What Are the Early Signs of Cerebral Palsy?
The first months and years of a child’s life are filled with milestones. Your child will typically start crawling, walking and exhibiting other behaviors during this time. If your child fails to reach these milestones, it could be an indication of cerebral palsy. These common early signs of CP can help you be aware if your child may have this condition.
Causes and Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy
A child may have one of a few types of cerebral palsy. Many cases of CP are related to brain damage that occurs before or during birth. This is called congenital CP.
Risk factors for congenital cerebral palsy include:
- Medical negligence during the labor and delivery process
- The mother has an infection during pregnancy
- The child was conceived via in vitro fertilization or another assisted reproductive technology
- The child is born too small
- The child is born too early
- The child is a twin or is part of a multiple birth
- Complications occur during birth
Some CP cases come from brain damage that occurs in the days following a child’s birth. This type of cerebral palsy is known as acquired CP.
Risk factors for acquired CP include:
- The child has a brain infection such as meningitis
- The child suffers a serious head injury
- The child has kernicterus, a type of brain damage that can result from untreated severe jaundice
In some children, the specific cause of cerebral palsy is not known. A child will usually receive a diagnosis within their first or second year of life. However, if symptoms are mild, your child may not get a diagnosis until they are a few years older.
Early Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Babies
Children should reach certain movement goals, known as milestones, marking their development from birth until 5 years old. If your child does not reach milestones on schedule, it may be a sign of CP. Typical milestones include:
- Rolling over
- Sitting up
It is important to remember that all children differ somewhat. Therefore, your child may reach certain milestones earlier or later than others.
Many signs of CP appear in a child’s first few months of life. Still, many children aren’t diagnosed with CP until around age 2 or even later. Some early signs of cerebral palsy in babies may include:
- Abnormal muscle tone: Your child’s body parts are too stiff, or they are “floppy” or loose. Increased muscle tone, or hypertonia, may make a child seem rigid or stiff. Decreased muscle tone, or hypotonia, may make a child appear relaxed or floppy. Sometimes early hypotonia progresses to hypertonia after 2 or 3 months of life.
- Abnormal posture: When moving, reaching or crawling, your child uses one side of their body more.
- Developmental delays: Your child reaches milestones such as rolling over, sitting, crawling and/or walking much more slowly than other children or not at all. These developmental delays are typically the main indicator that a child may have CP.
Children who do not have CP may also exhibit some of these signs. If you notice any of these signs in your child, you should talk to your health care provider.
Signs of Cerebral Palsy by Age
Catching these early signs of brain damage may enable you to access early intervention services for your child if they do have cerebral palsy. There are certain signs of CP that may appear at specific periods of a baby’s life. Here are some examples of signs you may notice at a given time if your child has cerebral palsy.
Babies ages 3 to 6 months:
- Your child’s head falls back when you pick them up from lying on their back
- Your baby feels “floppy”
- Your baby feels stiff
- When cradled in your arms, your baby seems to overextend their back and neck
- When you pick up your baby, their legs become stiff and cross, or their legs scissor
Babies older than 6 months:
- Your baby can’t bring their hands together
- Your baby has trouble bringing their hands to their mouth
- Your baby reaches out with only one hand and keeps the other in a fist
- Your baby doesn’t roll over in either direction
Babies older than 10 months:
- Your baby crawls in a lopsided way. They may push off with one leg and hand, dragging the opposite leg and hand while they move.
- Your baby does not crawl on all fours, instead hopping on their knees or scooting on their buttocks.
Incredible advances have been made in the treatment of cerebral palsy. The earlier someone notices the signs of CP and has the condition diagnosed, the earlier a child can begin receiving helpful services that will improve their quality of life.
Still, CP can create a significant emotional toll and financial impact on children living with the condition, as well as their families, especially if it could have been prevented or was caused by a medical professional. The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC have helped over 30,000 families with cerebral palsy children across the country. If you have questions or think your child’s CP may have been preventable, contact us today so we can help you and your family.
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