Early Signs of Hypoxic Injury in Newborns: A Philadelphia Parent’s Guide

infant in the hospital after evaluating for hypoxic injury in Philadelphia


When a baby is deprived of oxygen during labor and delivery, it can result in a serious, catastrophic birth injury called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). This condition threatens brain tissue and can lead to lifelong disabilities like cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, seizures, and more. As a Philadelphia parent, it is important to understand the early signs of hypoxic injury in newborns to get your baby the proper care and treatment they need. This guide will provide an overview of hypoxic injury, its causes, early symptoms, and your legal options if negligence during childbirth caused your baby’s condition.


Raynes & Lawn Trial Lawyers has decades of experience guiding clients through birth injury cases. Our talented and dedicated attorneys can give you personalized and strategic attention. Call our offices today at 1-800-535-1797 for your free consultation.

What is Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy?


Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) refers to brain dysfunction that occurs when an infant experiences oxygen deprivation during the birthing process. This lack of oxygen prevents brain cells and tissues from receiving adequate blood flow. The severity depends on the duration and degree of oxygen loss. Even brief interruptions can permanently destroy neurons and lead to catastrophic birth injury, affecting the baby short and long-term.


Causes of Hypoxic Injuries in Newborns


Several complications during labor and delivery can temporarily cut off or restrict the oxygen supply to the baby’s brain. Common causes include:


  • Umbilical cord problems like cord prolapse, knotting, or compression

  • Placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterine wall

  • Uterine rupture

  • Preeclampsia or eclampsia

  • Failure to monitor fetal heart rate

  • Medical errors by doctors and nurses


If negligent doctors and nurses fail to promptly respond when fetal heart monitoring shows signs of oxygen deprivation, this allows damage to continue unchecked.

Early Signs and Symptoms

When hypoxic injury occurs, some babies will show immediate signs in the delivery room. However, symptoms do not always appear right away. Some subtle symptoms during the first few days can signal your newborn suffered brain trauma during childbirth. Understanding the early signs is crucial for prompt diagnosis, so a catastrophic birth injury lawyer in Pennsylvania can help the baby receive the proper legal defense, monitoring and care.


  • Apgar score: The Apgar test given 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth measures the newborn’s breathing effort, muscle tone, reflexes, heart rate, and skin color. A score below 7 indicates potential hypoxia.

  • Feeding difficulties: Since sucking and swallowing require muscle coordination, brain damage may cause problems like trouble breathing while feeding. Babies too weak or inactive to feed properly may have experienced oxygen deprivation.

  • Altered consciousness: Decreased alertness, lethargy, seizures, coma, and other consciousness changes point to possible HIE. Medical staff monitors babies with low Apgar scores for seizures, which signal possible brain injury.

  • Abnormal muscle tone and reflexes: Babies with HIE may demonstrate floppy or rigid muscle tone and weak reflex responses during testing. These signs show something went wrong during delivery, requiring further evaluation.

  • Respiratory changes: Fast breathing, respiratory distress, and brief pauses in breathing are common in newborns with HIE who have abnormal or underdeveloped areas controlling respiration. Intubation and breathing tubes are often required.

  • Temperature regulation issues: Hypoxic babies struggle to regulate body temperature, appearing too hot or cold compared to regular newborn readings.

  • Physical symptoms: While subtle, experienced doctors can detect physical signs like pupils fixed in an abnormal position rather than responding normally to light. Pale skin, heart murmurs, low blood pressure, lack of responsiveness, and gastrointestinal issues also potentially indicate hypoxia.


While most newborns with HIE show symptoms immediately or within the first few days, later on-setting signs around two weeks to one month may also develop:


  • Poor feeding

  • Lack of energy, lethargy

  • Persistent vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Involuntary arching of the back (opisthotonos)

  • High-pitched cry

  • Irritability, inconsolable crying

  • Poor weight gain

  • Development delays


Without prompt diagnosis and initiation of treatment like therapeutic hypothermia within 6 hours after birth, delayed symptoms still result in permanent disabilities. Ongoing monitoring and testing like EEG, MRI, CT scans, ultrasounds, spinal taps, and metabolic panels help measure the baby’s brain function and guide care decisions.


Hypoxic Injuries Can Result in Lifelong Disabilities


While every newborn responds differently to oxygen deprivation before, during or shortly after delivery, those who experience HIE face increased risks of:


  • Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy describes various disorders impacting movement, posture, and coordination. Spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy is common following profound HIE injury.

  • Epilepsy and seizures: Any baby who experiences seizures due to hypoxic injury remains prone to epilepsy and other seizure disorders as they develop.

  • Cognitive disabilities: Any degree of oxygen loss threatens healthy brain development and risks mental problems like intellectual disabilities, learning disorders, and speech and language delays.

