Cerebral palsy is a condition that results from abnormal development in a baby’s brain. The abnormality affects movement in sometimes unpredictable ways. The condition is often congenital, meaning that it is present from birth, although sometimes it develops in early infancy. It sometimes arises as the result of genetic factors or medical conditions affecting mother and/or baby prior to birth. However, it can also arise from perinatal or postnatal complications, such as birth-related asphyxia, i.e., lack of oxygen, or traumatic head injury.
Though cerebral palsy may be present from birth, it can take several months for the signs to first appear. Since you spend the most time with your baby, you may notice the symptoms before your pediatrician does. If you had a difficult or complicated delivery, you should be extra vigilant to watch for the following signs and symptoms.
- Developmental delays
Your baby should learn certain skills by particular points in his or her young life. Doctors refer to these as developmental milestones. If your child cannot sit up or crawl by the expected age, this is a worrying symptom.
- Muscle tone variations
Your baby’s muscle tone may not seem normal. The muscles may seem too limp and floppy, or else too stiff and rigid. Additionally, your baby may demonstrate spasticity, or exaggerated reflexes.
- Movement abnormalities
Your baby’s movement may seem abnormally slow, with a writhing quality. Your baby may also exhibit repeated involuntary movements, or tremors.
- Oral problems
Cerebral palsy can cause problems with feeding. Your child may have difficulty sucking or swallowing. You may also notice excessive drooling.
- Speech issues
Your child may take longer than normal to start talking, and may exhibit speech difficulties.
Because cerebral palsy results from brain damage, it is permanent and incurable. However, early diagnosis allows you and your doctor to formulate a long-term plan for care and treatment. This may help to improve your child’s prospects for long-term quality of life.