One of the main signs of cerebral palsy in an infant is when brain damage occurs in the child’s brain during pregnancy or shortly after.
But how can you know for sure?
Recognizing the signs of cerebral palsy in an infant can be a mix of intuition and observation, especially for those who have experienced a challenging pregnancy or delivery marked by risk factors.
If brain damage occurs on one side of the body or both sides before or after birth, an infant may develop the most common motor disability called Cerebral Palsy (CP). This may manifest as spastic cerebral palsy or spastic CP, a common type of cerebral palsy we will cover in a minute.
With that said, let’s explore the following:
- What is cerebral palsy?
- How does it happen in infants?
- What signs of cerebral palsy in an infant should parents be looking for?
- What are the types of cerebral palsy to know?
And much more…
Remember, every child is unique. Not all signs of cerebral palsy in an infant are evident right away, but as the child grows, these symptoms might become more pronounced.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is brain damage that affects a child’s motor abilities (such as sitting, crawling, and rolling).
It is a neurological (brain) disorder that occurs during pregnancy or right after birth and causes the loss of normal motor functions or motor delays.
Having CP is a lifelong condition affecting communication between the brain and muscles, which causes abnormal movements and weakness.
For instance, CP can hinder a child’s ability to move in a coordinated way when walking, talking, and eating.
The good news is that the condition will not worsen over time but may drastically improve through various pediatric therapies like physical therapy, speech therapy, or sessions with an occupational therapist. Other interventions such as surgery or non-invasive procedures like brain stimulation or botulinum toxin-A injections can help children adapt and improve their motor functions.
How Cerebral Palsy May Occur In Infants
Even though there is always a chance that something may go wrong during the birth process, especially involving the spinal cord or brain, most babies are delivered with few or no physical injuries.
On average, 29 out of every 1,000 babies in the United States suffer birth trauma (1). Factors like low birth weight can place infants at a higher risk of complications.
Most commonly, infant brain damage (also known as acquired brain injuries or ABI) happens either by trauma to the baby’s brain or lack of oxygen flow to the brain near the time of birth.
Acquired brain injuries may happen in a few ways:
Random fetal movements may increase the risk of the umbilical cord being wrapped around a baby’s neck, cutting off or limiting oxygen flow to the brain.
Some signs of cerebral palsy in an infant can be linked to specific causes, such as complications during an early delivery which may put a baby at risk for developing brain bleeds or fluid in the brain in severe cases. Also, conditions like a low birth weight heighten the risk.
During delivery, the medical staff’s poor use of instruments or improper handling of a newborn, which might stem from medical negligence, can lead to brain damage in an infant.
Nonetheless, at any age, the acquired brain injury may lead to a mild to severe disability that is temporary or permanent.
When Is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
Receiving a cerebral palsy diagnosis can be a transformative moment for many families.
Cerebral Palsy is a complex disability due to the wide range of cases ranging from severe to mild. Because of this, diagnosis is a tricky process early on.
Doctors who commonly diagnose a child with cerebral palsy depend on the symptoms present:
- On average, most children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed within the first 18 months to 2 years of age because symptoms become more apparent over time.
- During extreme cases, CP may be diagnosed at least a few months after birth.
- In mild cases, a child may not become diagnosed until their brain is fully developed at three to five years of age.
This is one of the most discouraging parts early on for parents because if a child shows signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy, a diagnosis may take time.
To summarize, diagnosis can occur anywhere from a few months after birth up to five years of age.
Now you may be wondering what signs you need to look for if an infant.
Let’s dive into that next.
15 Early Signs Of Cerebral Palsy In An Infant
You may notice certain developmental milestones are not being met. This is often one of the first signs of CP that lead to a diagnosis.
Here are fifteen early signs of cerebral palsy in an infant to look for:
1. Can not hold up their head.
Unable to hold up their head while being picked up, lying down on their back or stomachs.
Usually, around 2 to 4 months old, most babies should be able to lift their heads unsupported.
2. Unable to roll over.
Unable to roll over independently front to back.
Usually, around four months old, babies can roll over unassisted.
3. Hand control issues.
Has difficulty with hand control, such as bringing the hands together or to the mouth (2).
You may also notice a baby reach out with one hand while the other remains in a closed fist.
