Understanding brain damage at birth and how it can affect a child
20th February, 2023
Article

Hundreds of thousands of babies are born each year in the UK, and unfortunately things can and do go wrong before, during and after birth. According to Cerebral Palsy Guide, head and brain injuries are the most common birth-related injuries babies suffer. We have worked with clients in the past who have suffered birth injuries relating to the brain which has resulted in the development of Cerebral Palsy. 

 

What is brain damage? 

WebMD say that brain damage is an injury to the brain that ‘causes the destruction or deterioration of brain cells.’ Brain injuries can occur in two different ways; either through trauma (known as a traumatic brain injury) or through acquired brain injury which is associated to pressure on the brain. 

 

What are the types of brain damage? 

There are several types of new-born brain damage say Cerebral Palsy Guide; all of which can result in a wide range of symptoms and may lead to long-term disabilities such as cerebral palsy. 

One type of brain damage an infant may suffer is Hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE). Bliss a charity that helps babies who are born prematurely, and say that HIE occurs when there is not enough oxygen and/or blood being supplied to the brain around the time of birth. This is sometimes referred to as asphyxia. This most commonly takes place before or during birth, however there are some case this can happen once the baby is born. There are differing levels of severity when it comes to HIE: mild, moderate and severe. Unfortunately, if HIE is graded as moderate or severe, it can result in the child suffering from long-term disabilities, or sadly in some circumstances, the baby may pass away. 

Periventricular leukomalacia (PL) is another type of brain damage known to occur at birth. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes say this affects the white matter within the brain due to softening of brain tissue. Again, PL is a result of a lack of oxygen being supplied to the brain, particularly the periventricular area of the brain. It is understood that the damage can affect both foetuses and new-born babies, however it is babies who are born prematurely who are at the greatest risk of suffering PL.  PL can put the baby at risk of motor disorders, a delay in cognitive development, issues with coordination and, impairments with vision and hearing. 

Hydrocephalus according to the NHS is when fluid builds up within the brain. As a result of the build-up of excess fluid, damage can be caused. If left untreated, this can be fatal. Damage caused due to hydrocephalus can lead to symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, blurred vision and having difficulty walking. There are three types of hydrocephalus, however only two of which usually occur around the time of birth. These are congenital hydrocephalus, which is present at birth, and acquired hydrocephalus, which occurs after birth. Congenital hydrocephalus is a brain defect that causes too much fluid to build up in the brain’s cavities whereas, acquired hydrocephalus happens after birth when a tumour, injury or disease blocks absorption of the brain fluid, meaning the brain’s cavities are filled. 

Intraventricular haemorrhage (IVH) is another form of brain damage a new-born may suffer. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine IVH occurs when there is bleeding into fluid filled areas or the ventricles surrounding the brain. This is most common in premature babies and the smaller and more premature a baby is, the higher the risk of IVH. This is because premature babies have more fragile blood vessels as they are not fully developed. Although there may be no symptoms of IVH, some of the known symptoms can be taking pauses in breathing, decreased tone in muscle, reduced reflexes, excessive sleep, tiredness, and a weak suck. There is currently no treatment that directly cures IVH, however healthcare professionals can support the infant through various treatments to help ease the bleeding. 

The final type of brain damage a new-born could suffer is new-born cephalohematoma. Cleveland Clinic say that it causes a blood pool to form under the baby’s scalp, although this is usually harmless. This can be caused by pressure during birth. The damage usually doesn’t require any treatment but could increase the baby’s risk of suffering other illnesses such as jaundice, anaemia and other infections. The risk of a baby having cephalohematoma is 2.5% from a difficult vaginal delivery, however if the delivery is assisted and for example forceps are used, the risk increases to every 1 in 10. 

 

What are the causes of brain damage at birth? 

As mentioned in the section above, there are a number of causes of brain damage at birth, however, cerebral palsy guide say the most common causes are: 

  • Oxygen deprivation (also known as asphyxia) 
  • Physical trauma e.g pressure on baby’s skull 
  • Maternal infections 

Get to know the signs of brain damage in a baby 

Although brain damage is often detected at the hospital by a medical professional, this is not always the case. According to Birth Injury Help Center, some of the earliest signs of brain damage in a baby are most likely to be physical. This means the signs can often be seen just by looking at the baby. Some of the signs include: 

  • A forehead that is overly large 
  • A misshapen or twisted spine 
  • Distorted or unusual facial features 
  • A small head 
  • The baby has seizures spontaneously 
  • A stick neck 
  • Unable to move or focus eyes 
  • Abnormal temperament or behaviour 
  • Intense crying (with an arched back) 
  • Issues with feeding 

Have you suffered birth injury negligence? 

If you or your child has suffered a birth injury due to medical negligence, our medical negligence experts are here to help and have helped people in a similar situation. In the past we have helped many patients make a birth injury claim and receive compensation. 

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