What Causes Seizures in Newborns?
If you’re the parent of a newborn, few things are more frightening than your child having a seizure. What caused it? Will it happen again? Did it cause any lasting harm to the baby? Are there underlying problems that led to the seizure?
True neonatal seizures are those that occur within 28 days of birth, but of course, any seizure in an infant or child is a matter worth checking out with a doctor. Some seizures may be difficult to detect in newborns, because they are brief and because newborns, of course, don’t have control over their muscles as an adult or older child would. In fact, many of the signs of seizures are also movements that a typical newborn might make. A good rule of thumb is to not panic, but to speak with your pediatrician. If you are able, videotape the suspected seizure activity to show your doctor in case he or she isn’t able to witness a suspected seizure.
Some indications of a seizure in a newborn or young infant include:
- Rhythmic, jerking movements, often of facial muscles, the tongue or arms or legs. These are called “clonic” seizures.
- Stiffening or tightening of groups of muscles. These are called “tonic” seizures. In a tonic seizure, the baby may stretch an arm or leg or turn their head or eyes to one side.
- Rapid, single jerking motions which may involve the whole body or just an arm or leg. These are called “myoclonic” seizures.
- Repetitive movements of the face, including eye movements, chewing, or sucking
- Staring blankly
- Momentarily stopping breathing (apnea)
If you start to get a feeling that your baby’s movements are not normal, or someone else comments on it, don’t ignore it. It is worth checking out with your baby’s doctor. If it turns out to be nothing, you will have peace of mind; if what you are witnessing turns out to be seizure activity, your doctor can begin guiding you through the process of diagnosis and treatment.
Why Is My Baby Having Seizures?
There are a number of causes of seizures in newborns and babies. The good news is that seizures in a newborn do not necessarily mean that your baby will have epilepsy or a lifelong seizure disorder. The bad news is that seizures in your newborn does put him or her at increased risk of a seizure disorder later on.
Prematurity and low birth weight are risk factors for seizures in newborns, but most premature babies or low-birth weight babies do not have seizures. The most common causes of seizures in a newborn are:
- Oxygen deprivation before or during birth, which can cause hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). The oxygen deprivation may be due to placental abruption, prolonged labor, or compression of the umbilical cord during labor and delivery;
- Infection acquired either before or after birth, such as rubella (German measles), toxoplasmosis, bacterial meningitis, syphilis, or viral encephalitis;
- Stroke suffered before, during, or after birth;
- Bleeding in the brain;
- Blood clot in the brain;
- Abnormalities in the brain, either genetic in nature or which occurred during development of the fetus, including tuberous sclerosis;
- Metabolic problems, including phenylketonuria (PKU);
- Blood sugar imbalances;
- Electrolyte imbalances;
- Withdrawal from drugs consumed by the mother during pregnancy, such as heroin or cocaine.
Some of the causes of newborn seizures are unavoidable, such as a genetic condition of which the parents were unaware until their baby started having seizures. Some, like drug withdrawal, are due to parental actions. Frustratingly, some neonatal seizures never have a cause identified. And some, especially those caused by oxygen deprivation, are due to a birth injury that may be the result of medical malpractice.
If You Suspect Medical Malpractice May Have Caused Your Baby’s Seizures
Unfortunately, it is often not clear right away what has caused seizures in a newborn. Obviously, your first focus must be on your child’s health, and making sure he or she has any treatment needed to avoid ongoing problems.
If you suspect that your baby’s seizures may have been caused by medical malpractice, like an obstetrician who failed to detect fetal distress and allowed labor to go on too long, there are steps you should take along with pursuing a diagnosis and treatment. Consult with an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney to review your options. If medical malpractice was indeed to blame for your child’s seizures, you may be entitled to compensation that will help you to pay for their treatment and, if necessary, their ongoing care.
At Huegli Fraser, we know that even caring for a newborn without health issues can be exhausting. The stress that comes along with worrying about your child’s health and future makes it worse. Our attorneys are both skilled and compassionate, and will do everything possible to help you secure your child’s future and reduce the stress that goes along with it. We invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.