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What impact does Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, or oxygen deprivation, have on a newborn baby?

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy is a condition in which the brain does not receive enough oxygen, which can occur during a difficult labor and delivery. The consequences can be severe and can include life-long complications.

When a baby is deprived of oxygen during labor and delivery for over a five-minute period of time they can suffer from many types of long-term damage including learning disabilities, delayed development, seizures, and cerebral palsy.



Causes of Hypoxic Encephalopathy

There are many causes of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, the most common birth injury or complication during birth. This can include a twisted or compressed umbilical cord, an umbilical cord around the neck, or the position of the baby in the birth canal. Physicians who allow a difficult labor to progress without intervention run the risk of depriving the baby of oxygen and causing long-term brain damage.

Looking for signs of fetal distress

While not all Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy is the result of physician error, it is a condition that can be preventable if medical staff monitor the baby’s heart rate and progress closely. By watching the fetal heart rate monitor, doctors can determine when the baby is in distress. There are many responses to a distressed heart rate ranging from as simple as turning the mother on her side to the more severe interaction of performing a cesarean section.

Infants who suffered oxygen deprivation may show the following symptoms:

  • Seizures within the first 24-48 hours of delivery
  • Difficulty feeding, including inability to latch, suck or swallow milk
  • Apnea, which is when a baby hold their breath for a prolonged period of time
  • Low umbilical cord pH which can indicate there is too much acid in the cord, usually caused by a lack of oxygen
  • Low Apgar score (An Apgar score is a series of tests given to newborns to assess their health).


Oxygen deprivation is preventable in many cases as long as a qualified physician and nursing staff is monitoring a labor’s progress.

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