What Is A Hypoxic Brain Injury, And How Is It Caused During Birth?

traumatic brain injury in Pennsylvania for hypoxic brain injury

A hypoxic brain injury refers to damage to the brain that is caused by a lack of oxygen. This type of injury can occur before, during, or after birth and result in devastating consequences for the child. In this blog post, we will provide an overview of hypoxic brain injuries, what causes them during childbirth, the symptoms and effects, and legal options for families in Pennsylvania.

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 1-800-535-1797for your free consultation. 

Causes of Hypoxic Brain Injuries During Birth

There are several potential causes of a hypoxic brain injury during the birthing process:

Umbilical Cord Compression

One of the most common causes is umbilical cord compression. This occurs when the umbilical cord becomes pinched, twisted, or compressed during labor and delivery, cutting off vital oxygen flow to the baby. This is an emergency and must be addressed rapidly by medical staff.

Uterine Rupture  

A uterine rupture is another cause, which is when the uterus tears open along the scar line from a previous c-section or other uterine surgery. This can cause the baby to be pushed into the mother’s abdominal cavity, compressing the umbilical cord and decreasing oxygen levels.

Placental Abruption

Placental abruption, which refers to the placenta partially or wholly separating from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery, is another cause. This separation means oxygen and nutrients cannot flow properly to the baby.

Meconium Aspiration

Meconium aspiration occurs when a newborn inhales a mixture of meconium (the baby’s first feces) and amniotic fluid into the lungs around delivery time. This blocks the amount of oxygen that can enter the lungs and reach the brain.


Certain maternal infections during pregnancy, like chorioamnionitis, raise the risk of brain injury from lack of oxygen. Infections can lead to inflammation of fetal membranes and placental tissues.

Birth Asphyxia

A general lack of oxygen during the birthing process, known as birth asphyxia, accounts for many hypoxic brain injuries. This may be attributed to issues on the part of medical staff, such as failure to promptly perform an emergency c-section when necessary.

High-Risk Pregnancies

Certain high-risk pregnancy situations like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, placental bleeding disorders, and more can increase the chances of oxygen deprivation.

No matter the cause, if a baby experiences lengthy or severe oxygen deprivation around the time of birth, damage is likely to occur. Acting quickly at the first signs of fetal distress is key to preventing or minimizing the effects of any brain injury.

Symptoms and Effects

The symptoms and outcomes of a hypoxic brain injury depend on the severity, timing, areas of the brain impacted, and duration of the oxygen deprivation, among other factors. The extent of the damage may not be known immediately following birth as some effects do not materialize immediately.

Generally, though, the longer the duration of oxygen loss, the more severe the impacts on the brain. Parts of the brain that control vital regulatory functions like breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure control tend to show injury sooner. Areas of consciousness, sensation, cognition, and movement may display damage later.

Common Signs & Symptoms

Some symptoms a baby with hypoxic injury may display include:


  • Feeding difficulties  

  • Tremors or shaking motions

  • Irritability or lethargy

  • Poor muscle tone

  • Breathing troubles

  • Core body temperature instability

Short-term issues from mild oxygen deprivation are often resolved. But lengthy or severe deprivation can lead to lasting ramifications:

Cerebral Palsy

One of the most common outcomes is a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, which involves motor impairment from brain damage. The type and severity vary widely, though, based on the nature of the brain injury.

Developmental Delays 

Learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, delayed social skills, language delays, and more may result from damage to parts of the brain essential for development and function. Children often need robust medical, educational, and therapeutic services.

Difficulty Swallowing or Sucking

Some babies struggle to suck, swallow and feed appropriately due to lack of oxygen to parts of the brain stem vital for these functions. Many require alternative nutrition via a gastric tube for some time.

Hearing or Vision Impairment

Hearing loss, visual disturbances or sensory deficits are not uncommon if relevant areas of the brain cannot develop properly. Skilled assistive interventions are often beneficial.

