Newborn seizures are caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain. These discharges are due to problems with the brain’s chemistry or nerve damage, in many cases, stemming from birth injuries. A birth injury is any sort of harm to a baby that occurs during or near the time of birth. It is important for parents to know that birth injuries can often be prevented. Moreover, a medical professional’s failure to prevent a birth injury may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Some common birth injuries that can cause neonatal seizures are listed below:
- The most common cause of neonatal seizures is hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) (1), which is a brain injury caused by a lack of oxygenated blood flow to the baby’s brain. HIE is often caused by an injury to the baby that takes place during or close to the time of labor and delivery. In addition to neonatal seizures, HIE can cause permanent brain damage and lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and learning disabilities (2).
- Ischemic stroke is the second most common cause of neonatal seizure (1). An ischemic stroke is one caused by a clot in a blood vessel. Perinatal strokes (strokes around the time of birth) are often associated with HIE, traumatic birth, and other birth injuries (3).
- The third most prevalent cause of neonatal seizure is intracranial hemorrhages, or bleeding within the brain (1). These may include intracerebral hemorrhages and subarachnoid hemorrhages, among others. Brain bleeds can be caused by both HIE and traumatic birth injuries, i.e. when there is excessive force or pressure applied to a baby’s head during the process of labor and delivery (4).
- Infections such as sepsis and meningitis can also cause neonatal seizures (1). Maternal infections can be transmitted to the baby at birth, causing the baby to become infected. This is why it is especially important for doctors to do all they can to treat maternal infections and minimize the risk of transmission (5). If a baby has suspected seizures, they should be promptly evaluated for infection (1).
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is another cause of neonatal seizures (1). This condition is common in babies born to mothers who have diabetes and babies who have hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and/or are small for gestational age (among other risk factors). Neonatal hypoglycemia is easy to diagnose and treat, but prolonged or undiagnosed hypoglycemia can cause permanent brain damage (6). Doctors should measure glucose levels in any infants with suspected seizures (1).
Can neonatal seizures be caused by medical negligence?
Neonatal seizures are often caused by birth injuries. In order to prevent birth injuries, medical professionals should perform regular prenatal tests to ensure the health of the baby. If any fetal distress is noted or there is a condition (e.g., preeclampsia) that can cause the baby to receive insufficient oxygen-rich blood, the baby should be placed under close observation and an early delivery may be indicated to prevent the baby from staying in suboptimal intrauterine conditions.
During labor and delivery, the baby’s heart rate should be continuously monitored with a fetal heart rate monitor. If a baby begins to experience oxygen deprivation, this will be reflected in the fetal heart tracings as “nonreassuring tracings.” Once nonreassuring tracings occur, medical professionals should intervene promptly. In many cases, this indicates delivery via emergency C-section. A delayed delivery can cause oxygen deprivation to be prolonged, resulting in HIE and seizures.
Listed below are high-risk conditions and birth injuries that can cause oxygen deprivation, HIE, and resultant neonatal seizures, especially if mismanaged by doctors and nurses (2).
- Abnormal fetal position/presentation
- Anesthesia errors
- Birth trauma
- C-section errors and delays
- Cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD)
- Fetal monitoring errors and failure to recognize signs of fetal distress (oxygen deprivation)
- Fetal stroke
- Forceps and vacuum extractor injuries
- A high-risk pregnancy (e.g. one involving gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or obesity), especially if mismanaged
- Infections in newborns
- Intracranial hemorrhages (brain bleeds)
- Low birth weight (LBW)
- Maternal infections
- Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS)
- Neonatal breathing mismanagement
- Placental complications:
- Postterm pregnancy
- Premature rupture of membranes (PROM)
- Preterm birth
- Prolonged and arrested labor
- Umbilical cord issues:
- Uterine tachysystole/hyperstimulation (this often results from the misuse of contraction-enhancing drugs called Pitocin and Cytotec)
- Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)
Want to learn more about neonatal seizures?
Here, we have focused primarily on the causes of neonatal seizures. If you would like to read a broader overview for neonatal seizures, which covers prognoses, treatment options, and more, please click here.
Legal help for neonatal seizures
Michigan birth injury lawyers with a national presence
Newborn seizures can be an indication of serious neurological damage from a number of birth-related injuries. If your baby or child suffers from seizures that began around the time of birth, contact ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh, P.C.). Our attorneys have helped dozens of children affected by seizures. Jesse Reiter, the firm’s president, has been focusing on birth injury cases his entire legal career, and most of Jesse’s cases involve helping children who have seizure disorders, cerebral palsy, and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
To find out if you have a case, contact our firm to speak with an experienced lawyer. We are based in Michigan, but handle cases all over the United States. Additionally, our team handles cases involving military hospitals and federally-funded clinics. We have numerous awards and case results that attest to our success, and clients pay nothing unless we win.
Video: Birth injury lawyers discuss birth asphyxia, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), and neonatal seizures
Watch a video of neonatal seizure lawyers Jesse Reiter and Rebecca Walsh discussing common causes of neonatal seizures: birth asphyxia and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
Disclaimer: Please know that our website is owned by a medical malpractice law firm that focuses exclusively on birth injury cases. We try to provide useful medical information to our readers, but we cannot provide treatments or medical advice. If you think your child may be having a seizure, please call 911/your country’s emergency number or your doctor.
- Shellhaas, R. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/etiology-and-prognosis-of-neonatal-seizures
- Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/prenatal-birth-injuries/fetus-or-newborn-medical-problems/hypoxic-ischemic-encephalopathy/
- Perinatal Stroke (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/types-of-birth-injuries/cerebral-palsy/cerebral-palsy-caused-by-stroke/
- Intracranial Hemorrhages Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/prenatal-birth-injuries/traumatic-birth-injuries/intracranial-hemorrhages/
- Sepsis. Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/types-of-birth-injuries/cerebral-palsy/cerebral-palsy-caused-by-sepsis-and-meningitis/
- Neonatal Hypoglycemia. Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/neonatal-birth-injuries/neonatal-hypoglycemia/