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Why Do Moms Receive Oxygen During Labor?

by David B. Ryan, studioD

Most women go through four separate stages during labor, and the first two steps carry a risk for depriving oxygen from the newborn. The University of Washington Medical Center lists the first two stages as contractions and dilation of the cervix, then the "pushing" stage. One of the elements that prenatal education focuses on is breathing during the birth. Baby relies on Mom to supply oxygen, and active labor requires patterned breathing to make sure the newborn has the supply of oxygen necessary for a healthy delivery. Moms may receive oxygen during labor for baby's health and also for her own comfort.

Brain Damage

Babies deprived of oxygen for a prolonged period of time during the birthing process, called "severe hypoxia," sometimes experience brain damage. The length of time and the level of the oxygen shortage determine the type of damage and the degree of cognitive and physical damage. Babies are diagnosed with Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy, or HIE, when deprived of oxygen before and during delivery. The damage affects different regions of the brain, and some less-developed brain cells have more damage compared with more mature cells, according to Phoenix Children's Hospital.

Oxygen Loss

The Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation notes that even a small amount of oxygen deprivation during birth can create problems, and a mild loss, called "mild hypoxia," frequently goes unnoticed. Hospitals and birthing centers typically give Mom oxygen during labor to avoid the potential risk. The Phoenix Children's Hospital reports that most babies experiencing HIE recover within a couple of hours or days, but 40 to 70 percent with moderate HIE have some sort of disability, including seizures, cognitive problems or cerebral palsy. Supplying oxygen helps reduce the risk of permanent damage to the child.

Maternal Distress

Mothers experiencing distress during delivery may need oxygen during a long or difficult delivery or when Mom's blood pressure increases during labor or the birth process. Cells use oxygen to function properly, and without a constant supply, the cells fail to remove waste products. The accumulation of acid waste in the cell creates temporary or permanent damage, so nurses monitor the mother to ensure that she gives the unborn baby an adequate and continual supply of oxygen.

Infant Treatment

Newborns with mild oxygen asphyxia receive immediate breathing help using a high-frequency ventilation system until they can breathe without assistance. Treatment of premature newborns or infants with undeveloped lungs requires the use of other special medical procedures, including extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The ECMO is a heart-lung pumping process that adds oxygen to the baby's blood using a special machine. Babies exposed to oxygen deprivation during the second stage of delivery sometimes receive a cooling treatment that artificially brings the body temperature down to slow the circulatory system. This allows brain cells to develop, avoiding developmental damage, when the body temperature is allowed to gradually return to normal a day or two after birth, according to Seattle Children's Hospital.

About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.

Photo Credits

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