When a baby needs admitting to a hospital’s neonatal department for specialist care after birth it is of course a worrying and anxious time for parents. Babies can be admitted for many reasons and hospital staff are usually very good at explaining what kind of treatment your baby is receiving and why.
Some babies only stay a few hours or days. Others need to stay for weeks or months.
Obviously, the amount of time spent in a neonatal intensive care unit depends on your baby’s health.
It will also depend on whether your child is diagnosed with complex needs that will require additional daily support – such as a physical or mental disability or cerebral palsy.
At a stressful time like this, your life may feel as though it’s been turned upside down, and until the day when your baby is ready to go home, this traumatic experience can seem something of a blur.
From our experience in supporting the families of children who then go on to suffer health or developmental problems, we know that many parents return home with their baby without receiving a diagnosis and without truly knowing what was actually wrong.
They are often simply relieved to see their child out of intensive care and delighted to hear that they can leave the hospital.
It is only later they wish they had asked more questions as to how, why, and what could happen next?
If this applies to you, and you suspect your child may have cerebral palsy or another life-limiting condition, this article will aim to outline some of the most important things for you to consider.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition which occurs as a result of a brain injury or due to the abnormal development of the brain. It affects a child’s ability to control their muscles.
The brain damage that leads to CP can happen during fetal development in pregnancy, during labour and delivery or shortly after birth. It can also develop during the formative years of a child’s life, while the brain is still growing and developing.
Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term which actually refers to a group of symptoms, disorders, types of disabilities and complications.
There is no known cure, but treatments and therapies can make a major difference to a child’s life.
Each person with cerebral palsy will experience a unique set of circumstances, depending on the severity they have.
Spotting the signs of cerebral palsy
The symptoms of cerebral palsy impact upon a baby’s coordination and ability to move independently, so they are not always recognised immediately.
This is especially true when the symptoms are mild, resulting in parents with a baby in intensive care being sent home without a diagnosis and often not knowing for some time that something is wrong.
Usually, parents first become aware that something may be wrong when their baby:
- Has difficulty sucking and feeding
- Displays poor head control
- Cannot roll over
- Fails to crawl or walk in expected timeframes
- Shows a lack of affection
- Doesn’t respond to stimulation
For a cerebral palsy diagnosis to be determined, a paediatrician will need to evaluate your child’s core motor skills to establish the type of impairment and its severity.
They areas which will be evaluated include:
- Muscle tone
- Movement coordination and control
- Reflex irregularity
- Posture and balance
- Gross motor function
- Fine motor function
- Ability to make sounds and speech
10 reasons why a baby or child may have impaired motor functions
Children who have cerebral palsy typically display delayed growth and experience difficulty reaching developmental milestones.
If your baby spent time in intensive care or you experienced any of the following factors, your child may face an increased risk of being diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP).
- Infections during pregnancy
Infections can cause an increase in cytokines, a protein that circulates in the baby’s brain and blood during pregnancy. Cytokines cause inflammation which can lead to brain damage. Fever during pregnancy or delivery can also cause this problem. Common illnesses like chickenpox and German measles have been linked to a heightened risk of CP, along with maternal pelvic infections.
- Mum’s medical history
Mums with a thyroid problem, a history of seizures or intellectual disability have a slightly higher risk of their child being born with CP.
- Birth complications
Problems with the umbilical cord during birth, uterine rupture or the detachment of the placenta can disrupt the oxygen supply to the baby and cause CP.
- Premature birth
Children born before the 37th week of pregnancy, and especially before the 32nd week, have a greater chance of medical problems, which can heighten the risk of CP.
- Low birthweight
Babies with a birth weight of less than 5 and a half pounds (2500g), and especially those weighing less than 3lbs 5oz (1500g) are at greater risk of having acquired CP.
- Multiple births
Twins, triplets, and other multiple births face a higher risk for CP, especially if a twin or triplet dies before birth or shortly after being born. Research suggests that some, but not all, of this increased risk is because babies from multiple pregnancies are often low in weight or born prematurely, or both.
- IVF and assisted fertility treatments
Babies born from pregnancies where some form of fertility treatment was used are at greater risk of CP. This is often because children conceived using fertility treatments are frequently delivered prematurely or as part of a multiple birth, or both.
- Restricted blood flow to the brain
This can be caused by cerebrovascular accidents, like a stroke or bleeding in the brain, sickle cell disease or a heart defect being present at birth. Blood clotting problems or the failure to form blood vessels properly may be another reason.
- Jaundice and kernicterus
Many new-born babies suffer from jaundice, a yellowing of the skin because of a build-up of the chemical bilirubin in their blood. If left untreated for too long, jaundice can lead to kernicterus, a condition which can cause CP.
Kernicterus sometimes occurs because of an ABO or Rh blood type difference between Mum and baby. This causes the infant’s red blood cells to break down too fast, causing severe jaundice.
- Brain infection
Serious infections like meningitis or encephalitis can occur during infancy and heighten the risk of Acquired CP. This is why it is important to ensure certain vaccinations are received as they can decrease the risk of brain infections.
Could medical negligence be responsible for your suffering?
Most cerebral palsy cases are recognised and diagnosed early, often before the age of two.
Where symptoms are moderate or mild, it may not become apparent that CP is the issue until the child is much older.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of a child’s cerebral palsy is not always discovered, and more often than not it is not due to any shortcomings in medical treatment.
However, it can sometimes occur as a result of medical negligence or mistakes made during neonatal care.
This may include:
- Prescribing medication that is unsafe for a pregnant mother
- Not recognising fetal distress or intervening accordingly, either during pregnancy or delivery
- Failing to resuscitate a ‘blue’ baby soon enough after birth
- Adequate care standards not being provided – before, during or after birth.
If it can be proven that the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy was due to medical negligence, you may be entitled to compensation which can improve your child’s quality of life, as well as yours.
We know that raising a child with cerebral palsy can be physically, emotionally and financially demanding, but you don’t have to face it alone, and in cases where negligence is accepted or established, substantial, life-long support can be secured.
At Hudgell Solicitors, we offer free legal advice to families affected by CP so they can find out the truth about what happened and understand why.
There are also plenty of cerebral palsy support groups willing to offer help and emotional support every step of the way.
As things stand, the legal process is the only way for families to uncover all answers and obtain the compensation they need to make improvements to their lives.