Can My Baby Recover From Hypoxic Brain Injury at Birth?

Reassurance. That’s what parents of children with brain damage from lack of oxygen at birth are looking for. They turn to their doctors, families, and friends for reassurance that “everything will be okay.” But even if your child’s doctor gives you a hopeful diagnosis, you may still be wondering, “Can my baby recover from lack of oxygen at birth?”

This is a tough question. There isn’t a straightforward answer for it, since every baby is different. So our goal is to help you understand what treatment options are available to help children with brain injuries recover and thrive. 

Premature baby shortly after birth.

What is a Hypoxic Brain Injury?

In order to understand how a baby can recover from brain damage from lack of oxygen, we must first understand what a hypoxic brain injury is. 

A hypoxic brain injury occurs when there’s a lack of oxygen and blood flow to the infant’s brain. This could happen for various reasons, including:

Oxygen is essential for the brain to function. Lack of oxygen can cause damage to the brain’s cells and tissues. 

This damage can cause mild, temporary symptoms, like slow response to stimuli. It can also cause severe, long-lasting conditions, like cerebral palsy. It all depends on how long the baby’s brain was deprived of oxygen, and to what extent it was deprived of oxygen. 

Baby in NICU for hypoxic brain injury at birth.

Can babies recover from lack of oxygen at birth?

What if the baby’s brain didn’t receive oxygen for a long period of time? (“Long” can mean mere minutes!) Is it possible for those babies to recover?

For newborns and infants, the brain is more vulnerable to oxygen deprivation than in adults. In general, brain damage can begin to occur within three minutes of oxygen deprivation. So a complete recovery will be impossible for a baby with severe oxygen deprivation. But here’s some good news: even babies with severe brain damage can show some improvement with early adequate treatment.  

On the other hand, babies with mild brain damage may make a complete (or almost complete) recovery with treatment. But this treatment needs to be applied right away. 

If there’s any concern about a baby’s oxygen levels during birth or in the neonatal period, doctors must intervene right away. Every second counts. Early intervention can make a significant difference in preventing or minimizing brain damage.

What Treatment Can Help a Baby Recover from a Hypoxic Brain Injury?

Treatment methods to help a baby recover from brain damage from lack of oxygen at birth can include:

  • Therapeutic Hypothermia. This treatment involves cooling the baby’s body temperature to reduce the risk of brain damage. Doctors often prescribe it in cases of moderate to severe oxygen deprivation. Usually, cooling begins within the first six hours of life and continues for a specific duration. The goal is to minimize brain cell injury and inflammation.
  • Supportive Care. Babies with hypoxic brain injuries may need intensive medical support. This could include mechanical ventilation to assist with breathing and monitoring of vital signs. 
  • Medications. Certain medications can help manage seizures and maintain blood pressure and oxygen levels.
  • Physical and Occupational Therapy. Babies with hypoxic brain injuries can benefit from physical and occupational therapy. These types of therapy support their motor development and help them develop daily living skills.
  • Speech Therapy. A hypoxic brain injury can affect the baby’s ability to swallow, eat, or communicate. Speech therapy can help them overcome these challenges. 
  • Cognitive and Developmental Support. Therapists use age-appropriate activities to stimulate cognitive development and help a baby achieve milestones. 

A treatment plan for one baby recovering from brain damage from lack of oxygen at birth can look a lot different from that of another. The reason for this is that some babies experience significant improvements with early and intensive intervention. But others may have more lasting challenges. Your healthcare provider will tailor a recovery plan based on your child’s specific needs.

Doctor monitors mother and baby.

Seeking Damages for a Hypoxic Brain Injury

Was your child’s hypoxic brain injury preventable? If so, you may be entitled to compensation that can pay for all or most of your child’s treatment. 

Brain damage from lack of oxygen at birth can occur because of negligence. Examples of negligence include:

  • Failing to monitor your child’s heart rate
  • Ignoring signs of fetal distress
  • Misdiagnosing the mother or child’s medical condition

If you believe negligence played a part in your child’s injury, contact our lawyers. Legal help is just a click away. We have recovered millions for families impacted by birth injuries, including cases related to brain damage from lack of oxygen at birth.

FAQs: Hypoxic Brain Injury at Birth

Can a baby fully recover from HIE?

Yes, some babies do make a complete recovery from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. But these babies usually have mild cases of HIE. If a baby with mild HIE receives prompt treatment (such as therapeutic hypothermia) within 24 hours of birth, it may have little or no long-term effects. Rehabilitation therapies can also help the baby regain function and reach developmental milestones.
But of course, every baby’s situation is different.

How is brain hypoxia treated in newborns?

Once doctors are aware that brain hypoxia has occurred, they will take steps to restore oxygen to the brain. They may need to resuscitate the baby and administer oxygen. Next, they monitor the baby constantly to assess their vital signs, oxygen levels, and overall clinical status.

After this, the focus moves to minimizing brain damage as much as possible, as well as managing symptoms, like seizures. Currently, the “go-to” treatment for brain hypoxia in newborns is therapeutic hypothermia. Also called cooling therapy, it involves lowering the baby’s body temperature to reduce the risk of brain injury. After about 72 hours, the baby’s temperature will be slowly raised. 

What is the survival rate for HIE babies?

It’s difficult to calculate the exact survival rate of infants with HIE. But one thing is clear: the survival rates for babies with HIE have improved in recent years. This is thanks to advances in neonatal care and therapeutic approaches such as therapeutic hypothermia (cooling therapy).

Whether a baby survives or not depends on many factors. These include the severity of HIE, the timing and effectiveness of medical intervention, and the baby’s overall health.