Brain Injury from Birth: Causes and Prognosis

You experienced a difficult delivery. Now doctors are hinting that something’s wrong with your baby. Could your child have a brain injury from birth? Doctors won’t confirm or deny your suspicions. 

This is a frustrating predicament. But diagnosing a brain injury can take time. Not all infants have symptoms at first. Or, their symptoms are actually due to some other condition.  

On the other hand, there are newborn brain damage symptoms you can watch out for. We’ll tell you what they are below. It’s good to be prepared, because the sooner you’re aware of a brain injury, the sooner you can treat it. Early intervention is the key to better outcomes for children with brain injuries. 

Newborn Brain Damage Symptoms

A newborn can’t tell you when something is wrong. So you might wonder how to tell if a baby has brain damage. 

Newborn brain damage symptoms can clue you in to a potential problem. Here are some warning signs parents and doctors should look for:

  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Floppy muscles
  • Head injuries (bruises, cuts)
  • Unusual large forehead
  • Very small head
  • Eating or swallowing issues
  • High-pitched crying
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Excessive lethargy
  • Unusual posture
  • Stiff neck or muscles
  • Arches back while crying
  • Excessive drooling 
  • Irregular breathing patterns
  • Vision and hearing problems

Causes of Brain Injury from Birth

Brain damage to a baby can happen while they’re still in the womb or during delivery. 


A brain injury from birth most often happens because the baby doesn’t get enough oxygen. This is called asphyxia. Without oxygen, brain cells can die. 

But what causes asphyxia? The culprit could be anything from an infection, to a sudden medical emergency, to a doctor’s mistake. 

Here’s a list of potential causes:

Birth Trauma

Physical trauma during delivery can cause a brain injury. This is more likely to happen with a long, difficult delivery. One example is when a doctor puts too much pressure on a baby’s head with forceps. 


A baby can get infections (sometimes from the mother) during pregnancy or delivery. Certain infections can increase the risk of brain damage, such as:

Maternal Health Conditions

Maternal health conditions can contribute to a brain injury from birth. Preeclampsia is one of them. This condition involves high blood pressure and high levels of protein in urine. If it goes untreated, the mother can start seizing. The baby can suffer severe brain damage or be stillborn. 

Gestational diabetes and certain blood clotting disorders can also increase the risk.


You’ve probably heard of jaundice, a condition that causes yellow skin and eyes. But have you heard of kernicterus? They are closely related. Kernicterus is a dangerous disorder that occurs when a baby’s jaundice isn’t treated. 

With kernicterus, there is so much bilirubin in the baby’s blood that it causes irreversible brain damage. Many babies who had kernicterus are later diagnosed with cerebral palsy, hearing/vision problems, and intellectual disabilities.  

Baby being monitored for jaundice after birth.

Can a baby recover from brain damage?

A baby’s ability to recover from brain damage depends on several factors:

  • Extent and location of the damage
  • Underlying cause of the damage
  • Whether or not they received early intervention and treatment

Some brain injuries have permanent effects. Others can improve over time with appropriate medical care and therapies. But time is the key here. Improvement often happens very slowly. 

Here’s a word of hope: a baby’s brain has a remarkable ability to adapt and rewire itself. This is known as neuroplasticity. With adequate treatment, the brain can sometimes compensate for damaged areas by rerouting connections. It can use undamaged regions to take on certain functions.

And now a word of caution: severe cases of brain damage almost always have lifelong consequences. They lead to conditions like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and severe cognitive disability. No treatment can reverse permanent damage. But it can help improve symptoms. And the earlier a child receives treatment, the better their prognosis will be. 

Radiologist views brain scan.

Legal Help for a Brain Injury from Birth

Children with brain injuries require early intervention. Many will need therapy and medications for their entire lives. 

Should your child’s injury be the result of negligence, you can seek damages to cover the cost of treatment. Contact our lawyers here to discuss your potential case. We offer cost-free initial consultations to help you understand your legal options.