Baby’s recovery from potential brain damage at birth


When baby Ella’s mother, Rachel Claxton, suffered a ruptured placenta, it was feared her baby would be born with brain damage as she had been starved of oxygen during labour.

But doctors at Peterborough Maternity Unit acted quickly and had Ella transferred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where she was wrapped in a special blanket filled with fluid which brought her temperature right down. This is called ‘cooling’, or effectively inducing hypothermia in babies starved of oxygen at birth.

The process is used to relieve selling around the brain and let it repair itself after birth trauma. It’s now a widely used method, and thankfully Ella is now a healthy nine month old with no sign of brain damage due to birth trauma.

Ella's consultant Dr Topun Austin, a neonatologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, said: "We had always thought that there is not much you can do after brain damage, but a recent study showed that brain cells took 24 to 48 hours to die so there is a window during which brain damage can be stopped."

"Lack of oxygen is a trigger but it doesn't happen immediately. The damage can be prevented."

Brain injuries at birth can be so severe that some babies die, or others survive with severe disabilities. Leading medical specialists believe that ‘cooling’ such babies as soon as possible should be routine to give the child the best chance – it’s estimated that one in eight babies given the treatment will not have any brain damage.

Of course, ‘cooled’ babies need to be monitored closely over the years to assess just how well the treatment has worked for them, but for now it seems to be the sooner the better this treatment is delivered, and babies like Ella should live happy and fulfilling lives.

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