The challenges that go with a child born with a brain injury can provide a lifetime of heartbreak, sadness and frustration for a family. Most families expect the births of their children to occur without complications, but that doesn't always happen.
Brain injuries affect roughly 3 in 1,000 full-term babies born in the U.S., but only half of the cases can be attributed to oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery, according to a report published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Oxygen deprivation a widely known cause
There are a variety of causes for newborn brain injuries, which may occur during and before pregnancy. Oxygen deprivation or birth asphyxia is one of the more widely known. Premature babies typically have a higher risk of being injured by oxygen deprivation.
Lifelong brain damage can occur with just a few minutes of oxygen deprivation, leading to a number of disabilities such as cerebral palsy - the most severe brain injury - and impaired vision as well as psychological difficulties. Oxygen deprivation also may happen if an umbilical cord gets wrapped around the infant's neck, cutting off the child's oxygen supply.
Other causes of brain injury among newborns
But besides oxygen deprivation, there are many other reasons for neonatal encephalopathy - brain disorders in full-term babies. Brain injuries in newborns can be caused by:
- Genetic factors
- Maternal health problems such as hypothyroidism
- Placental abnormalities
- Excessive bleeding during pregnancy
- Infection of the fetal membranes in the mother's body
- A stroke suffered by the baby close to the time of birth
- Infant jaundice
- Physical trauma that occurred during labor and delivery
Ideally, doctors would be more forthcoming when reporting problems that occur while caring for the pregnant woman. Such openness, perhaps, could help identify preventable causes of brain injuries in newborns, and facilitate the road toward solutions.