How to Recognise Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Babies: As parents, our top priority is to ensure our children remain healthy and happy at every stage of their lives. Unfortunately, some children face lifelong health challenges due to complications during their birth or in the newborn period.
Cerebral palsy is one of the most severe developmental disorders that can affect children due to the circumstances of their birth or certain neonatal conditions. It significantly affects almost every aspect of a child’s life, potentially resulting in long-term physical and cognitive disabilities. Therefore, it is crucial for parents to recognise the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy in infants and understand the factors contributing to the condition, as well as the appropriate steps to take if their child is affected.
How to Recognise Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Babies
Understanding Cerebral Palsy and Its Causes
Cerebral palsy refers to a group of related disorders resulting from brain damage during or shortly after birth, or while the baby is in the womb.
Potential causes of cerebral palsy include:
- The baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen in the womb, during birth, or as a newborn
- Bleeding in the baby’s brain
- Infections affecting the mother during pregnancy
- A severe head injury during infancy
- Certain children are more vulnerable to cerebral palsy, including premature babies (particularly those born before 32 weeks), those with low birth weight, and babies born as part of a multiple birth, such as twins or triplets.
Regardless of the specific cause, cerebral palsy typically manifests through problems with motor function, balance, coordination, and other developmental delays. Common conditions associated with cerebral palsy include:
- Physical weakness, stiffness, muscle tone issues, and muscle spasticity
- Abnormal posture, poor balance and coordination, and limited fine motor skills
- Delays in achieving developmental milestones, such as sitting up, standing and walking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Speech and communication problems
- Intellectual disabilities
Given the severity of cerebral palsy, it is vital for parents and family members to identify early signs of the condition as soon as possible.
How to Identify Key Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Symptoms of cerebral palsy in newborns may not be immediately noticeable, as related disorders take time to develop and usually become apparent within the first two to three years of life.
To determine if your child has cerebral palsy, watch for these signs:
- Stiff or floppy muscles
- Limited arm and leg strength
- Uncoordinated and irregular movement, including continuous fidgeting, jerky motions, muscle spasms and hand tremors
- Walking on tiptoes
- Delays in sitting up after eight months or walking after 18 months
Additional symptoms related to cerebral palsy include:
- Learning disabilities and cognitive symptoms, affecting approximately half of children with cerebral palsy
- Feeding and swallowing difficulties
- Speech problems
- Seizures or convulsions
- Diminished vision and squinting
- Hearing loss
As your baby grows, pay attention to these age-specific signs:
For infants younger than six months:
- Your baby is stiff or floppy in your arms
- Their head sags when picked up from lying on their back
- They overextend their back or neck when held as if pushing away from you
- Their legs stiffen and cross when picked up
For infants between six and 10 months:
- Your baby doesn’t roll over when lying down
- They can’t bring hands together or lift hands to their mouth
- They reach out with one hand while keeping the other in a fist
For infants older than 10 months:
- Your baby’s crawl is uneven and uncoordinated, dragging hands or legs behind
- Instead of crawling, your baby hops on their knees or drags themselves using their hands while seated
It is also essential to recognise that there are different forms of cerebral palsy, each with specific symptoms:
- Spastic cerebral palsy, primarily characterised by muscle stiffness, tightness and abnormal movements
- Dyskinetic cerebral palsy, causing muscles to fluctuate between stiffness and limpness, resulting in spasms, uncontrolled movement and abnormal muscle tone
- Ataxic cerebral palsy, associated with balance and coordination problems, leading to unstable or awkward movements and physical tremors
- Mixed cerebral palsy, which combines symptoms from multiple types of cerebral palsy simultaneously
What to Do If Your Child Has Cerebral Palsy
If your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it is crucial to ensure they receive appropriate treatment and support to manage their symptoms and achieve the best possible quality of life. Treatment options include:
- Physiotherapy to improve movement and muscle strength
- Speech and language therapy to enhance communication
- Occupational therapy for guidance on accomplishing everyday tasks, such as using the toilet
- Medications to manage physical symptoms, including muscle stiffness or tightness
- Mental health support to cope with negative emotions experienced by many children with cerebral palsy
- Educational support to accommodate the child’s needs in a learning environment
- Surgical interventions to restore movement in certain body parts and ease walking
Additionally, it is vital to explore whether medical negligence contributed to your child’s cerebral palsy. Errors by a doctor, nurse, midwife, or other hospital staff can lead to cerebral palsy development in various ways, including:
- Delays in delivering the baby
- Inappropriate use of drugs intended to induce/speed up labour
- Failures or delays in diagnosing infections in the baby or mother when pregnant
- Errors resulting in dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia)
- Failure to perform a timely C-section
If you believe that your child developed cerebral palsy due to substandard care, consult a specialist clinical negligence solicitor to determine whether you have a compensation claim. Successful cases can provide you and your family with the financial means to support your child’s care and needs for the rest of their lives.
While there is currently no cure for cerebral palsy, early identification and appropriate care can provide your child with the best chance of living a fulfilling life.
Have you heard of Cerebral Palsy before?
*Disclosure: Collaborative Post with JMW Solicitors.
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