Cerebral Palsy In Babies - Everything You Need To Know

Cerebral Palsy In Babies

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Is your baby a little late in reaching his developmental milestones? Is your baby at an age where he should normally start to crawl, sit up or walk, but he doesn’t seem to do any of the activities he should be able to at his age? Do you think your baby shows little inclination to reach these developmental milestones? Are you worried that the lack of interest in your baby is not just a choice but maybe something more serious? Are you contemplating speaking to a doctor or have you already gone for an initial diagnosis? Has your baby’s doctor diagnosed your little one with cerebral palsy?

If you are looking at any of the above symptoms in your baby or are looking for more answers about cerebral palsy in babies, scroll down and read all the information that can help.

What Is Cerebral Palsy In Babies?

Cerebral palsy is one of the most common forms of motor development issues, or motor disability, in babies. It is not just any one condition that can affect your baby, but instead, cerebral palsy is a group of some disorders that affect your baby’s ability to perform basic things related to movement. Some common problems that babies with the cerebral palsy face include difficulty while moving, a problem in maintaining balance and posture.

According to the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, at least 1 in every 323 children has cerebral palsy in the United States. Here are a few more observations of the ADDM Network:

  • Cerebral palsy affects girls more than in boys.
  • Almost 77 percent children who suffer from cerebral palsy also have spastic cerebral palsy. It is a condition in which the muscles turn stiff, as a result of which the children have difficulty in movement.
  • More than 58 percent of children with cerebral palsy can walk independently.
  • Most children who have cerebral palsy also do have at least one more co-occurring condition. In almost 41 percent of the children who have the condition, the other condition that they have is epilepsy. In almost 7 percent of the children diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the other co-occurring condition is autism spectrum disorder.

[ Read: Symptoms Of Autism In Babies ]

Causes Of Cerebral Palsy In Babies:

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is often a result of an abnormal development of the brain, or an injury the brain sustains. For most parts, doctors aren’t sure what causes cerebral palsy in babies. Most doctors agree that the abnormal development or the injury that a baby’s brain sustains can occur during pregnancy or within the first one or two years of your baby’s birth. So, there is no sure-shot cause of cerebral palsy in babies.

Here are some possible causes that can lead to cerebral palsy in babies:

  • Genetic defects are often one of the main causes of cerebral palsy in babies during pregnancy or at the time of birth. Sometimes there can be a random mutation of genes that control the development of the brain, leading to cerebral palsy.
  • Sometimes, an infection or health issue that the mother or the unborn baby encounter during pregnancy, or any other problems related to labor or delivery time can also cause cerebral palsy in the baby.
  • Certain health issues such as low blood sugar in the newborn baby that has been left untreated can lead to damage in the brain that can cause cerebral palsy.
  • A low birth weight can also increase the risk of being affected with cerebral palsy. If your baby is born with a birth weight that is lesser than 2.5 kg, the risk of having cerebral palsy is significantly higher.

[ Read: Epilepsy In Babies ]

  • In cases of an early or premature birth, the chances of cerebral palsy in the baby are also at a higher level. Being born earlier than the due date can mean that the baby’s brain is not yet fully developed at the time of birth, the way it should be. In some cases, a baby who is born too early can be at a high risk of bleeding inside the brain, which can also lead to cerebral palsy.
  • Babies who are born in a breech birth are also at a higher risk of getting affected with cerebral palsy. A breech position is one in which the baby lies in a feet-first position at the start of labor, instead of a head-first position.
  • Sometimes, a baby is not born with the condition of cerebral palsy, but may develop the same during the early years of life, especially within the first one or two years after birth. The usual cases that could cause the same are if the baby suffers from some serious illness, especially one that can cause a swelling in or around the brain, or suffers a massive injury to the brain. A shortage of oxygen to the baby’s brain during these years could also lead to cerebral palsy.
  • A fetal stroke is another condition that can cause cerebral palsy baby. If an unborn baby (fetus) suffers from a fetal stroke, it interferes with the supply of blood to the baby’s brain, which can trigger cerebral palsy.
  • If you are carrying multiple babies, the chance of them being affected with cerebral palsy is higher. In case one or more of the babies dies in the womb, the surviving baby can often be affected by the condition (1).

[ Read: Baby Brain Development ]

Symptoms Of Cerebral Palsy In Babies:

Cerebral palsy symptoms in babies differ from each other. While the symptoms do not worsen as your baby grows up, they evolve and come back in different ways. Under normal circumstances, a baby reaches various developmental, social and other milestones from the time of birth till when he is five. Some milestones that a baby commonly reaches during the time span include the ability to roll over, sit up, crawl, stand up, and walk independently and more. If the baby suffers from a considerable delay in reaching these milestones, especially without any obvious or external reason, it could be a sign of cerebral palsy.

