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What are the Symptoms of Infant Brain Damage?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Although the term "infant brain damage" might describe a vast array of medical conditions, each with its own symptoms, there are some tell-tale signs that indicate damage done to a newborn's brain. Physical deformities, seizures, unusual temperament, and delays in development are all possible signs of brain damage in a baby. Jaundice, difficulty breathing, and low body temperature can be indicators as well. Confirmation of any diagnosis requires the expertise of a medical professional.

Infant brain damage can occur during pregnancy or after the child is born. Causes include physical injury, disease, and infection, as well as genetic predisposition. Brain damage might present itself as any of a number of conditions, in varying severity and with varying impact on the child’s life and development.

One of the first signs of brain damage is the child’s physical appearance. Physical deformities are not always present, but features such as a misshapen spine, an unusually large forehead, or facial distortion might indicate brain damage. Exceptionally small babies or babies who have disproportionately small heads also might have suffered brain damage.

In the first minutes after birth, a newborn’s health is typically assessed using an Apgar test. Among other things, this test rates the child’s breathing, complexion, heart rate, and breathing. It is designed to determine whether the child requires medical attention, but some of the factors being tested indicate potential brain damage, and a low Apgar score would warrant further monitoring.

Other risk factors can be determined at birth or shortly thereafter. Difficulty focusing vision can be an indicator, as can a low or fluctuating body temperature. Infants suffering from brain damage might be unable to sleep lying down. A child who has difficulty during feeding might have suffered damage, and frequent, inconsolable crying might suggest damage as well. Parents should remember, however, that feeding difficulties and fussiness are common, and these factors alone or together should not cause undue worry.

As the child grows, other signs of infant brain damage typically become apparent. Every child develops at a different rate, but if a child is exceptionally slow in learning to crawl, walk and talk, brain damage is a possibility. Slow physical growth and development also might indicate a problem.

Only a medical professional can confirm a diagnosis of brain damage. In cases where these signs are observed, the medical professional will typically send the child for any of several tests, depending on the symptoms observed and the condition suspected. In some, early identification can lead to treatment that can minimize damage done and help improve the child’s development, but in most cases, infant brain damage is irreversible, and medical attention can only help manage the condition.

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Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Jan 27, 2014

@Iluviaporos - It is important for people to realize that this isn't the norm though. You are still safer having your child in a hospital, particularly if you are expecting a difficult birth.

The other thing to remember is that because the skull of a new born is soft it might look a little bit deformed just after birth. This probably isn't a sign of newborn brain damage. It's normal for it to look a little misshapen and it will gradually go back to normal over time. I've heard of women panicking because they weren't expecting their new baby to look like that!

By lluviaporos — On Jan 27, 2014

@pastanaga - Unfortunately, sometimes it just happens and there isn't anyone to blame (although if your friend got a settlement out of the hospital it sounds like they probably did do something wrong).

The skull of an infant is quite soft so that they can get through the birth canal and it is all too easy to cause a brain injury if something goes wrong. It used to happen all the time when they still routinely used those forceps during a difficult birth.

By pastanaga — On Jan 26, 2014

The sister of my best friend had a child who suffered from baby brain damage and it was essentially caused by the hospital while he was being delivered. I don't know all the details but I do know that she eventually ended up with a settlement over it where they compensated her financially, as well as covering all the surgeries her poor son needed.

The thing I never realized was that that kind of brain damage when a baby is so young actually has more effect on their growth and motor control than necessarily on their intelligence. Her son is a very smart young man, but he has had all kinds of trouble with his spine and his legs because of the incident when he was born.

I'm just glad that she managed to get the settlement, because he has had to have quite a few surgeries over the years.

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