Are Newborn Seizures a Sign of a Birth Injury?

A. Yes, seizures in newborn babies can often indicate birth injuries. Also called neonatal seizures, they can occur shortly after birth or during the following hours and days. In fact, seizures may be the first (and perhaps only) clinical sign of a brain injury in a newborn baby. Seizures frequently develop in babies who experienced oxygen deprivation around the time of birth.

What are seizures?

Seizures occur when there are abnormal electrical discharges in the brain due to brain injury. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • Convulsions
  • Altered consciousness
  • Rapid eye movements, blinking or eyelid fluttering, eyes rolling up, staring
  • Sucking, smacking, chewing and a protruding tongue
  • Bicycling or pedaling movements of the legs
  • Thrashing movements
  • Long pauses in breathing 

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of seizures after birth is critical. Seizures are not only a sign of brain injury, but can also cause additional brain damage and make an existing injury even worse.

Why do some babies have seizures after birth?

The most common cause of  seizures after birth is hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a type of brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen during or near the time of birth. This means there is decreased oxygen in the baby’s blood (hypoxemia or hypoxia) and/or decreased blood flow (ischemia) to the brain. Other causes can include:

Seizures can be caused by medical malpractice

Most neonatal seizures and seizure disorders are caused by birth injuries. If a medical professional fails to do all they can to prevent a birth injury, and this causes seizures or other types of harm, it is considered medical malpractice.

What types of medical errors can cause seizures?

Types of seizures

There are multiple ways of classifying neonatal seizures, but these are some common categories:

Subtle seizures

Subtle seizures are often difficult to see. There may be some bicycling-type movement, fixation of gaze, or repetitive facial movements when a baby experiences this type of seizure. This type of seizure is representative of about 50% of all newborn seizures.

Clonic seizures

Clonic seizures in infants are typically marked by rhythmic jerking. This type of seizure represents about 25% of all seizures in babies.

Myoclonic seizures

Myoclonic seizures may involve rapid or non-rhythmic jerking movements, which may look similar to the Moro reflex. While often associated with severe brain injuries, some healthy babies exhibit myoclonic movements in their sleep. Myoclonic seizures account for about 20% of all neonatal seizures.

Tonic seizures

Tonic seizures cause continued contractions. They can occur while the infant is awake or asleep. Tonic seizures account for about 5% of neonatal seizures.

Diagnosing seizures after birth

Electroencephalograms (EEGs) are considered the primary diagnostic test for both:

  1. Confirming seizure activity and
  2. Determining the part(s) of the brain that are affected

When an EEG is performed, electrodes are attached to the baby’s head. The electrodes read the electrical activity of the brain and show the changes that occur over time. The results appear on-screen as well as on printed strips.

Bottom line

In order to avoid seizures after birth, all medical personnel must strictly follow standards of care. A mother and baby must be:

  1. Closely watched during labor and delivery, and
  2. Provided with proper prenatal testing in order to avoid the conditions causing seizures after birth

Failure to properly monitor a mother and baby and to follow standards of care is medical negligence. If a physician fails to recognize signs that a baby is having or is likely to have seizures after birth, and the seizures and their underlying causes go untreated, it is medical malpractice.

Should I seek legal help?

If your child was diagnosed with seizures after birth, we can review your baby’s medical records to determine whether medical mistakes played a role in their injuries. Award-winning birth injury attorneys at ABC Law Centers have been handling birth injury and seizure cases for clients throughout the nation since 1997. Our attorneys can help your family obtain the compensation you deserve. Don’t worry about the cost! Our clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process until we win!