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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

Learn More

Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

the guide

Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

Our guide can help you build a foundation of knowledge and tools that will help you help your child
now and in the future.

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General Causes

Identifying the cause can help diagnose a brain injury early so the appropriate measures can be taken. There are many causes of infant brain damage, which can vary in severity and physical, developmental, intellectual, and psychological impacts. The most common causes of damage to a baby’s brain include:

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Birth Asphyxia

Occurring in one of every 1,000 nine-month term births, oxygen deprivation can quickly lead to permanent damage. The effects can manifest as autism, cerebral palsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Breathing starts very shortly after birth, but any delay can deprive the brain of oxygen – it only takes a few minutes of oxygen and blood flow restriction to cause cell damage. There’s only a short amount of time for physicians to provide treatment.

Infants can be deprived of oxygen because of:

Elk & Elk
  • Airway constriction
  • Umbilical cord problems
  • A baby born with anemia
  • The mother’s blood pressure
  • Getting stuck in the birth canal
  • The placenta separating too soon

These problems are often preventable. Healthcare providers must monitor for fetal distress. If any signs are found early, the issue can be treated in a timely manner and be potentially mitigated to avoid any long-term consequences. Even when deprivation occurs, restoring blood/oxygen flow can cause a reperfusion injury, which lasts from days to weeks.

If mild and moderate oxygen deprivation is treated promptly, infants often make complete recoveries.

Physical Trauma

Doctors have a range of tools to assist with the birth. If these aren’t used properly, head injuries and brain damage can occur. Improper use of forceps and vacuums is a common cause of infant brain trauma, as is performing a delivery too quickly. On the other hand, a long, difficult delivery can constrict the infant’s head in the birth canal for too long.


More common in premature babies, jaundice is identifiable by yellowish skin and eyes. It occurs because there is a high level of pigment, bilirubin, in the red blood cells. There are usually no long-lasting effects if the problem is treated quickly. Otherwise, the pigment levels will increase and lead to kernicterus, a type of brain damage caused by toxicity. It’s marked by high-pitched screaming, lethargy, high fever, and abnormal back arching. In more serious cases, acute bilirubin encephalopathy causes vomiting and an impairment with sucking or feeding.

Maternal Infections

Infections such as rubella, syphilis, and varicella during pregnancy can trigger neonatal brain damage. Vaginal yeast infections, prolonged coughs, diarrhea, and cystitis can also lead to infant problems as well. Studies have shown that babies born to women with infections may be at a higher risk of cognitive development issues, schizophrenia, and epilepsy. The risk of premature birth, which raises the likelihood of damage to the infant’s brain, is higher with maternal infections. An infant born prematurely and with a low birth weight is at risk for damage and other disabilities.

Awareness of these general causes of infant brain injury can help diagnose problems that lead to avoidable injuries. One can avoid, or at least limit, the damage and the results that can occur.