Many people associate the term “asphyxia” with suffocation, which is accurate. More broadly, it refers to a harsh depletion of oxygen to the body. Asphyxia causes a condition known as hypoxia, which can quickly cause damage to the body’s tissues and organs. During the birthing course of action, asphyxia can rule to damage of the infant’s brain, potentially causing lifelong complications and conditions such as cerebral palsy.
The unborn fetus receives highly oxygenated blood via the mother’s placenta by the umbilical cord. The term “birth asphyxia” specifically refers to that supply of blood/oxygen either being lost or severely reduced for a period of time sufficient enough to cause hypoxia to the infant (or “anoxia” if the supply is completely cut off). This can occur if the umbilical cord becomes either compressed or restricted. If such compromises to the proper functioning of the umbilical cord during the birthing course of action are not closest corrected, the depleted oxygen flow creates a high risk of brain injury, cerebral palsy or already death to the unborn child.
Without the steady flow of oxygen to the infant’s brain, blood gas (oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide are naturally present in blood) and pH levels (the measurement of acidity or alkalinity of a solution, in this case blood) can quickly become imbalanced. Fetal acidosis (caused by overly acidic blood) and carbon dioxide poisoning may consequence and cause brain damage.
Some of the maternal or neonatal events that can rule to asphyxia include: 1) umbilical cord prolapse – an obstetric emergency whereby the umbilical cord precedes the fetus’ exit from the uterus, usually requiring an emergency Caesarian section. 2) induced labor – the artificial stimulation of contractions by using drugs such as Pitocin can cause fetal distress 3) breech deliveries – when a fetus presents itself in any position other than head-first, the umbilical cord can get wrapped around the fetus or crimped 4) forced extractions – when forceps, vacuums or other mechanical devices are used to ease delivery, you increase the chances of damage to the placental umbilical cord attachment.
The best way to prevent fetal asphyxia and fetal distress is to consistently and precisely monitor the fetal heart rate. The medical history of the mother in addition as the health of the pregnancy itself are strong indicators of possible risks faced during delivery. Sometimes the mother is supplied supplemental oxygen during delivery to continue pH and prevent acidosis. Effective, managed labor is meaningful to minimizing stress to the fetus and preventing asphyxia.
In high-risk situations, proper monitoring and interpretation of fetal heart data has saved many infants from neurological damage during birth. Misreading the data can rule to not recognizing fetal distress in time or causing undue stress and trauma to both mother and child when a forced extraction or C-section is performed unnecessarily.