When a baby is welcomed into this world it can be an uncertain time especially for those who have experienced a challenging pregnancy or delivery.
If brain damage takes place before or right after birth, an infant may develop a motor disability called Cerebral Palsy (CP).
One of the main signs of cerebral palsy in infants is when brain damage occurs during pregnancy or after, but how can you know for sure?
What signs do you need to look for to know if your child has CP?
This article will explain EXACTLY what Cerebral Palsy is and what signs to look for in infants that are under one year of age that could show early signs of CP.
Let’s dive in. 🙂
What is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?
Cerebral Palsy is brain damage that affects a child’s motor abilities which is one of the most common motor disabilities in children.
It is a neurological (brain) disorder that occurs during pregnancy or right after birth which causes the loss of normal motor functions or motor delays.
Having CP is a lifelong condition that affects the 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.
Ways Cerebral Palsy Can Occur in Infants
Most babies in the United States are delivered with few or no physical injuries, there is always a chance that something will go wrong during the birth process.
Most commonly, infant brain damage 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 (ABI) can occur in a few ways, for example:
- During pregnancy, random fetal movements may occur increasing the risk of the umbilical cord to be wrapped around a baby’s neck cutting off or limiting oxygen flow to the brain.
- Premature birth can put a baby at risk for developing brain bleeds or in severe cases, fluid on the brain.
- The poor use of instruments used during delivery.
- Improper handling of a newborn by doctors or other medical staff after delivery.
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?
Cerebral Palsy is a complex disability due to the wide range of cases ranging from severe to mild so diagnosis can be a tricky process early on.
Overtime, symptoms will become more apparent in a child with cerebral palsy and commonly, a child is diagnosed within the first two years.
During extreme cases, CP may be diagnosed in as little as a few months after birth and in mild cases, a child may not become diagnosed until their brain is fully developed at three to five years of age.
One of the most discouraging parts early on should a child show signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy is the time it can take for a doctor to actually diagnose them.
Diagnosis can occur anywhere from a few months after birth up until five years of age, but how can you tell early on what the signs of Cerebral Palsy are in infants?
When Can a Child be Tested for Cerebral Palsy?
The GREAT news, a child can be tested early on to see if they show signs of having a developmental disability.
Between birth up to 3 months of age a General Movements Assessment can be done which is an inexpensive medical test that is non-invasive.
The purpose of the assessment is to show if the child has neurological issues which could lead to Cerebral Palsy.
A therapist, doctor, or medical personnel will complete the movement assessment by lying a child on their back while they are awake and videotaping them for three to five minutes.
The medical individual is trained to score the video based on the child’s movements.
Signs Of Cerebral Palsy In Infants
Not all signs are visible at birth and may become more noticeable as your child grows and develops.
However, there are some signs to be on the lookout for indicating your infant may have Cerebral Palsy:
- Can not hold up their head while being picked up, lying down on their back, or stomach.
- When held, they feel ‘floppy’ due to low muscle tone or ‘stiff’ such as muscle spasms.
- When held, legs become tense or cross like scissors.
- Feeding or swallowing difficulties.
- Development delays prior to 6 months, unable to roll over or sit up on their own.
- Has difficulty bringing their hands together or to their mouth.
- Reaches out with one hand while their other hand is in a fist.
If You’re Concerned
If you believe your infant is not meeting developmental milestones such as not being able to hold their head up, roll over, or sit up independently, follow up with your pediatrician or nurse to share your concerns.
You can also ask your pediatrician for a referral to see a specialist who will be able to perform an in-depth assessment of your child to make a diagnosis.
You may also contact your states 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.
This is a great way to move forward quickly if you have questions or concerns so you aren’t waiting on a doctor’s referral or diagnosis.
Where do you call to set up a free evaluation in your state? That will depend on your child’s age. To move forward in the right direction, the following two centers are great resources to contact:
- Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) helps develop early intervention and preschool special education service systems. ECTA is a national technical assistance center that 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 who have children with developmental disabilities or delays. Ask your Parent Center about getting connected with an early intervention program near you.
Here’s a helpful guide to reference if you or someone you know is taking care of a child with cerebral palsy (CP).
The book was established by world-renowned experts and the information is very informative because it walks you through the most current advances in the CP world when it comes to diagnosis, treatment, terminology, and advice on how to care for a child with cerebral palsy.
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