Last updated Nov. 6, 2017.
Babies develop incredibly fast — they go from helpless little creatures to walking, talking toddlers in just a couple of years. And during that time, you and your doctor will track your little one’s development to make sure it matches the expected timeline.
There are plenty of reasons a baby can fall behind. Children just develop at different paces, for one. Illnesses in infancy can also slow things down for a little while. And in general, babies do catch up over time. But some developmental delays can also be caused by brain damage. The symptoms may be obvious at birth, but they may also show up weeks or even months after you take your little one home.
Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms and signs of brain damage.
Signs of Brain Damage in Infants
We often associate brain damage with a very specific set of symptoms, like learning disabilities. However, brain damage can show up in a number of different ways: cognitive, emotional, and physical. Cognitive damage causes intellectual and learning disabilities — difficulty concentrating, memory problems, or slow thinking, for example. Emotional damage is associated with behavioral problems, mood swings, or depression. Physical symptoms may include things like slurred speech, seizures, or balance problems. In other words, brain damage can cause a really wide variety of symptoms.
In mild cases, your little one’s only symptom may be that they’re somewhat behind on the developmental curve. There may be no symptoms at all at the time of delivery. The baby may start rolling over or talking later than average. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything — as mentioned above, everyone develops at their own pace. You’ll need to work with your little one’s doctor to track your his progress and determine whether there may be a developmental disability.
More severe cases are often evident at birth. The baby may have an abnormally large forehead or an abnormally-shaped skull, for example. Other signs of brain damage include:
- unusually small skull
- abnormal facial features
- difficulty focusing their vision
- inability to feed
If the signs are evident at delivery, you and your doctor will start working together right away to set up a treatment plan and make sure your new baby gets all the necessary care. The signs of mild cases are much harder to pinpoint but if your child is falling behind on the developmental curve, you may want to talk to your doctor about possible causes and whether treatment may be needed.
How to Determine the Cause of Baby’s Brain Damage
The first step in addressing brain damage is determining the specific cause — a physical injury, a genetic problem, or an anatomical anomaly, for example. That may require CT scans, MRIs, and physical tests. In some cases, your little one may need surgery to stop bleeding in the brain, relieve pressure, repair broken blood vessels, or fix cranial fractures.
In some cases, treatment focuses on the symptoms. Medications can help control seizures and behavioral problems. Physical and behavioral therapy can also help overcome symptoms and find methods of coping with disabilities in everyday life.
“Brain damage” is an umbrella term encompassing many different kinds of conditions and injuries. We most commonly think of it as the result of a trauma, like a blow to the head. And a blow to the head could certainly cause a brain injury in an infant, but that’s not the only potential cause. Among others, infant brain damage can be caused by:
- compression or fractures of the skull
- bleeding in the brain
- fetal stroke
- fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
- oxygen deprivation (asphyxia)
- exposure to certain medications or recreational drugs during pregnancy
- maternal infections
- severe infections as an infant that cause high fever
- genetic factors
- abnormal anatomy
- brain tumors
See also: hCG Levels and What They Mean for Baby
What to Do If You Believe Your Child has Suffered Brain Damage
Traumatic brain injuries (that happen after delivery) are the top cause of disability and death in children and adolescents. These types of physical trauma may be the result of car crashes, sports injuries, or physical abuse. If your child suffers a head injury, you’ll need to seek immediate medical attention to ensure that there’s no bleeding in the brain.
If your child has not suffered a head injury but is showing some of the signs of brain damage, you should contact your doctor to look into the possibility that the injury occurred during pregnancy or delivery. Injuries that happen during pregnancy or delivery are fairly common — they’re detected at the time of birth in 3 out of every 1,000 babies born in the U.S. Even more are detected as the child grows and develops.
Caring for a child with brain damage can be difficult and expensive, especially if the damage is severe. Unfortunately, doctors and other care providers sometimes cause that damage during delivery (or fail to prevent it during pregnancy). That’s a type of medical malpractice and you may be entitled to compensation.
If you believe that your medical care team caused or failed to prevent your little one’s brain damage, we may be able to help.
You may also be interested in:
- Baby’s Heart Rate: What it Means for Brain Injuries
- Safe Delivery: How Doctors Can Avoid Birth Injuries
- Pregnancy Problems: Early Warning Signs
- Premature Birth: What Does it Mean for Your Baby?
- C-Sections: Everything You Need to Know