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Even a Mild Lack of Oxygen at Birth Can Have Serious Long-Term Effects

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Experts have long known that babies can suffer lasting injury when they don’t get enough oxygen at birth. A new study from Ireland suggest that even a mild amount of oxygen deprivation creates an increased risk of developmental delays and can have lasting effects on infants.

The study, from University College, Cork, investigated 60 infants who experienced hypoxic-ischaemic-encephalopathy, or HIE, a condition in which the baby’s brain doesn’t have enough oxygen around the time of birth.

The doctors recorded the brain waves of the babies at birth and over the course of the next five years.  They found that subtle learning deficiencies were common in children who had suffered both moderate and mild HIE.  About 18-20 percent of the children who suffered mild HIE at birth had learning or behavioral difficulties at age five, including speech delays, autism, attention deficit disorder and dyspraxia.

In addition, moderate and mild cases of HIE were linked to overall lower IQ scores, poorer memory and decreased processing speeds.

Recommendations for Treatment

Currently, babies who suffer moderate HIE are treated with therapeutic hypothermia, also known as a cooling chamber.  The chamber uses a special cap, blanket or mattress to lower the newborn’s body temperature to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours after birth.  Babies who suffer mild HIE are not typically placed in a cooling chamber.

The study’s authors believe that some children who suffer mild HIE could benefit from the cooling chamber treatment or from repeated follow-up and assessment during early childhood.

Causes of Oxygen Deprivation at Birth

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that four percent of babies suffer from insufficient oxygen at birth, though some studies have placed the number as high as 23 percent.  Many factors can cause a baby to have insufficient oxygen.  Some of the most common are:

  • Not enough oxygen in the mother’s blood
  • The placenta separating from the uterus too soon
  • Infection
  • Problems with the umbilical cord during delivery, such as a prolapsed cord or a cord around the baby’s neck
  • A very long or difficult delivery
  • The baby’s airway is blocked
  • The mother has high or low blood pressure.
  • Negligence or a mistake on the part of doctors or hospital staff in failing to anticipate complications in a birth

Consequences of Oxygen Deprivation

The lasting effects of insufficient oxygen depend on how long the baby was without oxygen and how quickly treatment was started.  Babies can suffer

cell damage right away.  Additional damage can occur because of toxins released from damaged cells after the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain is restored.

Lack of oxygen can cause a variety of birth injuries and medical conditions, including:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Impaired sight
  • Permanent injury to the brain, heart, lungs or other organs

If your child suffered a birth injury, it is important to understand the cause and whether it was a preventable injury.  If a doctor or hospital staff caused or contributed to the injury, a birth injury attorney may be able to help you recover money that will aid with the cost of treating and caring for your child.

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