Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability in children. CP isn’t a specific illness, rather the diagnosis refers to a group of chronic disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, and posture. Abnormal brain development or damage to the brain during pregnancy, birth, or within the first years of a child’s life are common causes of CP.
Newborns and infants who suffered from a lack of oxygen during delivery are more likely to develop cerebral palsy. The medical term for an injury caused by oxygen deprivation in newborns is Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE).
Signs and Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy in Newborns
The signs of cerebral palsy usually appear in the first few months of life. Still, many children are not diagnosed until six to twelve months of age. Because some of the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy can be subtle, frequently children are not properly diagnosed until age two or later.
In general, the early signs of cerebral palsy in infants include:
- When held, the infant may overextend their back and neck as though they are pushing away;
- The baby may feel stiff or floppy;
- After being picked up from lying on its back, the baby might not lift its head;
- After being picked up, the infants’ legs may be stiff or crossed;
- The baby may have thumbs that are persistently bent towards the palm.
Signs of CP in babies six months and older
Children who are older than six months may exhibit the above signs and have developmental delays along with the following CP indicators:
- The baby may struggle to bring their hands together or lift their hands to their mouth;
- The baby develops a handedness earlier than expected – using a right or left hand while keeping the other clenched;
- The baby doesn’t roll over.
Symptoms of CP in babies ten months and older
In addition to the signs mentioned above, babies ten months and older may show the following symptoms of CP:
- The baby may continue to favor a specific side of the body, and that results in lopsided crawling;
- The child may scoot around instead of crawling on all fours;
- The child may be unable to stand on their own, even when holding onto support.
Signs of Cerebral Palsy in children
Cerebral palsy shows differently in each body: affecting the whole body, just one limb or one side of the body. Although CP is not a progressive disorder (meaning it does not get worse over time), symptoms may change over time. The following may indicate signs of cerebral palsy in children at any age in their development:
- Poor balance and muscle coordination;
- Delayed development of motor skills;
- Delayed reactions or clumsiness for their age group;
- Having a different gait or walking pattern;
- Deformities of the joints and bones;
- Decreased muscle mass, abnormal muscle tone, or other soft-tissue problems;
- Muscle spasticity where they experience tight muscles and muscle stiffness;
- Unusual posture;
- Difficulty speaking or understanding language;
- Abnormal patterns of the tongue like thrusting and retracting the tongue;
- Abnormal patterns of the mouth like biting hard and not letting go or frequent grimacing;
- Retaining primitive reflexes past the developmental stage;
- Increased reflexes, exaggerated reflexes, or involuntary movement;
- Stiff muscle movement or floppy muscles;
- Curling the hand into a fist;
- Inability to control the bladder or bowels;
- Sensory difficulties (hearing, vision, or processing disorders);
Causes of Cerebral Palsy in Newborns
Several factors can lead to issues with brain development in babies and children, including congenital problems (like gene mutations) and injuries at birth (like a traumatic head injury or a lack of oxygen during labour and delivery).
Certain infections during pregnancy are associated with CP, such as German measles (rubella), toxoplasmosis, Zika virus, herpes, and syphilis. During labour, risk factors may include a breech presentation, low birth weight, and prematurity. Premature birth, born before the 37th week of pregnancy, especially if they were born before the 32nd week of pregnancy, is a significant risk factor because the babies are often born with low birth weight. Additionally, multiple babies – like twins or triplets – are at high risk for CP because of the chances of prematurity and low birth weight.
Preterm birth and premature babies do not always indicate CP. Still, babies who weigh less than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) are at a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy.
After birth, a baby may develop brain damage due to certain health conditions or infections like jaundice, brain infection (like bacterial meningitis), viral encephalitis, and bleeding into the brain. All of these conditions may also lead to CP.
There are instances where a child’s cerebral palsy can be directly linked to a birth injury. Medical negligence during prenatal care, the labour and delivery process, and postnatal care can cause CP. Below are some of the issues that indicate medical negligence as it relates to cerebral palsy:
- Failure to diagnose or treat maternal infections during pregnancy;
- Oxygen deprivation (asphyxia);
- Prolonged labour without intervention;
- Brain injury or skull factors (caused by use of forceps or a vacuum);
- Failure to diagnose or treat a health issue after birth (jaundice leading to kernicterus).
Medical professionals are responsible for meeting the standard of care for their profession. Failing to monitor signs of fetal distress or fetal heart rate, providing subpar prenatal care, or engaging in other forms of medical negligence means they should be held financially liable for the injuries that a child or mother suffers as a result.
Importance of Identifying Cerebral Palsy in Children Early
Signs of cerebral palsy usually appear during the first few months of life. Still, many children are not diagnosed until age two or later. It is critical to get an accurate diagnosis of CP as early as possible. When diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the younger a child is, the earlier they can begin treatment, therapy regimens, and speech therapy.
Diagnosing cerebral palsy early can get a child into treatments and therapy for cerebral palsy at a young age. Early treatments and therapies can minimize the child’s CP symptoms and maximize their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional potential.
Early CP diagnosis that may have been caused by medical malpractice is critical because these children may be entitled to compensation. A successful birth injury lawsuit settlement can help children with cerebral palsy afford necessary treatments, therapy, modifications to the home, and other accessibility tools.
How can you tell if a newborn baby has cerebral palsy?
The signs of cerebral palsy usually appear in the first few months of life. Common symptoms of CP in newborns include the baby feeling unusually stiff or floppy. When being held, the baby cannot lift its head, the legs may be rigid or crossed, and the baby may overextend its back and neck as though they are pushing away.
While these signs are present in newborns, many children are not diagnosed until at least six months. It’s more common for a child around the age of two to be diagnosed.
Does cerebral palsy start at birth?
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect body movement and posture. CP is directly related to a brain injury or problems with brain development in the early years of a child. Many factors can contribute to a child having CP that can start during pregnancy.
Newborns and infants who suffered oxygen deprivation during delivery are more likely to develop cerebral palsy. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is the medical term for oxygen deprivation in newborns.
What are some signs of cerebral palsy in children?
Cerebral palsy shows differently in each body. It can affect the whole body, just one limb or one side of the body. It’s also important to remember that while CP is not a progressive disorder, the symptoms may change over time.
Children with CP may show a developmental delay, coordination and movement, problems with speech and eating. Additionally, children with CP may be prone to seizures.
When should I see my healthcare provider about cerebral palsy?
It is crucial to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis for your child’s development and movement delays. You should see a doctor if you have concerns about unusual bodily movements, coordination, or muscle tone. Children with CP often show a preference for one side of the body, and they may have difficulty swallowing, or an eye muscle imbalance, or other developmental issues.
How a Lawyer Can Help Families with Children with CP
Detecting early signs of cerebral palsy, getting an accurate diagnosis, and seeking legal action, if applicable, can significantly improve the quality of life for children with CP.
Birth injury is a complicated area of law to pursue due to the complex nature of medical records. Our award-winning cerebral palsy lawyers have decades of experience with birth injury and cerebral palsy cases all across Canada. Contact BILA today to speak with one of our lawyers.
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