What are the early signs of cerebral palsy?

Jennifer was born 11 weeks early and weighed only 2-1/2 pounds. The doctors were surprised to see what a strong, wiggly girl she was.

But when Jen was just a few days old, she stopped breathing and was put on a ventilator. After 24 hours, she was able to breathe on her own again.

The doctors did a lot of tests to find out what had happened, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. The rest of Jen’s time in the hospital was quiet, and after two months she was able to go home. Everyone thought she would be just fine.

At home, Jen’s mom noticed that Jen was really sloppy when she drank from her bottle. As the months went by, Jennifer’s mom noticed other things she didn’t remember seeing with Jen’s older brother. At six months, the baby didn’t hold her head up straight. She cried a lot and would go stiff with rage.

When she went for her six-month checkup, the doctor was concerned by what he saw, and by what Jennifer’s mom told him. He suggested that Jen’s mom take the little girl to a doctor who could look closely at her daughter’s development. A developmental specialist finally put a name to all the little things that hadn’t seemed right with Jen — cerebral palsy.

signs of cerebral palsy

Could it be cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a group of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood, and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. It is caused by damage to or abnormalities inside the developing brain that disrupt the brain’s ability to control movement and maintain posture and balance. (The term cerebral refers to the brain; palsy refers to the loss or impairment of motor function.)

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The signs of cerebral palsy usually appear in the early months of life, although specific diagnosis may be delayed until age two years or later.

Infants with CP frequently have developmental delay, in which they are slow to reach developmental milestones such as learning to roll over, sit, crawl, or walk.



Some infants with CP have abnormal muscle tone. Decreased muscle tone (hypotonia) can make them appear relaxed, even floppy. Increased muscle tone (hypertonia) can make them seem stiff or rigid. In some cases, an early period of hypotonia will progress to hypertonia after the first 2 to 3 months of life. Children with CP may also have unusual posture or favor one side of the body when they reach, crawl, or move.

It is important to note that some children without CP also might have some of these signs.

Some early warning signs of cerebral palsy

In a baby less than 6 months old

  • His head lags when you pick him up while he’s lying on his back
  • He feels stiff
  • He feels floppy
  • When you pick him up, his legs get stiff and they cross or scissor
  • When held cradled in your arms, he seems to overextend his back and neck, constantly acting as if he is pushing away from you

In a baby older than 6 months

  • She doesn’t roll over in either direction
  • She cannot bring her hands together
  • She has difficulty bringing her hands to her mouth
  • She reaches out with only one hand while keeping the other fisted
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In a baby older than 10 months

  • He crawls in a lopsided manner, pushing off with one hand and leg while dragging the opposite hand and leg
  • He scoots around on his buttocks or hops on his knees, but does not crawl on all fours
  • He cannot stand holding onto support
A common disorder

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the average prevalence of cerebral palsy is 3.3 children per 1,000 live births.

CP is the leading cause of childhood disabilities, but it doesn’t always cause profound disabilities. While one child with severe CP might be unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong care, another child with mild CP might be only slightly awkward and require no special assistance. The disorder isn’t progressive, meaning it doesn’t get worse over time. However, as the child gets older, certain symptoms may become more or less evident.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but supportive treatments, medications, and surgery can help many individuals improve their motor skills and ability to communicate with the world.



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