Usually, around four months old, babies can clasp their hands together or bring their hands up to their mouths.
4. Feel floppy, heavy, or limp.
When held, they feel ‘floppy, heavy, or limp’ due to poor muscle tone or floppy muscles in the limbs, like the arms and legs.
5. Tense legs.
The legs become tense or cross like scissors when held due to tight muscles.
The leg movement may look or feel stiff or rigid.
6. Feeding issues.
For instance, you may notice things like:
- Difficulty closing their lips
- Chewing with an open mouth
- Poor tongue control or tongue thrusts
- Exaggerated bite reflex
Cerebral Palsy in babies commonly shows signs of swallowing problems (Dysphagia) or feeding difficulties.
7. Muscle spasms or tremors.
Due to tight and stiff muscles, you may see uncontrolled movements, spasms, or jerky movements.
You may also notice tremors, such as shaky hands.
8. Sitting issues.
Unable to sit up without assistance, often displaying an abnormal posture.
Usually, by nine months old, babies can sit up independently.
9. Standing issues.
Unable to stand up, rock back and forth, or bounce on their legs.
Usually, by nine months old, babies can stand up independently, bounce, or rock back and forth.
10. Walking issues.
Unable to walk without assistance or support.
Usually, by one year to 18 months, babies can walk unassisted.
11. Visual focus difficulties.
Struggles to focus on objects or follow movements with their eyes. This can be due to issues controlling eye muscles and might be accompanied by erratic or uncontrolled eye movements.
12. Delayed speech and communication.
May exhibit delayed babbling or difficulties producing age-appropriate sounds. Communication is crucial at every developmental stage, and a delay might indicate challenges in motor function affecting the speech muscles.
13. Overly sensitive or under-responsive to sensory input.
Infants may react excessively to touch, light, or sound (hypersensitivity) or show little to no response (hyposensitivity). Such sensory processing issues can indicate a deeper neurological challenge.
14. Difficulty grasping objects.
Around five months, most babies can start grasping objects. However, infants with cerebral palsy might exhibit a delay or difficulty in this, possibly holding objects too loosely or tightly.
15. Uneven muscle use.
One side of the body may be used more than the other, like dragging one leg while crawling or consistently reaching out with only one hand. This can be indicative of muscle control issues.
Again, keep in mind each child develops at their own pace. Not all signs are visible at birth and may become more noticeable as your child grows and develops.
Having established the early indicators to look out for in infants, it’s equally crucial to understand the specific types of Cerebral Palsy they might be exhibiting. Let’s delve deeper into the distinct categories to understand this condition better.
Understanding The 4 Different Types Of Cerebral Palsy
Once parents are familiar with the signs of cerebral palsy in an infant, understanding its types can provide more clarity:
Individuals with ataxic cerebral palsy experience abnormal muscle tone, specifically low muscle tone, which disrupts their balance, coordination, and motor skills. Their body movement might appear shaky, especially when performing precise actions, suggesting abnormal development in their motor coordination.
Individuals with dyskinetic CP grapple with a spectrum of muscle movement abnormalities. This can range from fast, jerking movements to slower, writhing motions, and they often display unusual postures due to the inconsistent muscle tone.
This form primarily affects muscle stiffness on one side of the body, which means a person might have difficulty moving an arm and leg on one side, hindering daily activities and mobility.
As the most severe form of CP, spastic quadriplegia impacts all four limbs, accompanied by significant muscle weakness. This can often make independent movement challenging and might require comprehensive assistance.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that some children may experience a combination of these types, presenting a complex picture of mixed symptoms.
When Can a Child be Tested for Cerebral Palsy?
The great news, children can be tested early on to see if they show signs of having a developmental disability.
A General Movements Assessment is done between birth to 3 months of age.
This is an inexpensive medical test that is non-invasive.
The assessment aims to show if the child has neurological issues that could lead to Cerebral Palsy.
A therapist, doctor, or medical personnel will complete the movement assessment by lying the child on their back while awake and videotaping them for three to five minutes.
The medical individual is trained to score the video based on the child’s movements.
Exploring Diagnostic Measures For Cerebral Palsy
Certain diagnostic measures, including developmental screening tests, are invaluable in accurately identifying signs of cerebral palsy in an infant. Early identification of cerebral palsy is crucial for optimal outcomes.