Epilepsy or Seizures 

Seizures stemming from nerve cell injury in the brain present risks of further damage. Anti-seizure medication may reduce occurrence and impact.  

Permanent Vegetative State  

The most severe cases with extensive damage and cell death across most regions of the brain can result in permanent unconsciousness and lack of wakefulness or awareness.

The effects of any brain damage evolve as the child grows, making follow-up monitoring critical. Supportive medical care tailored to the areas of impairment present offers the best chance at maximizing development and function.

Legal Options for Hypoxic Birth Injuries 

When treatment costs start accumulating, many families in Pennsylvania turn to the assistance of a medical malpractice or birth injury attorney. An experienced hypoxic brain injury lawyer in Pennsylvania can help navigate complex legal processes. They establish whether the cause may be attributable to deviations from proper prenatal or delivery room care standards. If medical negligence is demonstrated through independent professional reviews of records and testimony, a case for obtaining a financial recovery could exist.

Statute of Limitations

One primary consideration in Pennsylvania is the statute of limitations – this refers to the deadline for filing a lawsuit two years from the date of injury, with some exceptions. Given the mercurial manifestations of birth hypoxia, though, meeting a rigid 2-year limit poses challenges. Families struggle during this period, adjusting emotionally, physically, and financially to unexpected care needs. That is why Pennsylvania does extend the timeline for minors until age 20 and tolls (pauses) the clock during ongoing treatment. However, strict cutoffs still apply in many situations, necessitating experienced legal guidance.  

Why Retain a Lawyer?

Those whose child endures lifelong hardships from birth trauma deserve accountability and justice. An attorney levels the playing field against complex legal defenses and massive insurance interests aiming to deny responsibility. Securing fair compensation then funds essential therapies, equipment, life planning, and more – things incurring great expense but out of reach without support. An attorney also shields families from draining hassles, allowing focus on recovery. Partnering with a compassionate yet tenacious hypoxic brain injury lawyer in Pennsylvania brings peace of mind and financial power when both are required most.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about hypoxic brain injuries during birth:

  1. What Are Common Causes Of Hypoxic Brain Injuries During Labor And Delivery?

Some common causes include umbilical cord compression, uterine rupture, placental abruption, meconium aspiration, infections, birth asphyxia, and complications from high-risk pregnancies. Essentially, anything interfering with oxygen flow to the baby risks injury.  

  1. What Does A Hypoxic Brain Injury Diagnosis Mean For My Child Long-Term?

The outlook depends significantly on the severity and location of damage in the brain. Mild cases may fully resolve, while serious widespread injury can severely impair motor and cognitive function. Supportive care tailored to issue areas offers the best help for development.

  1. What Are The First Signs Of A Hypoxic Brain Injury In A Newborn? 

Seizures, difficulty breathing or feeding, low muscle tone, extreme sleepiness/lethargy or irritability, and problems regulating body temperature may indicate hypoxic injury immediately after birth. Effects like cerebral palsy or developmental delays sometimes arise later.

  1. Can Hypoxic Brain Damage Lead To Seizures Or Epilepsy?

Yes, seizures represent widespread effects of oxygen-deprived brain cells. The chaotic electrical nerve signaling can further impair function. Medications may reduce frequency, but close monitoring is critical.     

  1. Are Therapy Interventions Effective For Hypoxic Brain Injuries?

Yes, programs focused on developmental domains of deficit can significantly help strengthen skills and attenuate impairment severity. Physical, occupational, speech, feeding therapies, and more all facilitate function based on need.

Working with A Hypoxic Brain Injury Lawyer in Pennsylvania

Hypoxic brain injuries mark very traumatic events with profound implications for children and families. Understanding causes, effects, and legal courses toward just remedies represent critical first steps in the healing and empowerment process for injured youngsters.

Partnering with an experienced hypoxic brain injury attorney in Pennsylvania helps protect rights and obtain resources that are even the playing field in the face of hardship. With compassion and dedication, we guide families from despair toward hope on this unexpected journey.

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.