A Nationwide Birth Injury Resource

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) and Pennsylvania Birth Injuries

During pregnancy, labor and delivery, and shortly after birth, a baby's developing brain is quite vulnerable to damage. One of the most common causes of brain injury in newborns is hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which is caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. When the brain doesn't get enough oxygen, brain cells may die, causing permanent damage.

How HIE happens

The umbilical cord carries oxygen from the mother's body to the baby's body. If that flow of oxygen is interrupted - for example, because the cord is damaged or tangled, the uterus ruptures, or the placenta becomes detached from the uterus - the risk of HIE increases. Some common risk factors for HIE include:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) in the mother
  • Prolonged or difficult labor
  • Certain infections
  • Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC)
  • Multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, etc.)
  • Maternal age (under 20 or over 35)
  • Certain autoimmune disorders

While doctors should be especially vigilant when known risk factors are in play, the reality is that something can go wrong at any time during any delivery. That's why one of the doctor's most important jobs is to monitor the baby's heart rate throughout labor. If the baby's heart rate drops below 110 beats per minute (bpm) or above 160 bpm, the doctor needs to intervene appropriately to prevent HIE. That may involve using medication to accelerate labor or even ordering an immediate C-section.

If HIE is not prevented, the brain damage can lead to lifelong health problems, including:

The role of medical negligence in HIE cases

While we don't expect doctors to be perfect, the reality is that monitoring the fetal heart rate and checking for signs of hypoxia is a basic standard of care during labor and delivery. Doctors have a responsibility to proactively intervene if the baby's brain is not getting enough oxygen. They are also expected to schedule prompt interventions such as head cooling and whole-body cooling to prevent or reduce brain damage.

When that standard of care is not met, families have legal recourse. If you believe your child's brain injury was caused by medical negligence, schedule your free consultation.  If you need an attorney for your Pennsylvania birth injury, Help For Your Baby's birth injury experts will review your situation and, if necessary, put you in touch with one.