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Cerebral palsy in newborns can be difficult to detect. Although physicians can sometimes diagnose the disorder shortly after birth, other times, it’s diagnosed after parents feel something isn’t right. Symptoms such as failing to meet milestones, abnormal muscle tone, and stiff legs are among the most common sign of CP in a newborn, but a healthcare professional will evaluate and order tests to make the correct diagnosis.
Early Signs of Cerebral Palsy
According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the following signs before six months of age could indicate that an infant has cerebral palsy:
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- The baby feels stiff or floppy
- The baby cannot hold their head up independently
- The baby’s legs may cross or get stiff when being picked up
- Overextended back and neck
- Poor muscle tone
You need a physician to make a medical diagnosis to determine if your baby has cerebral palsy. If you notice the aforementioned symptoms, schedule an appointment with your infant’s pediatrician.
Some infants will display symptoms of cerebral palsy but will not have the disorder. Cerebral palsy symptoms mimic other health issues such as neurological diseases and spinal cord injuries.
It’s important to let your doctor test and diagnose your baby, not only to determine if your baby has cerebral palsy but also to rule out other medical problems.
Testing Used to Diagnose Cerebral Palsy in Newborns
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that infants get developmental screenings beginning at nine months. Still, as a parent, if you suspect something is wrong with your newborn, you can request health screenings at any age.
MRI and CT Scan
The most common tests used to detect brain damage are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a computed tomography (CT) scan. These tests are usually undertaken once other evaluations, such as a developmental evaluation, are complete.
An MRI uses radio wave energy and a magnetic field to take images of the baby’s brain. The images allow doctors to determine if the infant has brain abnormalities or lesions. A CT scan takes X-rays of the infant’s brain so that doctors can study its structure for abnormalities.
A developmental evaluation is also conducted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A developmental evaluation is performed by a team of healthcare professionals who specialize in child development, neurology, and pediatric rehabilitation.
The physicians conduct testing on the baby to evaluate and diagnose developmental delays. They generally do reflex testing, evaluate muscle and motor skills, and observe posture.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy in Newborns?
Many babies are born with cerebral palsy; this is known as congenital CP. The most common reasons for congenital CP include:
Lack of Oxygen
Fetal Stroke or Brain Bleeding
When brain blood vessels are broken, misformed, or blocked, the baby can have a stroke while still in utero. Fetal stroke can lead to brain bleeding, which can lead to cerebral palsy. Heart defects can also cause brain bleeding.
White Matter Brain Damage
During weeks 26 through 34 weeks of pregnancy, an infant’s white matter in the brain is the most sensitive and the most susceptible to damage. However, white brain matter damage can happen at any time during pregnancy and disrupt the brain’s signals to the body that controls movement.
Causes include loss of oxygen and reduced blood, known medically as periventricular leukomalacia (PVL). Infections can also damage the infant’s white brain matter, as well as fetal stroke and head injuries while in utero.
Abnormalities in Brain Development
Sometimes the growth process of the brain is stalled, forming abnormalities that can lead to cerebral palsy. Fetal trauma and infections cause the abnormalities, although gene changes, known as mutations, can also affect the brain’s development.
Other times, infants develop cerebral palsy shortly after birth. This is known as acquired cerebral palsy. Common causes include:
- Meningitis or encephalitis
- Head injuries
- Sickle cell disease
- Heart defects
- Blood flow problems
- Medical negligence while the infant is in a neonatal intensive care unit
If Your Newborn Has Cerebral Palsy
With today’s medical advancements, most babies with cerebral palsy have a positive outlook. Many babies with cerebral palsy grow up to live productive, fulfilling lives.
You should work closely with your baby’s pediatrician and a care team to help your baby handle the disorder better via therapy, communication practice, nutrition guidance, and regular medical appointments.
For additional help, consider a Life Care Plan, which lists the needs that the baby will have while growing up and through adulthood. For example, a Life Care Plan would include any accommodations the baby could need at home, an educational plan, therapy plans (physical and occupational therapy, for example), and medical plans.
Life Care Plans are created with the help of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, along with a cerebral palsy lawyer who can construct a detailed life map.
- What are the early signs of cerebral palsy? (2016, December 1). Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Retrieved from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/cerebral-palsy/conditioninfo/signs
- Developmental monitoring and screening. (2020, June 25). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/screening.html
- Screening and diagnosis of cerebral palsy. (2019, September 11). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/diagnosis.html
- What causes cerebral palsy? (2016, December 1). Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Retrieved from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/cerebral-palsy/conditioninfo/causes
- Cerebral palsy - NHS - Causes. (2018, October 3). NHS.
Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cerebral-palsy/causes/