A 15-year Norwegian study published in a journal of the Nordic Federation of Societies of Obstetrics and Gynecology indicates that human error is the most common cause of infant asphyxiation at birth.
Birth asphyxia occurs when a baby doesn’t receive enough oxygen before, during or immediately after birth. Without oxygen, cells cannot work properly. Waste builds up in the cells and cause temporary or permanent damage. Birth asphyxia can lead to brain damage and death.
Estimates have put lifelong compensation for injury caused by birth asphyxia averages about €430,000 ($574,000) in Norway, with costs exceeding $5 million in the United States.
“While fetal brain injury or death is uncommon during childbirth, when it occurs the effects are devastating,” explains Dr. Stine Andreasen with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Nordland Hospital in Bodø, Norway. The study investigated claims made for neurological injury or death following birth asphyxia.
Researchers analyzed 161 cases associated with birth asphyxia in which compensation had been awarded. In those cases, 107 infants survived, with 96 having neurological injury, and 54 children who died.
Study Results: Human error was the most common cause of birth asphyxia
- 50% attributed to inadequate fetal monitoring
- 14% lack of clinical knowledge
- 11% non-compliance to clinical guidelines
- 10% failure to ask for senior medical assistance
- 4% errors in drug administration
“In most compensated cases, poor fetal monitoring led to an inadequate supply of oxygen to the infant,” said Dr. Andreasen. “Training for midwives and obstetricians, along with high-quality audits, could help to reduce claims for compensation after birth asphyxia.”
Birth asphyxia may lead to cerebral palsy, Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy, developmental disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or impaired sight. In the most severe cases, asphyxia can lead to organ failure and death.
“Human Error Most Common Cause of Birth Asphyxia” by Stine Andreasen, Bjørn Backe, and Pål Øian, Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, November 17, 2013, DOI: 10.1111/aogs.12276