But a new report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists may provide parents with a measure of relief. According to the report, less than 10 percent of cases of brain injury in newborns is due to labor and delivery. Instead, these conditions usually develop because of events that happen before birth. "The myth that a lack of oxygen in labor causes neurologic problems has persisted for a century," says Mary D'Alton, M.D., professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, in New York City. "But the data show otherwise."
In fact, the report concludes, 70 percent of brain injuries are due to autoimmune conditions, infection, metabolic disorders, or blood-clotting problems. In these cases, says Dr. D'Alton, intervening early in the delivery process would not make a difference. More research is needed, she adds, to understand what treatments or tests might reduce the incidence of these injuries.