Developmental screening tests and continuous monitoring of a child’s growth and development form the backbone of this diagnostic journey, ensuring timely interventions.
CT scans are a cornerstone in the hands of healthcare providers, especially when aiming to identify brain abnormalities or damage. This imaging technique can delve deep, offering insight into any irregularities or structural changes in a child’s brain.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Magnetic Resonance Imaging, commonly known as MRI, is a non-invasive diagnostic tool. It produces high-definition images of internal structures, utilizing magnetic fields and radio waves, focusing predominantly on the brain. Unlike CT scans, which employ X-rays, MRIs provide clearer, more intricate images, spotlighting even the subtlest abnormalities in soft tissues, such as potential brain lesions or malformations.
MRIs coupled with developmental monitoring can provide a holistic view of the brain’s status in diagnosing cerebral palsy, identifying areas impacted by potential damage or developmental setbacks.
Beyond imaging, a comprehensive physical exam is pivotal in the diagnostic process. It can shed light on telltale signs of motor challenges and movement delays.
Through these diagnostic measures, parents are equipped with a thorough understanding of their child’s condition, empowering them to take proactive steps toward effective treatment.
If You’re Concerned…
As we mentioned, if you believe your infant is not meeting developmental milestones, it’s best to follow up with your pediatrician or nurse to share your concerns.
You can ask your pediatrician for a referral to see a specialist who can perform an in-depth assessment of your child to make a diagnosis.
You may also contact your state’s Public Early Childhood system to request a free evaluation to determine if your child qualifies for intervention services, sometimes referred to as a ‘Child Find’ evaluation (3). If you do not want to wait on a doctor’s referral or diagnosis, this is a great way to move forward quickly.
How To Set Up A Free Evaluation
You may wonder, “Who do I call to set up a free evaluation for my child in my state”?
This depends on your child’s age.
To move forward in the right direction, the following two centers are great resources to contact:
The ECTA helps develop early intervention and preschool special education service systems.
The National Technical Assistance Center focuses on building state and local systems to improve outcomes for children with disabilities and their families.
Call the Parent Center in your state.
Each state has one parent center funded to provide information to parents with children with developmental disabilities or delays.
Ask your Parent Center about connecting with an early intervention program near you.
Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving
Are you or someone you know caring for a child with Cerebral Palsy?
If you answered yes, this is a helpful guide to reference.
World-renowned experts established the book, and the information is very informative because it walks you through the most current advances in the CP world regarding diagnosis, treatment, terminology, and advice on caring for a child with cerebral palsy.
Treatment of Cerebral Palsy and Motor Delay
If you need a simple resource that provides a thorough overview of cerebral palsy and its treatment, this is a helpful reference to have on hand.
Spastic Diplegia Bilateral Cerebral Palsy
An evidence-based guide for families with a child with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy.
Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy (Video)
If you need a visual reference, the video Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy follows medical professionals who share what to look for and the next steps to take if you feel your child is showing symptoms of CP.
Video By: Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare
In conclusion, cerebral palsy, often referred to by its variations or type of CP, is not just about the physical manifestations. Understanding early signs of cerebral palsy in an infant and how different parts of the brain are affected is essential for tailoring appropriate interventions.
A nuanced understanding of each child’s development can pave the way for strategies that significantly enhance their quality of life. With the right support and resources, each child can navigate the challenges of CP with resilience and hope.
We want to extend our gratitude to thank you for stopping by today!
We hope this information has provided valuable insights into cerebral palsy and its diverse types.
Your experiences and questions are essential to us. Please share your thoughts, feedback, or inquiries in the comments below. We’re here to engage and assist! ♥
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About the Author
Linds is the proud mom of two little miracles, Mono Mono twin girls, and one AMAZING older bro! She is the founder and content creator of Mono Mono Twins, the blog Intensive Therapy for Kids, and Co-Founder of The LENN Foundation (a 510c3 that helps children with cerebral palsy receive grants for intensive therapies to thrive). ♥
- Kimberly Langdon, M.D. Meagan Cline (2021). Birth Injury Guide: A Comprehensive Resource from Experts Who Care. Birth Trauma.
- Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, M.D. (2020). Cerebral Palsy Guidance. Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Delays.
- Andrew M.I. Lee, JD. Understood. What is Child Find?
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