Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy in Newborns

Birth Injury, Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

newborn and teddy bear with orange balloon printed with CP?

Cerebral palsy isn’t always apparent at birth, often taking months or years to diagnose. However, there are some signs and symptoms that you may be able to spot in your newborn. If you see these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has cerebral palsy, but your pediatrician will likely want to monitor your baby and run more tests as they develop to reach a confirmed diagnosis.

Developmental Delays

Developmental delays are one of the most apparent signs of CP. Parents are often the first to notice that their child isn’t hitting developmental milestones at the expected time. If you feel that your child isn’t developing as he or she should, it’s important to speak with a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner CP is diagnosed, the more likely it is that early interventions can be put in place and the better chance there is of improved outcomes. Early diagnosis, therefore, is key to helping your child reach their fullest potential.

Some developmental milestones to look for include:

  • Holding the head up and smoothly moving arms and legs by two months
  • Pushing up to the elbows when lying on the stomach by four months
  • Rolling over by six months
  • Sitting without support by nine months

Abnormal Muscle Tone

If a child has CP, their muscle tone may be abnormally “floppy” or too stiff. A baby that is too stiff is considered hypertonic, while an infant with muscles that are too loose is hypotonic. You may notice that your infant doesn’t have the muscle tone to support or move their head. When held, you might also see your baby overextend the back and neck, arching backward as though they’re trying to move away.

Speak with your physician if you feel that your baby’s muscle tone is abnormal so you can monitor this closely as they get older. By the time your child is six months old, they should be able to bring their hands together and bring them to their mouth without difficulty. The inability to do these tasks are symptoms of cerebral palsy in newborns.

Unusual Poses

An infant with CP may strike certain poses that are noticeable to parents, caregivers, and physicians. Watch for:

  • Legs that cross or scissor, getting stiff when the baby is picked up
  • Cortical thumbs which are consistently bent toward the center of the palm
  • One-sided movements where the child consistently favors one hand or leg over the other
  • Awkward or bent posture as the child begins to support themselves

Involuntary Movements

Children with CP struggle to control their bodies. Newborn CP symptoms include anything that indicates the infant has less control than is typical for their age. Primitive reflexes like rooting typically disappear by four months of age but may persist in a child with cerebral palsy. The hand may reflexively curl into a fist. Quick, rhythmic movements that look involuntary can also indicate CP.

Pay attention to how your baby moves and whether these actions seem intentional or reflexive. While newborns do have many reflexes that they don’t control, these disappear within months and should be replaced with more intentional actions.

Lack of Coordination

Babies with CP may appear less coordinated. They often scoot or hop rather than crawl because they don’t have the muscle coordination for the latter. Slow reactions and clumsiness are common. If the baby does crawl, you may notice that they use only one hand and leg while dragging the other. Babies with CP also tend to have trouble walking, and might use supportive devices longer than expected, falling often.

Babies develop coordination at different paces, so a child who is a bit uncoordinated early in life isn’t necessarily suffering from CP. However, this is one small indicator that you may want to keep an eye on.

Tremors and Shaking

Seizures, tremors, and shaking can be cerebral palsy newborn symptoms. Any type of seizure or notable tremor is cause for concern, so you should contact your doctor immediately if your baby has these symptoms. Cerebral palsy is not the only cause, so you should work with your baby’s pediatrician to identify the reason for the shaking or seizures and how to best treat them.

Unusual Tongue and Mouth Motions

Babies with CP may make strange motions with their mouths. This could include:

  • Frequently grimacing
  • Biting down hard and holding on
  • Thrusting the tongue
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Trouble sucking
  • Difficulty eating
  • Problems with swallowing

As the child gets older, they may also have speech delays or trouble talking. Unusual tongue movements are often difficult to identify, particularly for first-time parents. If you’re concerned, you may want to capture a video that you can share with your pediatrician to demonstrate what you’re seeing.

If you suspect that your newborn’s cerebral palsy symptoms are the result of medical malpractice, you could be eligible for compensation. Contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC to discuss your case.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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