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Scientists discovered that blood test carried out soon after birth could prevent brain damage and other disability.

The findings are published in the British Medical Journal.

In their study, blood tests were taken from the umbilical cord immediately after birth to measure its pH level. Blood with a low pH (more acid) indicates a lack of oxygen at birth, which is the commonest cause of brain damage, cerebral palsy and death.

Doctors in Birmingham reviewed 51 studies involving almost 500,000 babies and found a low pH in the cord blood strongly linked with serious outcomes. This negates the current guidelines that measuring pH level of umbilical cord blood is worthless.

In an accompanying editorial, James Neilson, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Liverpool, said: We should aim to reduce the number of babies born with a low cord pH, without increasing unnecessary obstetric intervention.

Andy Shennan, professor of obstetrics at St Thomas' Hospital in London welcomed the study into the relationship between low pH and future health. Lack of oxygen to the baby during labour will result in a low pH in the umbilical cord, he said. If it is prolonged, irreversible neurological damage can occur, although this is rare.