Birth asphyxia

Birth asphyxia describes a prolonged lack of oxygen leading up to or during birth, which can result in the baby’s brain being deprived of oxygen. Up to one in ten babies require help to breathe in the first few minutes of life, which often simply involves stimulating the baby to breathe. However, a prolonged loss of oxygen and low blood supply can cause brain damage for a newborn in as little as five minutes. The amount of damage depends on how long the baby is oxygen deprived, how low the oxygen levels go, how quickly intervention takes places and how the infants recover after oxygen supply is restored.

Also known as perinatal asphyxia, when severe this condition kills up to one million babies globally each year and is the most readily identifiable cause of cerebral palsy. Most babies who die in developing countries of severe birth asphyxia were otherwise healthy. Those with mild to moderate birth asphyxia may recover fully but in more serious cases it can cause permanent injury to the baby’s brain and other organs.

Causes of birth asphyxia

Signs and symptoms of birth asphyxia

Risk factors

Birth asphyxia diagnosis

Treatment of birth asphyxia

Long term effects of severe birth asphyxia

Our birth asphyxia research

Hudson Institute researchers are internationally known for their work in resuscitating infants who do not get enough oxygen at birth and protecting and treating the brains of these babies who are at high risk of developing conditions such as cerebral palsy.

They are investigating the transition to birth, associated breathing difficulties and the potential benefits of delaying umbilical cord clamping, which may help prevent oxygen deprivation in newborns. They are also focusing on improving treatments for infants who have suffered severe birth asphyxia.

Research by Associate Professor Graeme Polglase, outlined in this 7 News feature, has found that newborn babies who need resuscitating at birth could benefit from CPR while their umbilical cord is still attached.

VIEW VIDEO | Associate Professor Graeme Polglase explaining how the umbilical cord could save babies in need of CPR from brain damage.

Reducing brain injury in babies born following severe birth asphyxia

Professor Suzanne Miller at Hudson InstiutePre-clinical study Scientists are developing innovative new treatments for severe birth asphyxia. Our researchers have found that applying melatonin skin patches can protect the brain against an acute lack of oxygen by reducing harmful free radicals and inflammation, and the addition of melatonin treatment to therapeutic hypothermia (which is standard care) significantly improves outcome. Our researchers are also testing whether umbilical cord blood stem cells administered after birth can reduce the progression of brain injury.

Team | Professor Suzanne Miller, Dr Courtney McDonald, Dr Tayla Penny

Improving the prognosis of newborns starved of oxygen

Helping babies to breath after birth

A new anti-seizure medication for babies following severe birth asphyxia

Birth asphyxia collaborators

Birth asphyxia support

Hudson Institute scientists cannot provide medical advice.
If you would like to find out more information about birth asphyxia, please visit Safer Care Victoria.

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