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How To Tell If Baby Has Brain Damage

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Limited Or No Eye Contact

How to tell if your child has a Traumatic Brain Injury after an accident

Where a newborn is concerned, eye contact is an important milestone behavior. It nudges the bonding process along by establishing an emotional connection between infant and caregiver. It also happens to be one of the earliest forms of human communication and lays the foundation for developing long-lasting relationships with others.

If a baby does not make eye contact and appears to avoid it altogether, this can sometimes signify a larger problem. Lack of eye contact can be an early warning sign of autism or mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, even schizophrenia. Either way, it wont hurt to have baby thoroughly assessed by a professional – even if it turns out to be nothing.

When it comes to possible mental health concerns, both infants and parents will benefit from early identification and intervention. Getting in to see specialists can be a long and exhausting process so it makes sense to get the ball rolling as soon as a possible problem presents itself.

Causes Of Brain Injury In Infants

Evidence says that most head injuries in infants and toddlers occur due to falls at home1, 2. Other common causes of head injury in young children are from car crashes or during playground activities2. Brain injuries in this age group can also have non-traumatic causes such as a stroke3, 4 or meningitis.

Brain injury can occur in the very early days of a child’s life and can be as a result of complications at birth. In cases like this, it is not uncommon for the child to be diagnosed later with cerebral palsy3 .

Research shows that up to 19% of brain injuries in this age group of babies and toddlers are due to a non-accidental injury5.

No matter how they sustained their injury, every baby or toddler’s diagnosis may vary depending on what services the family are accessing. As mentioned above, your child may be diagnosed with cerebral palsy if they sustained their injury in the very early days after being born.

We often think of cerebral palsy as occurring in the womb or during the babys birth but the actual definition is an injury to the developing brain which could include a brain injury which occurs in the first couple of years of a childs life3.

How Do You Know If Your Baby Has Brain Damage

Doctors use a battery of diagnostic tests to monitor an infants brain functioning and confirm a suspected brain injury. For a conclusive diagnosis, parents will have to wait which can be a terrifying process. But a family shouldnt have to wait long. Prompt diagnosis is extremely important. Some of the most effective treatments for brain injury like hypothermia therapy need to be initiated within hours of a childs birth.

In the first hours of life, parents should watch for the following potential signs of a brain injury:

  • your child wasnt breathing immediately after birth
  • your baby has experienced apnea intermittent periods during which their breathing stops
  • your child was placed on a mechanical ventilator shortly after birth
  • your child experienced seizures during the first 48 hours of life
  • your babys reflexes seemed slow or impaired in some way
  • your childs movements seemed loose or stiff

None of these signs and symptoms are conclusive evidence that an infant has suffered brain damage. The warning signs, however, are extremely important in clinical practice, since newborns who have sustained brain injuries require immediate medical interventions. Doctors will usually use CT or MRI scans to confirm a childs condition, and gain crucial insights on the extent of brain damage.

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Symptoms And Child Development

Many brain-injury-related problems arent noticeable until later. These often manifest when one expects a baby or child to breeze through developmental milestones. The major symptoms of damage can be broken down into four categories:

Cognitive: Throughout childhood development, a range of attention/concentration, memory, information processing, and language milestones are expected. Even at an early age, babies demonstrate a desire to communicate. Cognitive problems can often be spotted sooner, but many times are not properly diagnosed until a child enters school, when assessments can accurately point out autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder, or Aspergers syndrome.

Perceptual: A child may show signs of spatial disorientation or changes in their vision or hearing. They may also appear more sensitive to pain. These may not be obvious in an infant, although one may cry more often if pain hypersensitivity is an issue. They may not start crawling or do so in a way not expected at their age if perception problems are present.

Behavioral and Emotional: Babies with brain injuries may refuse to feed, or have difficulty falling asleep. They may cry excessively and be extremely fussy. High-pitched crying is a sign of problems such as acute bilirubin encephalopathy, an advanced form of jaundice. If a babys behavioral or emotional state seems unusual, it can mean many things, but its a good idea to look into any potential neurological problems.

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Causes Of Brain Damage In Infants

Brain Damage at Birth  How to Tell if Your Baby is Affected

Brain injury is the leading cause of disability and death for United States children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , children age zero to four are one of the two age groups at greatest risk for brain injury. There are many potential causes for infant brain damage, and many incidents can be prevented with proper precautions and care.

