What are the Signs of Brain Injury in Newborns?

What is Brain Damage?

Cerebral graphicBrain damage, also formally known as traumatic brain injury (TBI), occurs when an injury or impact to the head leads to the destruction or degeneration of brain cells and disruption of normal functions.

What Causes Physical Brain Injury in Newborns?

Physical brain injury in newborns occurs from several factors during childbirth. One of these factors is the misuse of forceps or other instruments to retrieve the infant from the birth canal. Force damages the newborn’s underdeveloped head. A mother’s insufficient pelvis size, premature or large babies, and unusual fetal positions can also lead to physical brain injury.

What Causes Acquired Brain Injury in Newborns?

Acquired brain injury in a newborn occurs internally and affects the inside of the skull or head. Half the cases of acquired brain damage are due to asphyxiation, specifically, when the newborn’s brain lacks oxygen. Inability to move the head from the birth canal, the mother’s illness, and complications with the umbilical cord or placenta are the likely reasons for asphyxiation and acquired brain injury.

Jaundice is a common, treatable condition in premature babies that creates a yellow tint in the eyes and skin. Untreated jaundice causes the high level of bilirubin (the yellow pigment in blood cells) to affect the circulatory system. This can lead to kernicterus, a type of brain damage; its symptoms include unusual back arching, lethargy, and fever.

What are the Immediate Signs of Brain Injuries in Infants?

Most signs of TBIs in infants either do not emerge immediately or take time to manifest. Severe cases of brain damage have less subtlety. Potential physical symptoms of infant brain damage include a small head or skull, lack of eye focus, neck stiffness, and unusual or misshapen facial features.

What are the Later Signs of Brain Injuries in Infants?

Babies with less severe cases of brain damage manifest their signs as they grow older. Some of these signs include sensitivity to light, irregular sleep, prolonged fatigue, and muscle spasms. The infants may also experience developmental problems with crawling and movement, feeding, and other physical goals.

What are the Later Signs of Brain Injuries in Children?

Older children with varying degrees of newborn brain injuries still demonstrate some symptoms. Behavioral changes such as loss of interest in favorite toys or games, a depressed mood, and being inconsolable should be noted, as well as more physical conditions like erratic sleep habits and seizures.

What are the Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Infants?

Cerebral palsy, like most other conditions stemming from brain injury, does not manifest immediately after birth. However, some of the recurring signs present in babies that are diagnosed later with cerebral palsy include low muscle tone, inability to hold their heads while sitting, feeding and swallowing difficulties, underdeveloped control of muscles and reflexes, and preference for one side of their bodies.

When is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

Since symptoms of cerebral palsy and other TBI conditions do not manifest at the same time, doctors cannot determine immediately whether a newborn has the condition. Health care providers must watch premature babies closely; such babies may need early MRI scans. Full-term infants can have MRI scans as well, but the damage is too early to properly diagnose.

Doctors use the General Movements Assessment to study a baby’s movements from birth until five months of age. The assessment is a predictor of neurological concerns and developmental issues, including cerebral palsy. However, it cannot accurately measure the severity of the conditions until later in life.