Decoding Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Newborns: Signs, Causes, and Diagnosis 

The term “cerebral palsy” refers to a group of neurological disorders that affect an individual’s movement, muscle tone, and posture. Cerebral palsy can be caused by damage or abnormal brain development during pregnancy, delivery, or shortly after birth; it can also be caused by events and conditions that happen after birth, though this is much less common. The key is that brain damage occurs in the early stages of brain development, either in the womb, during delivery, or in the first couple years of the child’s life.

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms and Signs

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children and can present in many different ways. Identifying cerebral palsy can be difficult due to the diverse symptom presentation, which varies in type and severity based on the location of the brain injury, and because neurological symptoms may take time to fully manifest. Some common early cerebral palsy symptoms in infants include the following:

  • Developmental delays: slow progress in achieving developmental milestones, such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, grasping toys, clapping hands, or delayed growth, and may go on to experience learning or intellectual disabilities.
  • Abnormal muscle tone: crossed or stiffened legs when picked up, stiffness or spasticity of muscles, and overextension in the back and neck are examples of abnormal muscle tone caused by cerebral palsy in infants.
  • Abnormal posture: may favor one side of their body over the other when reaching, crawling, or moving; poor balance.
  • Involuntary movements: exaggerated or unintentional reflexes, jerky movements, and tremors are examples of involuntary movements that are common in infants and children with cerebral palsy.
  • Difficulty with feeding: difficulties with sucking, drooling, chewing, and swallowing.
  • Neurological symptoms: difficulty with hearing or vision, bladder and bowel incontinence, and mental or behavioral conditions.

The symptoms listed above are examples of cerebral palsy symptoms and are not a comprehensive or definitive list for developing cerebral palsy. It is important to consult with a doctor for an early intervention if you suspect your child may be exhibiting cerebral palsy symptoms.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy in Newborns 

Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain, typically occurring during pregnancy, birth, or shortly following birth. Children can be born with cerebral palsy (“congenital” cerebral palsy), or develop the condition after birth (“acquired” cerebral palsy).

Medical negligence can have devastating consequences, including causing cerebral palsy in newborns. Examples of medical negligence that can lead to cerebral palsy include:

  1. Failure to properly monitor for risk factors and early signs of fetal distress: failure to detect and respond to early signs of fetal distress indicative of oxygen deprivation causing brain damage during labour and delivery due to acquired birth defects. Oxygen deprivation and fetal asphyxia during labour and delivery are known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and increase the risk of cerebral palsy in newborns.
  2. Delayed delivery: delaying a necessary c-section or other delivery intervention may lead to a prolonged second stage of labour and a higher risk of fetal asphyxiation and brain damage.
  3. Misuse of forceps or vacuum extractors: improper use of forceps or a vacuum during labour and delivery can cause brain damage or stroke, which can then lead to various development disabilities, including poor balance and a higher risk of cerebral palsy.
  4. Failure to diagnose and treat maternal infections: infections during pregnancy or delivery, such as rubella, Zika virus, meningitis, herpes, or chorioamnionitis can lead to brain damage and thus increased risk of cerebral palsy if not promptly diagnosed and treated.
  5. Medication errors: The administration of incorrect medications or dosages during pregnancy can cause fetal distress and injury to the developing brain, resulting in cerebral palsy.

Diagnosis and Disease Control

Cerebral palsy can be diagnosed in newborns almost immediately after birth, particularly in severe CP cases. Newborns with severe spastic cerebral palsy can exhibit seizures, low APGAR scores, and oxygen deprivation along with other cerebral palsy symptoms at birth. In these cases, the infant will require medical resuscitation and monitoring, and will likely undergo a physical examination and brain imaging that will reveal the brain injury or damage indicative of cerebral palsy.

In other cases, cerebral palsy may not be diagnosed until the child is several years old. Due to the variety in severity and symptoms, cerebral palsy can go undiagnosed for years after birth. Regular developmental screening is helpful to determine whether your child is meeting age-appropriate developmental milestones. If you suspect your child may be exhibiting signs of cerebral palsy, you should seek medical advice from a doctor regarding screening and next steps.

When to speak to a lawyer 

Cerebral palsy is a complex, life-long condition that can drastically alter your family’s future. Children born with cerebral palsy often require specialized ongoing care, support, and treatment for the rest of their lives. However, with the right resources and a strong support network, many cerebral palsy children are able to lead fulfilling, independent lives and make valuable contributions to their communities.

Not all cases of cerebral palsy are a result of medical negligence. However, if you suspect your child has developed cerebral palsy as a result of medical negligence, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. The experienced lawyers at BIMMA would be happy to review your child’s case and provide a no-obligation consultation to help you determine whether pursuing an action in medical malpractice is the right path for you.