Some of the most common causes of traumatic brain injury in children are:

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What Are The Symptoms Of The Shaken Baby Syndrome

The baby may not display any apparent symptoms that can be related to a head injury. Most symptoms occur spontaneously. Here are the external signs of a shaken baby syndrome :

  • An abrupt change in eating patterns. The baby will not feed or eat at the usual times. May also display loss of appetite.
  • Droopy eyes. It is often the result of injury to the eyeball due to violent movement in the eye socket . Extreme cases may even cause loss of vision.
  • Changes in speech. Sudden onset of stuttering while talking.
  • Change in behavior development of irritability, fussiness, and acute colic.
  • Could display lethargy and low energy levels.
  • May cry and touch the head several times due to pain. Older toddlers may even point to the head to indicate pain in their area.
  • Diminished hearing abilities and loss of hearing in severe cases.
  • Also look for signs of trauma to the rest of the body bruises/bleeds.

Diagnosing Seizures In Babies

To find out what is causing the seizure, a doctor may run an electroencephalogram . This is a test that measures electrical activity in the brain. They may do this in the emergency room or as a separate appointment.

To prepare for the EEG, a doctor places metal discs on the babys head that detect and record their brains electrical impulses.

A baby may need several EEGs, so a doctor can see what their brain activity is like between seizures.

Some conditions that induce seizures may produce healthy EEG readings, so imaging tests, such as an MRI and CT scan, may be necessary to see if any structural changes or obstructions are causing seizures.

If necessary, doctors may control seizures in babies with anticonvulsant medication, including:

  • phenobarbital
  • phenytoin
  • zonisamide

If the seizures are due to a lack of oxygen, doctors may administer hypothermic treatment. This procedure cools the babys brain and body to prevent brain damage. They may do this if a baby experiences difficulties during birth and is not able to breathe.

Some babies may need long-term treatment to prevent seizures from recurring. A doctor needs to know the exact cause of the seizures before prescribing an effective treatment plan. For example, treatment will differ if a baby has epilepsy or is recovering from meningitis.

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Testing In Infants Toddlers And Children

Many babies dont show signs of cerebral palsy right away. If an infant or toddler begins to lag behind on physical milestones or exhibits poor control over muscle movement, doctors may recommend evaluation by a specialist.

Pediatric orthopedists, neurologists, physiatrists, and other specialists may play a role in diagnosis. Most children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed by the time they are three.

Your Child During The Acute Phase

Signs That A Baby May Have Suffered A Brain Injury At Birth

Once your childs condition is stabilizing and she is beginning to emerge from coma, you feel some reassurance. There is joy, relief, and hope but still uncertainty. You try not to be overjoyed, as the road ahead is still uncertain, but you experience some slight relief, a small lift of the burden. This was the small step, the sign that everyone has been waiting for. From this moment forward, your experience of parenting your child is changed forever.

In the acute phase, as you are trying to manage your emotional roller coaster, you find yourself asking, What should I be doing for my child? Below are some suggestions for supporting your child as she emerges from coma.

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Immediate Infant Brain Damage Symptoms

Infant brain damage caused by complications of childbirth is not always immediately or easily recognized. The symptoms could be mild or delayed.

In cases of severe brain damage, symptoms are more likely to be recognized right after birth:

  • Small head or skull
  • Unusual or distorted facial features
  • Abnormal eye movement
  • Difficulty sleeping or eating

Causes And Risk Factors For Cerebral Palsy

Most of the time, brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy occurs before or during birth. Doctors cant always identify the exact cause, and parents cant anticipate or prevent the condition.

Sometimes, cerebral palsy is the result of an interruption in the flow of oxygen to the babys brain. Babies born after a difficult laborespecially if there is a birth complication that reduces oxygen flow to the babyhave a higher risk of developing the condition.

The risk of being born with cerebral palsy is higher in babies who have a very low birth weight and in those born before 32 weeks of pregnancy.

Fever or infections during pregnancy, such as chicken pox or rubella, can cause the mothers body to produce inflammation-causing proteins, called cytokines. These cytokines can enter the babys bloodstream and harm the developing brain before birth.

Less commonly, cerebral palsy may occur during infancy as a result of an injury to the childs brain due to an accident or because of an infection of the brain, such as meningitis. This is called acquired cerebral palsy.

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What Complications Cause Neonatal Brain Injury

Conditions that occur near the time of delivery that can cause oxygen deprivation and brain injury include the following :

Many birth injuries and neonatal brain injuries are caused by the decreased flow of oxygenated blood from the placenta to the fetus brain.

Changes In Family Roles And Responsibilities

5 Common Birth Injury Symptoms in Infants

When your child returns home, many of the physical and cognitive difficulties that she experienced during the rehabilitation phase will continue, only now these issues will play themselves out in your familys everyday life experiences. You may find that the demands and challenges increase and that roles within the family shift. For example, younger siblings may take on more of a big brother or big sister role in the family, with greater responsibilities. Siblings may assist your injured child with her homework or daily care routines. Or they may take on chores and responsibilities for their recovering brother or sister.

