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Infant brain damage affects approximately three in every 1,000 babies born in the U.S. that come to full term. Infant brain damage causes include oxygen deprivation during delivery, maternal infections, traumatic birth injuries, and untreated jaundice. Some cases of infant brain damage resulted from negligence and medical malpractice.
Infant Brain Damage Causes Symptoms that Require Treatment
The signs that an infant has suffered brain damage during birth are not always obvious. A newborn may have certain head and facial features that indicate possible brain damage. These include a misshapen head, a large forehead, or unusual features in the face.
Abnormal eye movements, seizures, difficulty sleeping, unusual fussiness or irritability, and excessive and unusual amounts of crying are also possible signs of brain damage.
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Sometimes the signs are not apparent until a child shows signs of developmental delays, behavior problems, or cognitive impairments.
If doctors or nurses identify brain damage right away, immediate treatment can reverse some of the effects. Within the first few days of birth, a treatment called hypothermic cooling may reverse some of the brain damage.
In cases when the brain damage is more severe and obvious after birth, treatments such as surgery, relieving pressure on the brain, draining blood from the brain, or using medications to treat seizures may be necessary.
It is more likely, however, that brain damage will not be severe or obvious and will not be noticed until the baby grows and develops. In these cases, targeted strategies can help the child overcome delays and impairments.
These include speech and language therapy, behavioral therapy, physical therapy, and educational interventions. Most importantly, knowing the causes of infant brain damage can prevent it so that no treatment is necessary.
About half of all cases of infant brain damage are caused by asphyxia, which is oxygen deprivation, during labor and delivery. Being born premature puts infants at an increased risk of being asphyxiated during birth.
Oxygen is crucial for the functioning of the brain, and babies cannot go long without oxygen before experiencing the lasting effects of brain damage.
Several factors can cause asphyxia. Complications with the umbilical cord may cut off blood supply to the baby, for instance, or may actually strangle the baby, cutting off oxygen. The placenta may separate early, which also cuts off oxygen to the baby.
Infections in the baby or mother, anemia, high or low blood pressure, and a blocked or malformed airway may all contribute to asphyxia in an infant.
Traumatic birth injuries can also cause brain damage, either because they lead to asphyxia or because these types of injuries cause actual, physical damage to the skull and brain.
For instance, a doctor or midwife may pull too hard on a baby as it comes out of the birth canal, which can cause damage to the head. If the baby is stuck in the birth canal, this pulling may also result in asphyxiation.
Birth instruments may be misused or with too much force and cause traumatic injury to the head and brain resulting in brain damage. Forceps applied to an infant’s head can cause damage, as can the use of a vacuum extractor.
Any complications or difficulties during long labor can lead to brain damage in the infant. Doctors can typically prevent this by performing a Cesarean section. If they delay the procedure, brain damage may result.
If the mother develops a condition called preeclampsia, it can lead to brain damage in the infant. Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and high protein levels in the mother’s urine. 
This condition needs to be diagnosed and carefully treated to prevent it from becoming eclampsia and causing complications in the infant. Complications from preeclampsia have even been known to cause infant death. It may cause the death of the mother as well.
Doctors must test for preeclampsia regularly because not all women experience symptoms. Possible symptoms include weight gain, headaches, vision changes, and swelling in the face and hands.
Other conditions in the mother, particularly infections, can also lead to brain damage in an infant. Urinary tract infections and bladder infections, influenza, pneumonia, rubella, syphilis, and herpes are examples of infections that can impact the infant.
Intrauterine infections like herpes are most likely to put an infant at risk for brain damage. Because of the possible serious complications, it is important that mothers be screened for infections and treated immediately if any are diagnosed.
Jaundice is a condition caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. While a baby is in the womb, the mother’s liver is responsible for controlling bilirubin levels, and once the baby is born, its liver takes over this duty.
A baby’s liver is not well developed. Bilirubin may build up and cause yellowing of the skin and eyes, signs of jaundice.
When jaundice is severe or goes untreated, it can lead to a condition called kernicterus, a type of infant brain damage. The results may be cerebral palsy, hearing and vision problems, and later cognitive impairments. Newborns must be screened for jaundice to be treated before developing into this kind of brain damage that may not be reversible.
Infant brain damage causes are varied, and they are mostly preventable. If you are pregnant, be sure you understand the potential causes of brain damage and know of ways to prevent it.
If you have given birth to a baby that shows signs of brain damage, you may think that your medical caregivers failed to provide adequate care.
In this case, you can bring a lawsuit against an individual or a health care institution to seek justice for your child and seek compensation that will help your child have a better future living with brain damage.
- Brain injury in newborns could have many causes. (2014, May 14). World & Local Health, Disease & Science News in Sarasota, FL.
Retrieved from: https://health.heraldtribune.com/2014/05/13/brain-injury-newborns-many-causes/
- Hagberg, H., Edwards, A. D., & Groenendaal, F. (n.d.). Perinatal brain damage: The term infant. PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4915441/
- Cipolla, M., & Billar, J. (2017, March 28). Persistent brain injury after preeclampsia. American Academy of Neurology
Retrieved from: https://n.neurology.org/content/88/13/1216
- What are Jaundice and Kernicterus? (2019, December 3). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/jaundice/facts.html