HM Insights

Brain injury & oxygen deprivation during child birth

This week is Action for Brain Injury Week which is a week–long awareness event organised by the brain injury charity, Headway. Here Heather Calderwood takes a further look into the different types of brain injury including oxygen deprivation during child birth. 


A traumatic brain injury is an injury to the brain caused by trauma for example a fall, a road traffic accident.  However, a brain injury can also be acquired in the absence of trauma. One of the most common causes of brain injury is as a result of inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or because of the brain being deprived of oxygen, often at birth.    

What is Encephalitis?

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, most often caused by infections.  In many cases the cause is unknown.  Early diagnosis is important to assist in managing symptoms and where possible reducing long term damage.  In many cases, a good recovery is achieved, but nerve cells in the brain may be damaged which can lead to long-term, and sometimes severe, effects.

Oxygen Deprivation During Birth

Oxygen deprivation during birth can arise for many reasons including umbilical cord problems and difficulties in the birth canal.  Healthcare staff are trained to manage labour and delivery, including identifying and addressing problems such as these.  However, failure to quickly identify and respond to difficulties such as oxygen deprivation can result in significant damage to a baby's body and brain.  Even a few minutes of oxygen deprivation can lead to brain damage and lifelong complications such as cerebral palsy. 

Symptoms of Oxygen Deprivation

The type and severity of symptoms will vary according to the nature and extent of the brain damage.  Some symptoms will be more noticeable that others.  Some symptoms may not be obvious until the child shows signs of development delays.  Some common symptoms include:

  • Behaviour: this is difficult to identify when it is normal and expected for babies to cry. However, behavioural problems such as trouble with sleeping while lying down, refusing nourishment and being extremely fussy can be symptoms.
  • Physical Appearance: in some, not all cases, an abnormal physical appearance can be a sign of brain damage. For example, distorted facial features, a deformed spinal cord, an abnormally large forehead.
  • Delays in Development: for example sitting up, crawling, and smiling having regard to their age. However, it is important to remember that some babies reach milestones later than others and it does not always indicate a problem. 

Only a medical physician will be able ascertain if your child's developmental delays are a result of brain damage.  It is important to seek medical advice if you have any concerns about your child's health or development.

How can Harper Macleod can help? 

At Harper Macleod, we have been instructed to act on behalf of families in relation to medical negligence claims in which babies have suffered brain injuries as a result of oxygen deprivation during labour.  

Headway offers a range of support to people with a brain injury, their family and friends.






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