Anoxia/Lack of Oxygen and Cerebral Palsy

Birth Injury, Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Infant with brain trauma holding mothers' hand

Though birth complications are rare, they do still occur, and issues like anoxia can have a huge impact on your baby’s life. Anoxia refers to a complete loss of oxygen, an uncommon, and often preventable, but very dangerous risk during childbirth that can lead to permanent physical impairment.

What Is Anoxia/Lack of Oxygen?

Anoxia happens when the body or brain completely loses its supply of oxygen. This is usually a result of hypoxia, which refers to when arterial blood has an abnormally low concentration of oxygen. When hypoxia evolves into anoxia, it can cause the parts of the body that rely on oxygen to stop functioning properly, including:

  • Bodily tissues
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Brain

This complete lack of oxygen can have a major impact, especially on the brain, and even lead to death in some cases. When the brain is totally deprived of oxygen, it’s called cerebral anoxia. After the brain goes four to five minutes without a supply of oxygen, it can suffer permanent damage.

Symptoms of Anoxia/Lack of Oxygen

When a baby has a lack of oxygen to the brain during birth, tests and monitoring typically recognize an interruption of oxygen flow. Some symptoms of an anoxic brain injury that could occur in a newborn include:

  • Weakened limbs
  • Jerky or spastic motions
  • Lack of consciousness
  • The decline of executive functions
  • Seizures

Causes of Anoxia/Lack of Oxygen

Oxygen deprivation at birth can be due to a number of events and complications, including:

  • Maternal shock: When the mother suffers from heavy bleeding, it can lead to fetal distress and placental abruption, causing anoxia.
  • Shoulder dystocia: This situation occurs when one or both shoulders obstruct delivery.
  • Traumatic or prolonged delivery: When the baby’s head is too large to fit through the birth canal, it can impede delivery, causing anoxia. This complication is called cephalopelvic disproportion.
  • Breech birth: A baby is considered breech if it doesn’t enter the birth canal in the optimal position, which is headfirst.
  • Excessive bleeding: Excessive hemorrhaging during either pregnancy or labor can cause anoxia.
  • Complications with the umbilical cord: Situations like a prolapsed cord sometimes happen during delivery, which could cut off the baby’s oxygen supply.

How Does Anoxia/Lack of Oxygen Contribute to CP?

Among the other complications that can arise, one of the more common outcomes for anoxia is brain injury due to a lack of oxygen. Anoxia can contribute to cerebral palsy lead to a brain injury that results in cerebral palsy in a number of ways, including:

Birth Asphyxia

Birth asphyxia is a medical term that refers to a baby that has been exposed to a reduction or loss of blood supply and oxygen before, during, or after delivery. The most common cause of birth asphyxia is the compression or restriction of the umbilical cord during labor. When an unborn baby’s oxygen flow is compromised, it puts it at risk of brain damage, including cerebral palsy, because it can:

  • Lead to acidosis and cerebral hypoxia
  • Increase gases like carbon dioxide and lactic acid in the blood
  • Cause brain cell death through oxygen deprivation


Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, also known as HIE, is a neurologic syndrome resulting from oxygen deprivation to the fetal brain. When anoxia occurs in a baby during labor, it can destroy brain tissue, and can lead to HIE. Babies with HIE are at risk for cerebral palsy and severe neurologic impairment, including:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Neurodevelopmental delay
  • Motor impairment
  • Developmental delay
  • Epilepsy
  • Speech/language impairment
  • Cerebral Palsy


Though not always preventable, one of the best ways to avoid anoxia during delivery is fetal heart monitoring. This allows doctors and nurses to detect possible high-risk situations, such as anoxia, and take the steps necessary to get oxygen to the baby as quickly as possible.

Incredible advances have been made in the medical industry, making labor and delivery safer than it has ever been, but there are still complications that can arise. By learning about the risks of anoxia and methods for prevention, you can be a more effective advocate for both you and your child during labor. If you think that your child’s or loved one’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical inattentiveness or malpractice during labor, you may be eligible for compensation.

At Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC, we have helped over 30,000 families understand their options in their cerebral palsy cases. We harness our legal and medical expertise, as well as our years of experience, to help families uncover the truth and seek the compensation they deserve. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you and your family.

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