What we know about newborn brain injuries

baby - skin to skinAbout three in 1,000 babies born in the U.S. have brain injuries, a devastating occurrence for families and medical professionals. For decades, the medical community believed that most newborn brain injuries occurred when a baby suffered oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery. But now there is new evidence about the cause of newborn brain trauma.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics published a new report this week written by a committee of experts in obstetrics, pediatrics, neurology and fetal-maternal medicine. Their review of the evidence found conditions that occur during or even before pregnancy can lead to neurological damage in full-term babies.

In about half of cases, oxygen deprivation during birth contributes to a neurological problem, according to the new report. But even then, a medical problem that occurred during pregnancy may have contributed the lasting brain injury.

In the other half of cases, health conditions that affect both mother and baby likely lead to the baby’s brain injury. They include the baby’s genetics and maternal health problems like bleeding during pregnancy, infection, a problem with the placenta or an overactive thyroid.

If doctors suspect a problem during pregnancy or when labor begins, there are treatments that can lessen the severity of a brain injury to babies. In some cases of oxygen deprivation, doctors can cool a baby’s temperature for 72 hours to reduce the risk of permanent brain damage. Magnetic Resonance Imaging can also provide details about the timing and extent of brain damage.

The topic of infant brain damage is certainly a difficult one for parents and medical professionals alike. Collecting new evidence on the causes of this devastating condition is the best way to prevent it in the future.

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