Airway, Breathing and Lung Conditions

Birth Asphyxia Treatment

Getting the right treatment as soon as possible can help reduce the damaging effects of an interruption to your baby's oxygen supply.

Birth Asphyxia Treatment Options

Babies with mild asphyxia at birth are given breathing support until they can breathe well enough on their own, and then are closely monitored.

Babies with more serious asphyxia may need mechanical ventilation (a breathing machine), respiratory therapy, fluid and medicine to control blood pressure and prevent seizures. Doctors may need to delay feedings to give the baby's bowel time to recover.

When needed, we can provide these advanced treatment options:

  • High-frequency ventilation is a form of more gentle mechanical ventilation (breathing assistance) that sends small, rapid puffs of air into your baby's lungs. It is used instead of conventional breathing machines, which sometimes need high pressure and thus may damage fragile newborn lungs.
  • Inhaled nitric oxide is used to treat respiratory failure and high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension). Nitric oxide is given directly through a breathing tube into the windpipe. This helps the lungs' blood vessels open (dilate) so they can carry oxygenated blood into the body.
  • Hypothermia. Research shows that cooling the baby's internal body temperature to 33.5 degrees C (about 91 degrees F) for up to 72 hours can help protect the baby's brain from damage during the second stage of asphyxia. This stage, called "reperfusion," is when normal blood flow and oxygen are restored to the brain. This treatment works best if it is started within six hours after birth and can reduce brain damage. The baby must be at least 36 weeks' gestation (not more than four weeks early) to qualify for this treatment.
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a form of extracorporeal life support. ECMO uses a heart-lung pump to provide temporary life support when a baby's heart or lungs aren't functioning properly or need time to heal. With ECMO, oxygen-poor blood is drawn into a machine that removes excess carbon dioxide, adds oxygen and then returns the oxygen-rich blood to the baby's body. While on ECMO, your baby will be sedated and closely monitored by a nurse and an ECMO specialist.