  • Hearing/vision impairments: The eyes and ears have high oxygen requirements. Hypoxic injury can disturb their intricate development, causing blindness, deafness, or processing problems.


When poor handling of delivery complications deprives the baby’s brain of oxygen, the extent of lifelong impairments depends on insult severity and timing. Personality changes, trouble regulating behavior and emotions, difficulty relating to others, and memory deficits also frequently accompany hypoxic injuries. Though early intervention services help counteract some effects, many babies face permanent disabilities requiring lifelong assistance.


Legal Options if Medical Negligence Caused Your Baby’s Hypoxic Injury


When hospital errors, mismanaged labor complications, or other preventable mistakes result in your baby’s HIE diagnosis, you have legal options. Philadelphia hypoxic brain injury lawyers fight for just compensation so you can afford all needed medical care, early intervention services, accommodations, and other current and future expenses associated with lifelong disabilities. Damages often reach multi-million dollar amounts, given most victims require round-the-clock care, costing millions over a lifetime. An experienced birth injury attorney thoroughly investigates how the medical team handled your delivery from prenatal care through labor and postpartum response, looking for negligent deviations from safety protocols and standards of care. Securing evidence like medical records, fetal monitor strips, and reviews by specialists in OB-GYN, nurses, and neonatology prove whether preventable mistakes caused your baby’s health crisis. State laws recognize hypoxic injuries stem from medical negligence more often than doctors admit. Birth injury lawyers serve as powerful advocates to negotiate fair damages or file a hypoxic brain injury cerebral palsy lawsuit so a jury awards your child adequate compensation.


Frequently Asked Questions About Hypoxic Injuries in Newborns


Many Philadelphia parents face common questions and concerns when their newborn suffers hypoxic injury during childbirth. Here are answers surrounding legal rights and what to expect.


  1. Will My Child Qualify For Social Security Disability Benefits?

Yes, catastrophic disabilities like cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment, developmental delays, and other effects of hypoxic brain injury meet Social Security’s strict eligibility guidelines for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). An experienced birth injury lawyer and social security attorney assist you in filing for these funds, which help offset enormous medical bills from a child’s lifelong care.

  1. Is There A Deadline To File A Birth Injury Malpractice Lawsuit?

Yes, Pennsylvania birth injury attorneys face strict deadlines, called statutes of limitations, dictating when a HIE medical malpractice lawsuit must start.  For birth injury cases, parents must file medical negligence lawsuits on their children’s behalf before the child turns age 20 in cerebral palsy and related cases.

  1. Will Filing A Birth Injury Lawsuit Bankrupt Us?


No. Law firms with extensive experience handling catastrophic birth injury lawyer cases work on contingency, meaning no fees get paid unless they win damages for your child. All upfront court costs are also covered, so parents pay nothing out-of-pocket. Settlements and awards go into protected trusts so your child’s financial future remains secure while paying current and future accident-related expenses.

  1. How Do Birth Injury Lawyers Assign Value To Such A Profound Injury?

Highly experienced hypoxic brain injury attorneys use a multifaceted process for valuing damages based on the baby’s particular symptoms and long-term prognosis. Projected lifetime medical and care costs get calculated, along with other accident-related expenses like special education, vocational training, accessible vehicles/housing modifications, and more. The complex analysis also factors in severe intangible losses like physical and emotional pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent disability, and reduced life expectancy. These verifiable projections result in a lifetime expense report guiding settlement negotiations and providing juries with the full scope of harms and losses.


  1. Will You Have To Go To Court?

Not necessarily. Over 90% of all medical malpractice claims are settled out of court to avoid the risk and expense of trial. However, hypoxic brain injury lawyers prepare every case for trial. Pre-trial preparation builds maximum pressure, so obstetricians want to settle rather than face an unpredictable jury who hears how you and your child suffered permanent injury due to preventable medical negligence. Your attorneys tirelessly file motions, depose doctors, and obtain professionals to get the case’s value for your child’s sake.


Get a Free Consultation with a Birth Injury Lawyer


Caring Philadelphia parents who suddenly face life-altering medical disabilities want to make sure their baby gets the assistance needed for the best possible life ahead. If questionable medical care during labor and delivery caused your child’s condition, now is the time to speak with a dedicated hypoxic brain injury attorney. Call Raynes & Lawn for a free, confidential case review. Their compassionate birth injury lawyers provide trusted insight into legal options and comprehensive help throughout the challenges ahead.


Don’t hesitate to contact our talented and knowledgeable birth injury lawyers at Raynes & Lawn Trial Lawyers to protect your rights and your child’s future. Justice may be a long process, but the outcome and results our attorneys achieve can make a tremendous difference for your family. Call us today at 1(800) 535-1797 for more information.