You may not think there would ever be a reason to induce hypothermia in a newborn, but it turns out that whole-body cooling may sometimes benefit oxygen-deprived babies. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that those children who were cooled had better outcomes than children not given the treatment.
Newborns may suffer from a lack of oxygen, also called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, during labor and delivery for a variety of reasons. The umbilical cord may become wrapped around the baby’s neck, or other complications may result in cutting the flow of oxygen and blood to the baby. A lack of oxygen can result in brain injury or damage to other organs.
The cooling involves reducing the body’s temperature to about 92 degrees Fahrenheit for several days, and then gradually re-warming. When a baby is cooled the metabolic processes are slowed. This prevents further damage from toxins, and gives the body time to heal. Although not a cure, cooling helps the brain to repair itself, and seems to result in children faring betting in the long term.
“Cooling is not completely protective, but among children who had moderate injury, the incidence of low IQ was only 47 percent, compared to 62 percent of the controls,” explained the lead researcher. Cooling also lessened the chance of death or severe disability by about 20 percent.
Cooling is currently being practiced in many hospitals, but this study offers proof of its long-term benefits.
Source: U.S. News, “‘Cooling’ Helps Oxygen-Deprived Newborns: Study,” Steven Reinberg, May 30, 2012.