure to secondhand smoke)
  • avoiding alcohol or illegal drugs
  • getting plenty of sleep every night
  • getting light exercise throughout the pregnancy, as long as your doctor approves it

Walking daily or doing simple stretching exercises on a mat for 30 minutes every day will help keep you limber and toned, which will enhance your chances of having a trouble-free delivery.

By Eirian Hallinan.