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Study of Irish babies notes impact of even mild lack of oxygen at birth

The new information should be used to provide early intervention for those babies who medics previously didn’t believe to be at risk of later developmental difficulties.

Image: newborn via Shutterstock

A STUDY OF THE brainwaves of 60 Irish babies who suffered lack of oxygen at the time of birth has found that even mild cases see long-term impacts for the children.

Lack of oxygen to the brain during birth is called HIE (hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy). It affects one in every 1,000 babies born in Ireland.

According to Professor Geraldine Boylan of UCC, who carried out a study with Health Research Board clinician scientist, Dr Deirdre Murray, even in some cases where the HIE experienced by the baby was mild, it could be linked to developmental delays as far down the line as five years later.

“Most previous research has indicated that only infants with moderate or severe HIE experienced long-term difficulties,” said Prof Boylan. This new study however discovered subtle learning difficulties are “common” following both moderate and mild HIE.

In fact, the study found that up to 20 per cent of the babies who experienced mild HIE at birth had learning or behavioural difficulties at five years of age. These included:

  • speech delay
  • autism
  • attention deficit
  • dyspraxia

However, Prof Boylan said that the information from this study could now be used to make sure such children who experience HIE at birth receive early intervention to help diminish the potential effects further down the line.

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Currently, she said, babies who experience moderate HIE are given therapeutic hypothermia to help lessen the impact but those with mild HIE are not. She said:

This is due to the previously held perception that mild HIE has no long-term consequences, but our work is showing that some children who experience mild HIE could benefit from repeated follow-up and assessment during early childhood.

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