What to Know About Anoxia and Its Role in Cerebral Palsy

Birth Injury, Causes of Cerebral Palsy, Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Infant feet with oxygen monitor attached

Anoxia is largely a birthing complication that affects children either in the womb, during the birthing process, or immediately after delivery. Going through this distress can lead to a child developing cerebral palsy. Here is what you should know about anoxia and its role in cerebral palsy.

What Is Anoxia?

Anoxia is a very serious condition where a child’s entire body, or a portion of their body, completely lacks oxygen. It’s the most dangerous form of hypoxia, which is when a part of the body is suffering from a decrease in oxygen. It’s possible for newborns to suffer from anoxia and hypoxia during the birthing process, which can then lead to cerebral palsy and other complications.

Risk Factors for Anoxia

There are some pre-delivery and at-birth injuries that could lead to anoxia and hypoxia, including:

  • A pinched umbilical cord that prevents an appropriate amount of oxygen from reaching the baby.
  • An umbilical cord prolapse in which the cord drops out of the cervix before the baby does, frequently requiring an emergency cesarean because the cord becomes trapped.
  • A uterine rupture
  • Placental abruption

Children may be at risk for cerebral palsy from anoxia due to:

  • Low birth weight
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Advanced maternal age
  • Preeclampsia
  • Limited or inefficient prenatal care
  • Placental abruption
  • Abnormal fetal position
  • Oligohydramnios, or low amniotic fluid
  • Prolonged labor
  • Uterine rupture
  • Delayed intubation following birth

Anoxia’s Role in Cerebral Palsy

Infants can experience anoxia and hypoxia during the birthing process or because of other issues during pregnancy, or even shortly after delivery. How devastating anoxia is to the brain and body of a child depends on factors such as how long they went without oxygen. Cerebral anoxia, or a complete lack of oxygen to the brain, can cause cerebral palsy, other complications, permanent brain damage, or death if not treated quickly and appropriately.

Obtaining an Anoxia Diagnosis

There are times when it’s clear that a baby was completely deprived of oxygen. For example, a doctor can see a tightened umbilical cord around the child’s neck or body and the infant presents with a discoloration that indicates a lack of appropriate oxygen resources. It’s also clear when a child is having difficulty breathing or isn’t breathing at all.

If there is any question of whether or not a child went without oxygen for any length of time, doctors and other medical professionals can monitor the child for distress or any other complications. It is important to remember that an official cerebral palsy diagnosis doesn’t usually come until the child is between 18 months and two years old.

At this time, you may notice that the child has some milestone delays, dragging of the feet, difficulty walking, muscle weakness or rigidity, speech issues, hearing loss, difficulty swallowing, muscle spasms, paralysis on one side of the body, and more. Parents may notice that their child is favoring one side of the body over the other when performing normal body movements like crawling or reaching for objects. Especially if suspected anoxia was present at birth, it’s important to check with your child’s healthcare provider if you notice any of these signs of cerebral palsy.

Treatment of Anoxia

If it’s clear or strongly suspected that your child has suffered from anoxia, healthcare professionals may use hypothermia treatment to regulate your baby’s body temperature and slow down any potential swelling of the brain that would otherwise lead to permanent brain damage. Doctors may also order specialized nutrition for a balanced glycemic index and fluid restriction until they can determine that your child’s renal function is healthy.
If these treatments were not provided or proved ineffective against the development of certain conditions, including cerebral palsy, further treatment usually includes medications and a combination of physical, occupational, speech, recreation and cognitive therapies.

If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, there may be many possible causes. However, if you believe that medical negligence may have contributed to your child’s cerebral palsy, please contact us for more information. Our team can help you understand the responsibilities of medical professionals during birth and educate you on your legal rights and options, as well as offering support and additional resources.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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