Researchers are starting to understand just how critical it is after birth for premature babies to receive an adequate supply of oxygen. Without a proper supply of oxygen to the "white matter" in the brain, the brain's development can be severely damaged. Indeed, the brain can be damaged so badly that it never really catches up.
Sometimes, the reason for this oxygen deprivation resulting in birth injuries is medical malpractice.
Nationally, the number of babies who are born weighing less than 3.3 pounds is over 60,000. In the past, many babies born that small died. Today, however, due to advances in neonatal care, most of them survive.
But the chance of brain damage in premature babies who survive is significant. Many of them suffer from cerebral palsy or epilepsy. Others struggle with such behavioral disorders as ADHD.
According to research presented at a recent meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the babies who have the highest risk of this type of brain damage are those who were born prematurely - with as little as six months gestation in the mother's womb.
The neuroscience research shows that, for premature babies, brain injury is caused most often by lack of oxygen not only at birth, but in the crucial days and weeks immediately after the birth.
This is because without a sufficient supply of oxygen, there is damage to the "white matter" that transmits signals from the brain throughout the body.
Doctors and nurses who work in neonatal care therefore need to be very watchful of the performance of a newborn infant's lungs. Putting a premature infant on a mechanical breathing machine is not necessarily enough, if the procedure is not monitored properly.
Source: "Why Brain Injuries Are More Common in Preemies," NPR, 11-17-11