Signs of Brain Damage in Babies and What You Can Do

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Brain Damage Symptoms in Babies

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Great parents know that taking care of their baby’s health and safety is a number one priority. They go through great strides to ensure that their newborn is taken care of and lives a happy, healthy life. However, making sure that a baby is not injured is not always easy. Baby’s heads are often uneven and abnormal, and brain injuries can be hard to detect. Knowing the health conditions to look for can give parents some peace of mind and help them address potential issues. Babies are particularly vulnerable to head and brain injuries, but there are steps parents can take to identify and mitigate problems. This article breaks down how to tell if a baby has brain damage.

Physical Symptoms of Brain Damage in Babies

Brain injuries in babies are most evident when certain physical symptoms are present. Parents should frequently check and evaluate their children for any abnormalities that could indicate brain damage or a head injury. This can help toprevent additional serious brain injuries and further brain damage.

Common physical signs include:

  • blue and black discoloration behind the ears or around the eyes
  • bruises, bumps, or cuts on the head
  • dents at any sites of impact (from collisions, falls, or striking objects)
  • clear fluid flowing out of the nose
  • blood oozing out of one or both ears
  • a soft lump between the skull bones

Early signs of brain damage in babies can also be detected through abnormalities in the child’s physical functioning. Many of these signs are initially subtle then become more apparent as a child fails to reach physical developmental milestones like crawling and sitting up.

Common physical problems relating to brain damage include:

  • fluctuating states of consciousness, ranging in severity from brief loss of consciousness to comas
  • frequent headaches, fatigue, and/or dizziness
  • deficits in motor speed and programing (apraxia/dyspraxia)
  • frequent pain, vomiting, and/or nausea
  • reduced muscular strength (paralysis/paresis)
  • tremors and/or seizures
  • physical developmental abnormalities, such as an oversized or undersized head

For mild symptoms of head injuries, parents should contact their pediatrician’s office to determine a time to have their child evaluated in person. The doctor will need information including any symptoms, the location of any bruising or swelling (to the head and other areas of the body), physical descriptions of the symptoms and injury, medical history, and if applicable, how and when your baby was injured. If symptoms are more severe, you might need to take your child to the emergency room.

Behavioral Symptoms of Brain Damage in Infants

Parents and caretakers should also look for any behavioral and emotional brain damage symptoms. When infant brain injuries occur, it is common for an infant’s behavior to change. Drastic shifts in emotion and actions that seem out of the ordinary for babies could be signs of brain problems.

These symptoms can include:

  • changes in sleeping, eating, or nursing habits
  • loss of newly acquired skills (ex: potty training, walking)
  • increased sensitivity to sounds and/or light
  • changes in play habits (ex: loss of interest in favorite games or toys)
  • unsteady movements and loss of balance
  • increased irritability, persistent crying, and lethargy

Behavioral changes after a traumatic brain injury do not just apply to the child. It’s important to note that overly suspicious or defensive behavior from parents could indicate potential child abuse or neglect cases*. Caretakers, educators, and medical providers should look for these signs.

Developmental Symptoms of Brain Damage in Children

Some signs of newborn brain damage only become evident with time. In fact, many cases of childhood brain trauma are not apparent until years later. This can be particularly worrisome in instances of a potential misdiagnosis.

Some prevalent problems that can develop later in life include:

  • difficulties with social skills
  • issues with concentration, focus, and attention
  • communication problems
  • visual perception difficulties (often misdiagnosed as dyspraxia / dyslexia)
  • trouble planning and organizing
  • unexplained fatigue
  • memory problems
  • behavioral issues

Many brain injury symptoms become more apparent as the child reaches — and misses ­— developmental milestones. When this happens, the child is behind his or her age group in expectations for development.

Major infant milestones include:

  • the ability to grasp objects: babies usually start grabbing things at four months
  • crawling: babies typically start crawling at ninth months old
  • sitting up: rolling over and sitting with a little support is common around six months of age
  • pulling up: at twelve months, many babies are able to pull themselves up to stand

For additional information, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides an interactive tool for parents concerned about their child’s potential developmental delays and other risk factors. The behavioral symptoms and motor development delays can indicate a previous brain injury, but they do not indicate a diagnosis. If you are concerned that your child has not reached certain milestones or has abnormal behavioral problems, reach out to a medical professional.

Causes of Brain Damage in Infants

Brain injury is the leading cause of disability and death for United States children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 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 (TBI) in children are:

Falls

Falls are the number one cause of TBI for young children. While many falls are not serious, some can have severe consequences. For example, a baby falling off a bed causing brain damage can lead to lifelong difficulties for that child.

Child Abuse and Neglect

Abuse and neglect are serious public health problems that can have a long-term impact on parts of the body and parts of the brain. The long-term effects of dropping a baby on its head by negligent parents can affect a child for the rest of his or her life.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of TBI in infants and toddlers. Despite advances in the safety of car seats and booster seats, infants are at particular risk during car accidents.

Instrumental Delivery

Many birth injuries can have long long-term complications, and medical malpractice can cause brain damage in infants. For example, signs of oxygen deprivation during birth can cause developmental defects. Birth injuries that lead to a baby’s death could constitute a case of wrongful death. Some birth complications and symptoms, such as children with cerebral palsy baby smile, can be congenital or acquired.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Baby Has Brain Damage

Parents should be aware of signs of head injury in baby and infant children. Look for any physical and behavioral signs and symptoms. In most cases, parents should consult a pediatrician or medical professional to determine if their child needs to be evaluated in person.

Seeking Medical Treatment

Call for emergency help if your child falls and has trouble moving, does not respond to your touch or voice, or loses consciousness. If your child exhibits symptoms of brain damage, contact your medical care provider. He or she will be able to direct you to the best course of care, and they can answer any questions you might have (for example: “Is encephalomalacia permanent?”)Medical treatment for head injuries includes therapies, medications, and surgeries. More severe cases, such as brain swelling in babies, require more serious interventions. Babies with severe brain injuries might need to be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU). Surgeries might be necessary to treat brain hemorrhaging, depressed skull fractures, contusions, or to drain an epidural or subdural hematoma.

Exploring Your Legal Options

Many instances of infant brain damage do not need to happen. They can be due to another person’s negligence, medical malpractice, unsafe daycare conditions, or even assaults and violent crimes. Parents should be able to expect great care during delivery, and instances such as brain damage in babies due to lack of oxygen, can give reason for legal action. Misdiagnosed brain damage or brain injuries might be grounds to seek compensation through a lawsuit. When this is the case, parents should strongly consider legal counsel. Seeking compensation for damages can help parents handle their medical expenses and emotional suffering. Contact an injury lawyer for guidance.

CDC Pediatric MTBI Guideline.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 July 2020, www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/PediatricmTBIGuideline.html.

Childhood Head Injury Linked to Higher Risk of Poor Adult Mental Health and Life Chances.ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 24 Aug. 2016, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160824110858.htm#:~:text=and%20life%20chances-,Long%2Dterm%20effects%20of%20childhood%20brain%20injuries%20revealed%20in%20study,more%20than%20a%20million%20people&text=Summary%3A,according%20to%20a%20new%20study.

Children: What to Expect.Brain Injury Association of America, 1 June 2020, www.biausa.org/brain-injury/about-brain-injury/children-what-to-expect.

Ciurea, A V, et al. “Traumatic Brain Injury in Infants and Toddlers, 0-3 Years Old.Journal of Medicine and Life, Carol Davila University Press, 15 Aug. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3168813/.

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