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Get Matched With A Leading Birth Injurycerebral Palsy Attorney In Your Area

An acquired brain injury occurs internally, inside the skull or brain.

During childbirth, nearly half of all brain damage is caused by asphyxiation, when the brain is deprived of oxygen. This can occur because of an illness in the mother, complications with the umbilical cord or placenta, or when the babys head becomes stuck in the birth canal.

In some cases, the causes of brain damage are unforeseen. They may be accidents that could not be prevented.

However, there are also preventable accidents resulting from a medical caregivers negligence. In these instances, parents can consider filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the negligent party.

For example, if a doctor fails to recognize complications or order a Cesarean section, a resulting birth injury could be considered medical malpractice.

Other possible medical malpractice scenarios include a doctor misusing forceps, failure to diagnose correctly, or failure to monitor for fetal or maternal stress.

Signs To Look For After 2 Years Old

Not all types of birth injuries will be recognizable within the first two years. Birth injury symptoms may often appear when a child enters preschool or elementary school and begins to show physical and/or mental delays when compared to their peers.

Symptoms to look for after 2 years of age include:

  • Blindness, deafness, or muteness

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Types Of Brain Damage At Birth

There are three main types or ways to classify brain damage at birth:

  • Mild These infant brain injuries include fractures that will heal or bleeding on the brain that will eventually stop without the need for treatment.
  • Moderate This includes extensive bleeding as well as oxygen deprivation to the brain. Substantial fractures and subdural hemorrhages also fall into this category.
  • Severe Intraventricular hemorrhaging is an example of an injury that can lead to severe brain damage. It can put so much pressure on the brain that it causes nerve problems and other issues.

How Are Brain Damage And Brain Injuries Treated

Signs Your Child Has Suffered a Concussion

Anyone who has a head or brain injury needs immediate medical attention.

A brain injury that seems mild — referred to as a concussion — can be as dangerous as clearly severe injuries. The key factor is the extent and location of the damage. Brain injury does not necessarily result in long-term disability or impairment. But the correct diagnosis and treatment is needed to contain or minimize the damage.

The extent and effect of brain damage is determined by a neurological exam, neuroimaging testing such as MRI or CT scans, and neuropsychological assessments. Doctors will stabilize the patient to prevent further injury, ensure blood and oxygen are flowing properly to the brain, and ensure that blood pressure is controlled.

Almost all patients will benefit from rehabilitation to assist in long-term recovery. That may include:

  • Physical therapy

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Causes Of Shaken Baby Syndrome

It takes infants a while to hold their heads up. Thatâs because their neck muscles start out weak and get stronger as they grow. The same goes for their brains, which still need time to develop.

When a baby is shaken, its brain can bounce between the front and back of its skull. This causes it to bleed, bruise, and swell. It only takes a few seconds of aggressive shaking for this to happen.

Risk factors that lead to shaken baby syndrome

Babies bring a lot of joy, but there can also be moments of frustration if you feel like you canât console their crying. Most caregivers handle those times just fine. But if those feelings boil over, it can cross a line. Certain things can increase your risk of crossing that line, including:

  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Depression

Common Causes Of Brain Injury At Birth

If the brain does not develop properly or if there is damage to the developing brain, this may cause a wide range of physical problems, in addition to behavioural and learning difficulties.

The most common brain injury related to birth trauma is Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy can occur before birth, during birth or soon after birth.

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When To Rush To The Doctor

At any point if abuse is suspected by any caregiver, then the baby should be seen by the medical care provider and they need to be informed of the suspicion. Even in the presence of minimal signs or symptoms if any abuse is suspected then it must be reported. It can be reported to the doctor, a social worker or the police.

The following symptoms of head trauma occur due to a severely violent shaking of the baby:

  • Bluish or pale skin especially around the face and the head
  • Shows swelling on the fontanelle
  • Displays developmental delay or regresses, which is losing the existing skills

The long-term effects or prognosis of the shaken baby syndrome include physical and cognitive disabilities. Other problems include impaired brain functions, sensory functions, and even neurological disorders like cerebral palsy.

It is difficult to diagnose abusive head trauma only through the symptoms accurately.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Symptoms

How to Tell if Baby has Brain Damage
  • Trouble sucking
  • No more smiling or talking

You may notice bruises on the arms or chest in the places the baby has been grabbed. Other physical signs include:

  • A larger than usual head or forehead
  • Different-sized pupils
  • Not being able to focus
  • Favoring one arm or leg over another

Babies with shaken baby syndrome may also have symptoms you can’t see, such as:

  • Broken ribs or other bones
  • Spinal cord or neck injury

In mild cases, behavior, health, or learning issues show up later on.

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