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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

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Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

the guide

Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

Our guide can help you build a foundation of knowledge and tools that will help you help your child
now and in the future.

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How Long Can a Baby Survive Without Oxygen?

Oxygen is essential to every function of the human body. Our organs require air to work properly. When the body does not receive enough air, it begins to stop working, and major processes stop. Brain cells begin to die within 3 to 5 minutes from lack of oxygen. The longer a person is without it the more severe the injuries will be. Once oxygen is restored, the body will begin to function again. However, there could be permanent damage that has already occurred. When a person is not breathing for an additional 4 to 6 minutes, the person will likely fall into a coma, and death may occur.

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Clinical Death

Elk & Elk

The body cannot live long without air. After just a few minutes brain cells will start to die. When someone does not breathe for longer than several minutes, the organs begin to shut down. Major damage can occur during this time, not only to the brain but also to the brain stem and other major body organs. A person who is provided with air after more than 6 to 8 minutes may still be alive; however, their brain could be so badly damaged that it will not fully recover. In cases such as this, the body may be kept alive through artificial means such as a ventilator. However, if the machine is removed, the person may be unable to sustain life.

It is important to understand that the precise length of time that a baby can survive without air varies from child to child. There are many factors that need to be considered. One of the main considerations is whether the infant is getting a diminished amount of air or no air at all. A baby who is getting at least some oxygen will survive longer than another who is getting no air at all. These factors may not be fully known. The infant will need to be evaluated immediately to determine the severity of the injury.

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, HIE, occurs in newborns when they suffer a lack of oxygen before, during or shortly after birth. The baby may require resuscitation if he is not breathing on his own. HIE can occur for a number of reasons including birth injury from a difficult or prolonged delivery. An infant with HIE may have mild, moderate or severe brain damage as a result. If the baby was without oxygen for a long period of time, more than several minutes, his likelihood of survival begins to diminish.

The effects of HIE depend mainly on the length of time the infant was without oxygen. Some infants with severe HIE could suffer cerebral palsy. Those who have mild HIE could fully recover with no long-term impact. Infants with HIE need to be treated immediately with cooling therapy, also called therapeutic hypothermia. This treatment may keep further damage from occurring in some infants by lowering the body temperature for a period of up to 72 hours after birth.