Are Newborn Seizures a Sign of a Birth Injury?


A. Yes, they often do. Newborn, neonatal seizures occur shortly after birth or during the following hours and days and can indicate that a birth injury occurred. 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 include convulsions, brain disturbances, and altered consciousness. Other indications can include:

  • 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 

Seizures after birth and their cause must be promptly diagnosed and treated. 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 of neonatal seizures include central nervous system (CNS) infections/ meningitis, brain bleeds, birth trauma, strokes, and more rarely, malformations in the brain.

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.

The following complications and medical errors can cause neonatal 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 comprises 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 newborns.
  • Myoclonic seizures: Myoclonic seizures may involve rapid or non-rhythmic jerking movements, which may look similar to the Moro reflex. These seizures may be associated with severe brain damage, although some healthy babies have myoclonic movements in their sleep. Myoclonic seizures account for about 20% of all neonatal seizures.
  • Tonic seizures:  Tonic seizures cause sustained contractions. They can occur while the infant is awake or asleep. Tonic seizures account for about 5% of neonatal seizures.

Diagnosing seizures after birth

The primary diagnostic test for verifying seizure activity and determining the location of the brain affected is an electroencephalogram (EEG). 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 closely monitored during labor and delivery, and proper prenatal testing must be performed in order to avoid the conditions causing seizures after birth, such as HIE and infection. 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.

Get Legal Help

If your child was diagnosed with HIE and/or seizures after birth, a review of the medical records can determine whether negligence played a role in causing the injury. The award-winning birth injury attorneys at ABC Law Centers have experience in handling birth injury and seizure cases for clients throughout the nation, and can help your family obtain the compensation you deserve. Clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win their case, and you’re welcome to contact us even if you aren’t yet sure whether you want to sue. Please reach out in whichever way best suits your needs:

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