Fetal Acidosis & Cerebral Palsy
An unborn child is completely dependent on its mother when it comes to the receiving nutrients and oxygen, as well as the expulsion of wastes and carbon dioxide. In addition, the child’s overall blood pH must be kept steady in order to ensure that the different metabolic and biological processes continue as expected.
Should there be an interruption in the child’s oxygen supply for whatever reason (especially in cases involving hypoxia), lactic acid levels in their blood will rise, potentially leading to the organ damage and the development of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and/or cerebral palsy.
Fetal acidosis is catastrophic in the sense that it can cause permanent brain damage to the fetus within a short amount of time. Therefore, doctors and other medical professionals are required to closely monitor blood pH (and fetal distress signals) during labor, as well as mitigate any complications pointing to fetal distress in a timely manner to prevent fetal acidosis from occurring in the first place, or to mitigate it’s overall effect on the child’s health if and when discovered.
Risk Factors for the Development of Fetal Acidosis
- Placental abruption, or the separation of the placenta from the womb’s inner wall prior to delivery.
- Uterine rupture, or a tear in the wall of the uterus.
- Low blood pressure, often caused by a hemorrhage or the overuse of Pitocin.
- Macrosomia (a larger than normal birth weight), or cephalopelvic disproportion (where the baby’s head is too large for the birth canal).
- The compression of a child’s umbilical cord due to improper positioning, umbilical cord prolapse, or a nuchal cord.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Doctors should be able to diagnose fetal acidosis in a few ways. For instance, your obstetrician may perform a non-stress test (NST) to look for signs of fetal distress or reduced oxygen levels prior to delivery. The most-common non-invasive techniques used to detect signs of fetal acidosis are would be monitoring the fetal heart rate, and assessing the child’s biophysical profile score (based on observation of fetal breathing/movements, gross body movement, tone, and amniotic fluid levels).
Acidosis is also often diagnosed through an umbilical cord blood gas test, though cord gas levels may not be accurate if circulation was interrupted during labor. Once delivered, a simple blood test can be used to confirm the child’s blood-acid levels.
Acidemia must be treated as a matter of urgency to prevent any resulting damage to the child’s delicate brain. This is commonly done by performing an emergency cesarean section delivery, administering oxygen to the mother, increasing IV fluids, and changing their position.
Any failure by medical staff to monitor, identify, and mitigate birth injuries caused by fetal acidosis could rise to the level of medical malpractice, but a hospital is not likely to admit when they’ve committed malpractice out of fear the family will pursue a cerebral palsy birth injury lawsuit.
If you suspect that medical malpractice may have played a role in your child’s birth injury, speaking with a cerebral palsy attorney about your case (and your potential legal options) can be extremely informative, and consultations are almost always free.