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When a woman is pregnant, or when a baby is being born, the baby’s brain can be injured by not getting enough oxygen. 

Some of the reasons why a baby’s brain might not get enough oxygen are:

  • problems with the placenta,
  • problems with the umbilical cord,
  • a difficult delivery, or
  • difficulty right after delivery.


When a baby does not get enough oxygen, you may hear the

following words discussed:

  • Asphyxia: not enough oxygen.
  • Hypoxia: not enough oxygen in the tissues of the body.
  • Ischemia: not enough blood.
  • Encephalopathy: when a brain has been damaged so that it does not function properly.
  • HIE: hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (brain damage from not enough oxygen).

Brain damage from not enough oxygen can happen quickly or over several hours.

  • If it happens quickly, it is called acute, or acute profound. 
  • If it happens more slowly, it is called prolonged, or partial prolonged. 
  • If a baby’s brain goes with too little oxygen for too long, the baby will die.

Birth injuries and brain cooling

When a problem occurs that causes a baby’s brain to not get enough oxygen, brain damage does not happen immediately.  A baby’s brain is built to be able to withstand short periods of time with a reduced amount of oxygen.  However, if the period of time is too long, or if the reduction of the amount of oxygen is too great, damage can occur.  The damage is caused by chemical reactions in the brain after it has gone too long with too little oxygen.

There is a way that doctors can try stop those chemical reactions that start happening when the brain has not had enough oxygen.  It is a simple treatment called brain cooling or hypothermic therapy.  This is a treatment where the baby’s body, or sometimes just the baby’s head, is cooled.  The hospital will use a water-filled blanket or a water-filled cap that cools the baby.  The doctors are trying to reduce the temperature of the baby’s brain for a brief period of time.  By cooling the brain, they can stop some of those chemical reactions that started happening when the brain did not get enough oxygen.

The timing of brain cooling, or hypothermic therapy, is very important. 

It works only when it can be done within a certain about of time after

the problem occurred that caused the baby’s brain to not get enough

oxygen.  Not all hospitals are able to offer this treatment.  Babies who

need brain cooling will be transferred to a hospital that offers this

treatment, if the baby can arrive at that hospital in time for the

treatment to work.

Another very important factor is how old the baby is at the time

there was reduced oxygen.  The treatment works only on babies born

at a certain number of weeks.

Brain cooling has been proven to be an effective treatment that can reduce brain damage and improve a baby’s chance of survival after birth asphyxia. Brain cooling has become widely used in neonatal units throughout North Carolina.

If your baby has suffered brain damage at or around the time of birth, you may want to look into whether that injury could have been prevented.  If your baby was cooled, it is likely that the doctors believe that the asphyxia began within six hours of the cooling treatment.  If you would like to speak to a lawyer about your baby’s brain damage, please call The Bricio Law Firm at (919) 280-4726.  Or, send a confidential email to Katie Bricio at