Here are the different signs of cerebral palsy in babies you should know:

  • Some babies grow up with cerebral palsy and only have a slight limp or a little difficulty in walking. On the other hand, some babies may grow up with the same condition and lose all control over the use of their limbs or other parts of the body, such as the tongue and mouth. When this happens, it can lead to further problems related to speaking, eating and such.
  • Babies who grow up with severe forms of cerebral palsy suffer from many other conditions, such as seizures or low intelligence.
  • Some babies who suffer from severe forms of cerebral palsy can also have birth defects such as an abnormally shaped spine, smaller head as compared to the overall body shape, a small jawbone and so on (2).

[ Read: Baby Development Milestone Chart ]

Here are some of the earliest and most noticeable signs of cerebral palsy in babies:

For babies who are less than six months of age, the symptoms are as follows:

  • The baby’s body will feel stiff and not be as flexible as other babies.
  • In some cases, the baby’s body may feel sloppy, where the baby is not able to hold on to any posture.
  • When someone picks him up or nestles the baby in the arms, it may look as if the baby is trying to overextend the neck or the back. It may look as if the baby is constantly trying to push away from the person who is holding him.
  • If someone picks up the baby from a lying on the back position, it may look as if the baby’s head is falling backward.
  • When you try to pick up the baby, his legs will most likely feel very stiff or be crossed over.

For babies who are more than six months of age, the symptoms are as follows:

  • The baby may not try to or be able to roll in either direction.
  • The baby will not be or will not try to bring his hands together.
  • It will be difficult for the baby to try and bring his hands to his mouth.
  • The baby may try to reach things with only one hand while he may keep the other tightly closed in a fist.

In a baby who is more than a year old, the symptoms will be as follows:

  • The baby may not try to or may not be able to crawl, even for a short distance.
  • It will be difficult for the baby to try and stand up or attempt to walk with support as well.

In addition to the above signs and symptoms, a baby with cerebral palsy will develop some new signs over time. Here are some more signs and symptoms that may show up as your baby grows up:

  • As the baby will grow, the muscles of the body will tend to remain small. Problems in the nervous system will mean that the baby will not be able to have any movement in the affected legs and arms. As the limbs will not be active, it will prevent the muscles from growing as much as they should.
  • Some babies who grow up with cerebral palsy will have a feeling of abnormal sensations in their bodies. In some cases, the baby could be so sensitive that even touching lightly on the skin could produce an extremely uncomfortable sensation. The condition could be so severe that even trying to everyday things like brushing one’s teeth can become a problem and cause a lot of pain and discomfort. If your baby faces abnormal sensations on the skin or other parts of the body, it will be difficult for him to develop sensory skills, as he will not be able to touch and feel objects.
  • Irritation of the skin is also a common symptom of cerebral palsy that can develop as your baby starts to grow older. If your baby’s throat and facial muscles get affected due to the condition, it can often result in drooling. The same can further irritate your baby’s skin, especially in the affected areas, such as the skin around the mouth, the chin, and the chest.
  • Cerebral palsy over time can also cause certain problems in your baby’s dental health. If your baby faces sensitivity in the mouth or is not able to brush due to the condition, it will create a bigger risk of having cavities and other gum diseases, such as gingivitis. In some cases, if your baby experiences seizure and is on medication for the same, it could also lead to problems in dental health and especially diseases of the gums.
  • A baby who grows up with cerebral palsy will be at a greater risk of being in accidents than other children his age. As the condition worsens, it leads to further weakness and lack of control in the muscles, stiffness in the joints and limbs and a general decline in overall health. Sometimes, cerebral palsy can also lead to seizures, which can cause a higher risk of an accident.
  • As a baby grows up with cerebral palsy, some more symptoms that may show up are urinary incontinence, problems with vision or hearing and other mental or psychiatric conditions (3).

Health Issues That Increase The Risk Of Cerebral Palsy In Babies:

In some cases, a particular health issue during pregnancy or while your baby is just born can significantly increase the chances of cerebral palsy in the baby.

