Objectives: In a cohort of term infants with cerebral depression at delivery, to investigate the association of perinatal signs of birth asphyxia, particularly abnormal fetal heart rate patterns in labour, acidaemia, and serious neonatal encephalopathy, with neurodevelopmental outcome at age five years.
Design: Five year follow up study of a birth cohort.
Setting: Regional maternity hospital.
Subjects: One hundred and eighty-four singleton infants with a 1 min Apgar score < or = 3, born at term between January 1984 and September 1985.
Main outcome measures: Neonatal death, cerebral palsy, and scores on a battery of neurodevelopmental tests at age five.
Results: Seven infants had a cluster of perinatal signs suggestive of birth asphyxia; all included serious neonatal encephalopathy. Three of these infants died neonatally, three had spastic quadriparesis with profound developmental delay, and one was unimpaired at the age of five. Among the remaining infants, no association was found between severely abnormal fetal heart rate patterns in labour and scores on neurodevelopmental tests, or between acid-base status at delivery and test scores.
Conclusions: Birth asphyxia, identified by a cluster of abnormal perinatal signs, including serious neonatal encephalopathy, has a poor prognosis. If serious encephalopathy is not present, cerebral depression at birth preceded by abnormal fetal heart rate patterns in labour, or with acid-base derangement, is not predictive of later impairment.