This article has been fact checked by a Board Certified Pediatrician. Sources of information for the article are listed at the bottom.
For any content issues please Contact Us.
Infant skull fracture symptoms range from mild to severe and debilitating. They include irritability, crying, lethargy, swelling or a depression in the head, and seizures. Noting the signs and symptoms of an infant skull fracture is essential for early intervention and treatment.
How Infant Skull Fractures Occur
Infant skulls are flexible and made up of plates attached by soft tissue called sutures. These harden eventually but allow the brain to grow into an expanding skull and allow it to survive the pressures of the womb and childbirth.
The latter does not always happen, and even without any doctor error, an infant’s skull can fracture during delivery simply due to the pressure.
Get Matched with a Leading Birth Injury Attorney in Your AreaGet Help Now
More often, though, the cause of an infant’s skull fracture can be due to medical malpractice. The number one cause of an infant skull fracture during delivery is the force of instruments, typically forceps or a vacuum extractor. These instruments can help deliver a baby quickly if there are complications, but they can also fracture the skull.
A medical error may also be involved when the infant’s skull is fractured during natural delivery with no instrument use. If the child is unusually large or presents in the breech position, or if the delivery is long and difficult, the baby may be more likely to suffer a fracture.
If the doctor failed to recognize there would be these complications and did not perform a Cesarean section, the result may be a fracture.
Types of Skull Fractures
The symptoms of an infant skull fracture depend on factors such as the severity of the fracture but also the type.
A linear fracture is a simple line fracture that is most often the least complicated and causes the fewest and mildest symptoms. The fracture does not cause the plates of the skull to move, and often this type of fracture heals without any intervention.
Depressed skull fractures are much more likely to cause symptoms and have serious complications. This fracture is easy to spot and occurs when the skull is sunken down toward the brain. It should be readily visible.
Diastatic skull fractures are fractures along a suture. Like a linear fracture, these may not cause symptoms right away, but they may be more serious. As the child’s brain grows, the fracture may also grow and cause problems.
Signs of Mild Fractures
Mild infant skull fracture symptoms may be nonexistent. Possible signs include:
- Sensitivity to light and sounds
- Abnormal eye movement
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty in nursing
Fortunately for most mild fractures, there are no lasting consequences or symptoms. Sometimes the immediate signs are so insignificant that the fracture is not detected.
Signs of Moderate to Severe Skull Fractures
Physical signs of a more severe skull fracture in a newborn may include swelling, a lump, or a depression on the head. There may be bruising around the eyes or fluid or blood coming out of the baby’s ears or nose.
A more severe skull fracture may cause brain damage or a traumatic brain injury. Signs include:
- Difficulty in nursing
- Crying for no apparent reason
- Being difficult to console
- Listlessness and lethargy
- Unexplained irritability
- Difficulty focusing on anything
If a skull fracture is suspected because of some of these signs, doctors may use imaging scans, like a CT scan or MRI, to confirm the fracture’s location and the extent and to find out if it has caused a hematoma or bleeding on the brain.
A hematoma may be associated with symptoms like irritability, seizures, crying, and difficulty sleeping or nursing. Bleeding on the brain can put damaging pressure on it and depending on the severity, may or may not need to be drained surgically. In severe cases, this bleeding may cause lasting brain damage or even death.
Long-Term Brain Damage
Over the long term, a skull fracture may cause a wide variety of symptoms depending on the severity of the brain damage and the type of treatment. These long-term symptoms include cognitive, developmental, perceptual, physical, and behavioral complications.
Cognitive symptoms may include memory problems, a lower than average IQ, difficulty paying attention or focusing, a short attention span, learning disabilities, difficulty understanding the abstract, and difficulty making decisions.
Perceptual symptoms include impaired vision and hearing, trouble with balance or coordination, sensitivity to pain, and spatial disorientation.
Physical signs of brain damage include:
- Seizure disorders
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of consciousness
Children with brain damage may also have behavioral and emotional challenges that include impatience, difficulty coping with stress, irritability, either heightened or flattened emotions, aggression and lethargy.
Infant skull fracture symptoms vary, ranging from immediate and mild or severe to long-lasting. If you suspect your child was injured during childbirth, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about imaging to check for a fracture.
Any sign of a fracture should be taken seriously as the consequences of ignoring it could be serious. If you think the fracture was caused by negligence, you may want to take steps to start a lawsuit to seek compensation for your child.
- Head Injury in Children. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine, based in Baltimore, Maryland.
Retrieved from: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/pediatrics/head_injury_in_children_90,P02604/
- Pediatric Skull Fractures - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. (2019, May 2). National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482218/
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2019, September 24). Head Injury In Children. Harvard Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/head-injury-in-children-a-to-z
- Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury: Signs and Symptoms. (n.d.). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association | ASHA.
Retrieved from: https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/clinical-topics/pediatric-traumatic-brain-injury/#collapse_2