If a child is born with a brain injury or other significant birth injury, early intervention is key. That means it's important to recognize the early warning signs. While not every birth injury becomes is immediately apparent, many injuries can be caught within the first days or weeks of life.
Persistent low Apgar scores
The Apgar test, named after Dr. Virginia Apgar, is one of the first medical tests performed on babies after birth. An Apgar test consists of five key indicators, each of which gets a score between 0-2; those scores are then added up to produce a final score from 0-10. Scores of 7 and up indicate a healthy baby, 4-6 are cause for some concern, and 0-3 mean the baby needs immediate medical attention. The Apgar test is performed at one and five minutes after birth, and it may be repeated at 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes if scores remain low.
The primary intent of an Apgar test is to see if the baby needs immediate medical attention. A low Apgar score at the five-minute mark can also be an indicator of neurological damage or another long-term birth injury, and the correlation increases if the score remains low at 10, 20 or 30 minutes. If your child had a low Apgar score, it's important to promptly follow up with a pediatrician or appropriate specialist for more extensive evaluation.
Visible warning signs
When brain injuries are caused by birth trauma, there may be immediately visible warning signs. These include:
- Abnormally large forehead
- Unusually shaped spine
- Distorted facial features
- Unusually small head
- Neck stiffness
- Difficulty focusing the eyes
Behavioral warning signs
Every baby has a little personality, and it's not unusual for a healthy baby to be "fussy" or otherwise behaviorally challenging. Certain behaviors outside the normal range can be indicative of a birth injury.
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive crying or fussing for no obvious reason
- Problems feeding or swallowing
If you believe something is wrong, it's important that you don't panic. Again, every baby is different! You do need to talk to your child's doctor and get the symptoms evaluated promptly. The sooner a birth injury is caught, the better the likely prognosis for your child's future. If brain damage is suspected, for example, an MRI or CT head scan can diagnose the underlying problem.
You know your child best, and you will be the first know when something is wrong. Learn about the warning signs and keep a close eye on your baby. The sooner a problem is caught, the better.