Neonatal asphyxia: causes, outcomes, and interventions

January 9, 2024

Neonatal asphyxia is a serious condition that can affect infants during delivery or soon after. Every parent needs to be informed about what it involves, how to identify it, and what to do to prevent or manage it.

What causes neonatal asphyxia?

Neonatal asphyxia can be caused by several factors that interrupt the oxygen supply to the fetus during labor or soon after birth. These can include complications during delivery, an umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck, or maternal health problems such as hypertension or diabetes.

In some cases, asphyxia can also be caused by respiratory problems in the baby after birth. These may include difficulty breathing due to fluid in the lungs or insufficient airway opening.

How long can an infant go without oxygen?

The amount of time an infant can survive without oxygen varies depending on various factors, including gestational age, general health, and any medical conditions. However, it is generally accepted that even short periods of oxygen deprivation can cause permanent damage to the brain and other vital organs.

In general, it is believed that an infant can survive without oxygen for between 5 and 10 minutes. However, during this period, irreversible brain damage can occur.

What to do if the baby is not breathing?

If you notice that your baby is not breathing, it is critical to act quickly. At birth, your doctor or midwife should initiate resuscitation if necessary. If this happens at home, you should call the emergency number immediately.

While waiting for help, it may be helpful to begin CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if you are trained to do so. Remember, however, that this should be an intervention of last resort and you should seek medical help as soon as possible.

How do you tell if the infant has breathing problems?

Several signs may indicate that your baby has breathing problems. These include shortness of breath, bluish skin, loss of appetite, persistent coughing or wheezing, or visible straining while breathing.

If you notice any of these signs, you must take your child to the doctor as soon as possible. They have the training and equipment needed to diagnose and treat respiratory problems in newborns.

What happens if a newborn baby does not cry?

If an infant does not cry immediately after birth, it may be a sign of neonatal asphyxia. Crying is a way for infants to clear their lungs of fluid and start breathing air. If an infant does not cry, it may be because he or she is not getting enough oxygen.

If your baby does not cry immediately after birth, medical personnel should intervene to stimulate breathing. This may include suctioning fluid from the baby’s airway or initiating resuscitation.

How long can the brain go without oxygen?

The brain is a susceptible organ to oxygen deprivation. Even short periods of oxygen deprivation can cause permanent damage. In general, it is believed that an adult can survive without oxygen to the brain for 4-6 minutes before irreversible damage occurs.

However, in infants, this period may be even shorter. This is why any suspicion of neonatal asphyxia should be treated as an emergency and requires immediate medical intervention.

We are with you.

Neonatal asphyxia is a serious condition that requires rapid response and immediate treatment. All parents need to be informed about this condition, its symptoms, and how to act in an emergency. With proper education and information, we can work together to reduce the incidence of neonatal asphyxia and protect the health and well-being of our babies. We, at Parentalife, want to support you along the whole experience of being a parent, and we do it with courses and consultancies. Contact us if you need help.


Gillam-Krakauer M, Gowen Jr CW. Birth Asphyxia. [Updated 2023 Aug 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.