When a child suffers brain damage during pregnancy or birth, they can experience lifelong disability and severe injuries. Often, brain and birth injuries occur due to a lack of oxygen to the fetus, causing destruction of brain cells. Brain damage can be severe or mild, sometimes necessitating full-time medical care. Many parents of newborns with brain injuries feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin.

Brain injury in a newborn is typically referred to as neonatal encephalopathy (NE). For the most successful treatment, obstetricians and other medical personnel must recognize, diagnose and treat NE as soon as possible. Failure to diagnose a brain injury can result in birth injuries like cerebral palsy, neurological disorders or developmental delays.

Understanding and Diagnosing Neonatal Brain Injuries

Signs and symptoms of neonatal brain injury

If your baby is diagnosed with neonatal encephalopathy or brain injury, it means they’re displaying symptoms of brain or spinal cord dysfunction. Your doctor should order imaging tests of your baby’s brain to confirm or rule out the diagnosis. Signs and symptoms of NE can include:

  • Abnormally large forehead
  • Abnormally shaped spine
  • Apnea or difficulty breathing
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Low APGAR scores for more than five minutes
  • Seizures
  • Small head or skull
  • Stiffness in neck

Many of these symptoms should be noticeable immediately or soon after birth. Some symptoms of brain injury, however, may not appear until later, in the form of developmental or cognitive delays. Your child may miss certain milestones, like crawling, walking or feeding themselves. If you notice any of these issues with your child, you should talk to your medical professional as soon as possible.

Diagnosing infant brain damage

It’s essential that neonatal encephalopathy is diagnosed within the first few hours of life, especially with cases of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain. These hours are valuable and essential for critical and lifesaving treatments.

Then, doctors can use imaging for a more conclusive diagnosis – MRIs, for example can generally show moderate and severe HIE within 24 hours of birth. However, just like the human brain itself, brain injuries evolve and brain scans must be done every few days to re-assess the birth injury.

Treatment options

Treatment for infant brain injuries depends on the severity of the injury. Mild to moderate injuries may improve with proper physical and occupational therapy, as well as medication. However, infants with severe brain injuries may need surgery. A more recent treatment called hypothermia therapy shows positive results if administered properly and immediately after birth.

The Maryland brain and birth injury attorneys at Plaxen & Adler, P.A. can help if your child was diagnosed with a preventable birth injury. Our lawyers can provide knowledgeable guidance about protecting your child’s rights and ensuring their needs are addressed. To set up a free consultation, call us today at 410-730-7737 or complete our contact form.