Cerebral Palsy is a severe form of muscle deformation. It is not the result of a single cause; instead, it stems from a collection of disorders that impacts the individual’s movement and posture capabilities. It is commonly detected in one’s childhood as the first symptoms start occurring at an earlier stage. Cerebral Palsy is caused by significant brain damage left undetected or untreated. One of the most common causes of Cerebral Palsy is premature birth. Let’s review some risk factors that can attribute to cerebral palsy and put the neonates at a greater risk.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy in Neonates?
As we are aware, preterm birth puts the infant at risk of many health problems. An infant is considered full-term when they are born between 37-24 weeks of pregnancy. Premature birth is before the 37 weeks mark. The type of Cerebral Palsy most common amongst infants is called Congenital Cerebral Palsy. This results from brain damage in infants before birth or during birth. It should be noted that a child’s brain can suffer damage at any point in their childhood when major development of the organ is taking place. Some conditions that put preterm infants at greater risk are:
- Low oxygen levels: If the brain does not receive adequate oxygen levels, there is a chance of brain damage. In premature birth, the infant cannot receive oxygen properly during birth or before which can result in brain damage.
- Birth weight: A premature infant is born underdeveloped and this results in very low birth weight. Studies show that if the infant’s weight is lesser than 5 pounds, they are at a greater risk of developing Cerebral Palsy.
- Siblings: Infants that are either twins or triplets are at a greater risk of developing Cerebral Palsy. This is because these children are mostly born prematurely with low birth weights. If one of the twins dies before or during birth, it poses a higher risk for the surviving infant.
- Assisted fertility methods: Infants are more at risk of developing Cerebral Palsy if they are conceived using treatments for infertility. These babies are often born before their time and can even be twins or triplets, thus, putting them at a greater risk.
- Maternal infections: Prolonged infections in the mother, while she is pregnant, can often lead to infant Cerebral Palsy. This happens when there is an increase in cytokines proteins which then travel within the blood and infect the child’s brain. These proteins are the cause of fetus brain swelling and this results in Cerebral Palsy if left undetected. If the mother gets a fever while pregnant or during child delivery, it can lead to Cerebral Palsy. Research has determined several infections which can cause Cerebral Palsy like chickenpox, rubella, cytomegalovirus, etc. Meningitis in the premature baby or mother can also lead to Cerebral Palsy.
- Neonatal Jaundice: This is a condition where the infant has the yellow pigment known as bilirubin in excess in their blood. This is detected by the faint yellow shade on the child’s skin and eyes. The premature infant’s liver is not developed enough to process the excretion of bilirubin from the body which can build up in the brain tissue. If Jaundice is not treated on time, it can lead to kernicterus which can result in brain damage and consequently Cerebral Palsy.
- Maternal health: If the infant’s mother has autoimmune or neurological problems then there are high chances that the child born would be premature and have Cerebral Palsy.
- Difficulties in child delivery: If complications occur while the mother is delivering the child which decrease the levels of oxygen in the infant then the chances of cerebral palsy increase.
From the above causes explained, it is determined that pre-term birth puts the infant at a greater risk for developing Cerebral Palsy. A premature baby is likely to develop Cerebral Palsy due to low levels of oxygen at birth. The following section will highlight the different symptoms indicating Cerebral Palsy in neonates.
What Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy in Neonates?
Cerebral Palsy is difficult to detect when the baby is born before their time. However, there are certain telltale signs which indicate the motor disability. Some symptoms appear early on and can be detected if enough attention is given. There would usually be problems in the way the child is feeding and latching on. The mother can have problems in nursing the child properly as the infant will have digestion difficulties. Another way to detect the disability would be through constant weight loss. These are not the only signs, however, as the neonate grows, apparent signs occur. These are:
As children reach 3 months, they tend to show normal signs of movement such as proning. They can lift their heads from the ground. They show movement in their lower limbs by kicking; however, infants with the disability are not able to do those movements. They are not able to stretch up at all.
This disability results in the infant’s muscles being either too taut or too relaxed.
Unusual Body Positions
Cerebral Palsy causes the child’s head to fall back while in a seated position. They would also have problems urinating in their diapers properly. The arms of the child are stiff in the position of a hug and their reflexes are not normal.
Infants that suffer from Cerebral Palsy are also known to suffer from brain seizures known as epilepsy. This happens because of extensive nerve damage in brain which can result in frequent seizures in the infant. Epilepsy is one of the telltale signs of Cerebral Palsy.
All the children who are suffering from Cerebral Palsy will have movement difficulties. The motor neurons are disabled, therefore, there would be visible muscular abnormalities. If Cerebral Palsy is detected, the following section will explain treatments that can be prescribed.
How Is Cerebral Palsy Treated in Neonates?
Several treatment routes can be taken to treat Cerebral Palsy in premature infants. A combination of drug and recovery treatments can be prescribed to lessen the effects of the disability. Infants can be given drugs that target the nerve tissue – these are called neurotrophic medicines. They help release tension from the muscles and relax them; however, they cannot be used for prolonged periods as they can increase the chances of drug dependency.
The most important treatment for Cerebral Palsy is physically training the muscles to improve form. Due to brain damage, the muscle function lacks severely. Special exercises can be done daily to prevent the muscles from freezing in the same position. This assists in muscle movement and development.
The methods described above are all non-invasive. They are usually prescribed to lessen any pain the child might feel due to the disability. There are invasive treatments that involve operating on the infant. When the other methods are not showing signs of improvement in the infant, then invasive treatments become necessary. These treatments usually involve two types of surgeries known as neuro or orthopedic. This can involve the removal of damaged brain tissue or spinal realignment to help with posture and control.
Other uncommon treatments include ancient chinese practices of acupuncture and traditional massages. These can help relieve the tension built up in the muscles. They can be prescribed on older children as the muscles mature; however, these treatments are not recommended for premature infants as they are intensive.
There are some methods that parents can follow at home for their children to help with the effects of Cerebral Palsy. These include stretches and massages that can be done up to twice a day to help remove tension from the muscles. Helping the children sit, stand, or reach up can improve the way their muscles develop.
Premature infants are at a higher risk when it comes to health problems. The reason for their early birth is an underlying condition which further instigates a series of health conditions. One of these conditions is Cerebral Palsy – a severely damaging motor disability which happens as a result of damaged brain tissue. Brain tissue is damaged if the premature child does not receive instant or adequate care right after birth. This damage is also a result of maternal infections or diseases that impact the development of the baby. It is important to monitor the small health changes in premature infants as their vulnerable condition can make them a target of other health difficulties.
The healthcare system has improved due to technological advancements; therefore, it is now easier to detect Cerebral Palsy in its early stages. The earlier the detection is, the more successful would be the treatment. Although there is no cure for this illness, there are ways to ease the pain that accompanies the disability. There are methods to prevent the premature child from developing this disability. All that is needed is close observation and continuous monitoring.