What to Know About Cerebral Palsy in the Newborn Period

A frequent condition known as cerebral palsy is brought on by an injury to the developing or newborn brain. The damage normally happens before or soon after birth, though cerebral palsy symptoms might not show up right away.

In the US, the most frequent cause of childhood disability is cerebral palsy (CP).

Brain damage or abnormal development that takes place in the womb or the first few months of life is the cause of cerebral palsy (CP). The alterations in the brain do not intensify or worsen with time, but they also do not go away.

Children with cerebral palsy (CP) can experience a wide range of symptoms and outcomes, depending on the specific area of the brain injured and the extent of the lesion. However, all cerebral palsy patients will experience some degree of difficulty with posture and movement.

It is possible to check even the smallest infants for early indications of cerebral palsy, especially when risk factors for the condition are present.

What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy in a newborn?

In the United States, cerebral palsy (CP) accounts for 1.5 to 4 out of every 1000 live births worldwide, making it the most frequent cause of childhood impairment.

As a baby grows, cerebral palsy symptoms gradually appear. Although they are frequently invisible in the newborn stage, symptoms might manifest in the first six months of life.

Early infancy symptoms and indicators could include:
  • steps in motor development that are missing or delayed
  • abnormal reflexes, such as the continuance of archaic reflexes
  • abnormal muscular tone (abnormally tight or flabby muscles)
  • abnormal motions (continuous arching/extension, rigid, scissor-like legs, early hand preference)
  • muscle weakness
  • abnormal growth of the head (micro- or macrocephaly)
A Motor Delay Tool has been created by the American Academy of Paediatrics to assist in reviewing motor development and facilitating a conversation with your child's physician.

How is cerebral palsy diagnosed in a newborn?

The early years of a baby's life are critical for neurodevelopment, and early CP diagnosis and treatment can help children reach their full potential. At birth, babies with CP frequently seem healthy.

Your doctor will do a physical examination and assess the medical history of both you and your unborn child if there are any concerns regarding cerebral palsy.

Your baby's development and motor skills are evaluated using standardised observational instruments, like the Hammersmith Infant Neurological Exam (HINE)Trusted Source. These screening instruments can be used on infants as young as two months old by doctors.

For evaluation, you may also be referred to paediatric neurology, developmental-behavioural paediatrics, physical therapy, or occupational therapy specialists.

A brain MRI is one imaging test that can be used to identify cerebral palsy.

What causes cerebral palsy in a newborn?

A disruption in the foetal or neonatal brain's development results in cerebral palsy.

About 90% of cases with CP are congenital. Accordingly, the alterations in the brain take place throughout pregnancy.

Prematurity-related complications, genetic or developmental disorders, or medical issues during pregnancy or delivery could all contribute to the underlying brain injury.

Frequently, it is impossible to pinpoint the exact underlying cause.

What are the risk factors for cerebral palsy in a newborn?

There are recognised risk factors for congenital cerebral palsy, even though the precise cause of the condition is not always understood:
  • low birthweight (less than 2.5 kilograms, or 5.5 lb)
  • in-vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • infections during pregnancy
  • kernicterus (a form of severe newborn jaundice)
  • prematurity (less than 37 weeks)
  • multiple births (e.g., twins or triplets)
  • congenital anomalies
  • medical disorders affecting mothers (e.g., substance use, preeclampsia, thyroid problems)
  • difficulties that arise after childbirth (such as early placental detachment, uterine rupture, issues with the umbilical chord, and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy)
The following are risk factors for cerebral palsy that develops after the first month of life:
  • stroke
  • severe head injury
  • infections (e.g., meningitis or encephalitis)
It is not a guarantee that your child will have cerebral palsy just because they have one or more CP risk factors. However, if there are risk factors, your doctor will keep a closer eye out for CP.

What is the treatment for cerebral palsy in a newborn?

Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, your child can achieve their full potential with the support of a customised treatment plan.

The suggested physical, occupational, or speech treatments should be started as soon as a child with CP is diagnosed to maximise their development.

To identify any abnormalities in your baby's hearing, vision, or potential seizures, your doctor might also advise screening tests.

Educational aids will promote cognitive achievement as your child grows older. Your child can navigate the world with the aid of assistive devices such as orthotics, mobility and communication aids, and hearing or vision aides.

When difficulties with feeding or drooling emerge, muscle rigidity, discomfort, seizures, and other disorders related to cerebral palsy can all be treated with oral and injectable drugs.

Orthopaedic and other treatments may be required to treat issues resulting from cerebral palsy. Generally speaking, these are not required throughout infancy.

Current research is being done on potential future therapies, such as stem cell therapy.

What are the complications for a newborn with cerebral palsy?

Apart from the initial mobility and muscle tone impairments associated with cerebral palsy, other issues may occur. 

These include:
  • feeding problems and growth delays
  • cognitive and speech delays/disorders
  • seizure disorders
  • hearing impairment
  • difficulties with the eyes such as functional blindness or strabismus (crossed eyes)
With time, you might observe:
  • other musculoskeletal conditions such as scoliosis, hip issues, joint contractures, or issues with bone density
  • sleep and/or neurobehavioral conditions such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder
  • pain
  • Urologic issues such as neurogenic bladder and incontinence

What’s the outlook for a newborn with cerebral palsy?

Four primary forms of cerebral palsy can result in varying degrees of physical and cognitive disability. The best person to assist you in comprehending your child's outlook is their paediatrician.

Every person with CP will experience some movement and posture difficulties throughout their lives, and many may also experience associated complications such as musculoskeletal, cognitive, and sensory disorders. However, early therapy and a timely diagnosis can optimise your child's healthy development.

Three-quarters of children with cerebral palsy will speak, half will have normal IQ, and two-thirds will learn to walk in high-income countries. Most children with cerebral palsy will live to adulthood.


One common developmental disorder is cerebral palsy. Along with other concerns, it results in motor delays and varied degrees of movement and posture issues.

Damage to the growing brain, typically sustained in the womb, during, or soon after birth, is the cause of cerebral palsy. Although CP has no specific cause, there are several recognised risk factors.

In the past, CP diagnoses have been made at the age of two. Yet, the symptoms might be identified considerably sooner. CP symptoms are frequently identified as early as six months of age, particularly in newborns whose risk factors are established.

Children with cerebral palsy can perform better when diagnosed and treated early. Consult your child's physician about developmental screening as soon as possible if you have concerns about your newborn or infant's motor development or think they might have cerebral palsy.

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