Health Complications During Pregnancy:

Here are some infections you may get during pregnancy that can put your unborn baby at a higher risk of cerebral palsy:

  • German measles, or rubella, can lead to various serious birth defects in your baby. You can prevent the infection by taking the required vaccination.
  • Chickenpox, or varicella, is a type of viral infection that is also contagious. It can lead to breakouts and multiple rashes on your skin, which is also itchy. If you have chickenpox while you are pregnant, it could lead to certain pregnancy and birth complications. Make sure you speak to your doctor about the preventive vaccination.
  • Cytomegalovirus is another common type of virus, which can lead to various symptoms. If you have been affected by the same the first time while you are pregnant, it can increase the chances of birth defects in the unborn baby.
  • Toxoplasmosis is another infection that occurs due to parasites. The parasite that causes the infection is mostly found in contaminated food, feces, soil and even cats that are infected.
  • Syphilis is a type of sexually transmitted disease that spreads through a bacterial infection.
  • Being exposed to toxins, such as methyl mercury, while you are pregnant, can cause various birth defects in your unborn baby and increase the risk of being affected with cerebral palsy.
  • Some other conditions that you may experience during pregnancy, like having thyroid problems, suffering from seizures or intellectual and mental disabilities can increase the risk of cerebral palsy in your baby (4).

Health Complications In Your Newborn Baby:

Here are some infections your baby may get at the time of birth or during the first few months of his life. These complications can put your baby at a higher risk of contracting cerebral palsy:

  • Bacterial meningitis is a type of bacterial infection that leads to inflammation of the membranes that surround your baby’s brain as well as the spinal cord. It can cause some significant damage to your baby’s brain and lead to cerebral palsy.
  • Viral encephalitis is a type of viral infection that can also lead to inflammation of the membranes that surround your baby’s brain as well as the spinal cord. It can cause significant damage to your baby’s brain and lead to cerebral palsy.
  • If your newborn baby contracts jaundice, it is important you get him immediate medical attention. One of the first signs of your newborn having jaundice will be a yellowish tint to the skin and in the whites of the eyes and nails. Jaundice usually occurs when certain products in your baby’s ‘used’ blood cells are not filtered out from the blood stream. If left untreated, jaundice in your newborn can lead to damage to the brain and increase the risk of cerebral palsy. So, ensure that you keep your baby’s play area clean.

[ Read: Symptoms Of Encephalitis In Babies ]

Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy In Babies:

Ensure that you take your baby for all the scheduled wellness baby appointments, especially in the first one or two years after birth. If there are any concerns you have regarding the way your baby is or isn’t reaching his developmental milestones, make sure you discuss them with your baby’s doctor.

Here is how to diagnose cerebral palsy in babies:

  • Your baby’s doctor will evaluate your baby to check for various symptoms.
  • The doctor may ask you about your family’s medical history and speak to both parents to know the complete family medical history.
  • Once the initial questions are done, your baby’s doctor will perform a physical evaluation to check for more signs and symptoms in your baby.
  • If required, your baby’s doctor will refer you to a pediatric neurologist, a doctor who is trained to work with children and babies to help with various conditions of the nervous system.
  • In addition to referring your baby to the pediatric neurologist, your baby’s doctor may also ask for some tests that will help to rule out various causes and help focus on the main cause of the condition.

[ Read: Tips To Prevent Meningitis In Babies ]

Treating Cerebral Palsy In Babies:

Treating babies with cerebral palsy typically depends on your baby’s age and the severity of the condition. Here are a few ways your baby’s doctor will help to treat cerebral palsy in your baby:

  • A pediatrician or a physiatrist (expert in cerebral palsy) will consider the treatment options and the medical care for your baby.
  • A pediatric neurologist will help to diagnose and help your baby in treating cerebral palsy.
  • An orthopedic surgeon, one who trains to treat various disorders in the muscles and bones, will help diagnose and treat the various muscle problems that your baby may have.
  • A physical therapist can help your baby develop some strength in the muscles and limbs, and help him walk and stretch various muscles.
  • An occupational therapist will help your baby perform various day to day activities and teach your baby how to adapt to the daily routine and situations in a more comfortable and practical way.
  • A speech and language pathologist is a doctor who helps to diagnose and treat various conditions associated with speech and language problems. If your baby experiences trouble with speaking, trying to swallow or any trouble speaking, take him to a speech and language pathologist. He is the best person to treat him.
  • A developmental therapist will be able to help your baby develop various age-appropriate skills, such as reaching milestones, interacting with strangers or even others in the family and other similar skills.
  • A psychologist, psychiatrist or any other mental health specialist will be able to help you and your baby come to terms with the condition of cerebral palsy and help him adjust.
  • A special education teacher will help your baby learn through various specially adapted ways.

[ Read: Symptoms Of Torticollis In Babies ]

Having a baby suffer from cerebral palsy can be trying time for you as a parent, but remember to stay patient and positive, and provide your baby with all the love and care he deserves. Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, but with proper care your baby can grow up to lead a normal life.

If you have ever cared for a baby with cerebral palsy, do share your experiences here. Fellow moms would love to hear from you.

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