Brain Damage

Quick Answer

Brain damage during childbirth is one of the most common birth injuries. Newborn brain damage is often caused by physical injury during the birthing process. Children can suffer from lifelong physical and mental disabilities caused by brain damage. You may be eligible for financial compensation if your child’s brain damage was caused by medical negligence.

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What Is Brain Damage?

Brain damage occurs when cells in the brain are damaged or destroyed. Unfortunately, many children can suffer from permanent brain damage during childbirth.

The brain can become damaged from:

  • Lack of oxygen to the neonatal brain (hypoxia)
  • Newborn jaundice or kernicterus (buildup of bilirubin)
  • Physical head injuries while exiting the birth canal
  • Viral or bacterial infections

Children may be able to recover completely from mild cases of brain damage. However, severe cases can lead to lifelong disability and may require lifelong medical treatment. Severe newborn brain damage can lead to other conditions such as cerebral palsy.

If your child suffered from infant brain damage and you believe it could have been prevented, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Learn more about taking legal action for brain damage caused by medical negligence.

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Causes of Newborn Brain Damage

Common causes of newborn brain damage include many different conditions and injuries, which can lead to localized or widespread damage.

Widespread brain damage occurs when a condition or trauma causes injury throughout the brain. Localized brain damage occurs when a condition or trauma causes injury to a specific area of the brain.

Learn more about the causes of newborn brain damage.


  • Aneurysm: Caused by high blood pressure or a blood vessel defect during birth.
  • Physical injury: Excessive force from forceps or vacuum delivery can cause significant birth trauma to the head and brain.
  • Stroke: May occur due to a lack of blood flow and low oxygen levels in the baby’s blood.


  • Hypoxia: Occurs when the infant’s brain does not get enough oxygen (oxygen deprivation) during childbirth.
  • Infection: Viral or bacterial infections such as meningitis can affect the development of an unborn child’s brain.
  • Poisoning: Toxins such as methylmercury are known to cause widely distributed brain damage in the developing infant brain.

Types of Newborn Brain Damage

Each case of newborn brain damage can differ in severity and symptoms. Although no two cases are completely alike, certain types of brain damage share similar characteristics.

Researchers and medical professionals separate brain damage cases into three groups – mild injuries, moderate injuries, and severe injuries.

  • Mild injuries: Mild brain damage can cause mild bleeding on the brain, infant hematoma, or skull fractures.
  • Moderate injuries: Moderate newborn brain damage can cause extended bleeding, significant fractures, subdural hemorrhages, and lack of oxygen flow to the brain (hypoxia).
  • Severe injuries: Severe brain damage is caused by excessive pressure from bleeding and seizures. Infant brain injury or birth trauma can also result in severe brain damage.

Cases of mild and moderate brain damage may require less medical intervention than a severe injury. Children with severe brain damage caused during childbirth may suffer from significant lifelong physical and neurological impairments.

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Signs of Newborn Brain Damage

There are several signs and symptoms of brain damage that parents and caregivers should look out for after birth. Symptoms can vary based on your child’s age, severity of injury, and type of brain damage.

Signs of brain damage in babies include:

  • Abnormally large forehead
  • Abnormally shaped spine
  • Abnormally small head
  • Arched back while crying
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Excessive drooling
  • High-pitched crying
  • Loose muscles
  • Neck stiffness
  • Seizures
  • Stiff muscles

Signs of brain damage in toddlers include:

  • Difficulty completing daily tasks such as getting dressed
  • Difficulty walking
  • Lack of fine motor skills
  • Lack of motor coordination
  • Lack of muscle control
  • Seizures
  • Speech problems
  • Tremors or shakiness
  • Vision problems

Signs of brain damage in children include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Epilepsy
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Muscular weakness on one side of the body
  • Persistent headaches
  • Problems with memory
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Slurred speech
  • State of disorientation or a “dazed” look

If your child is showing any symptoms of brain damage, it is important to contact a medical professional to get an accurate diagnosis. Doctors can help get your child the treatment they need to manage their condition.

Brain Damage vs Developmental Delay

It is important to note that developmental delays differ from brain damage. Delays exist when a child is not reaching certain developmental milestones — such as certain motor and social skills — by the expected time.

Developmental delays are not necessarily caused by brain damage. For example, developmental disabilities can be caused by autism or genetic factors.


Take Our Milestones Quiz

Taking note of your child’s physical, social, and emotional skills can help you determine if they potentially suffered from an injury at birth. An early diagnosis can help your child get the treatment they need as soon as possible.

Q1: How old is your child?

0-2 Months

3-4 Months

5-6 Months

7-9 Months

10-12 Months

13-18 Months

19-23 Months

24+ Months


  • Q2: Can your child hold their head steadily on their own?
  • Q3: Can your child push themselves up when they are lying on their stomach?
  • Q4: Has your child started to make smoother movements with their arms and legs?
  • Q5: Does your child smile at other people?
  • Q6: Can your child bring their hands to their mouth?
  • Q7: Does your child turn their head when they hear a noise?
  • Q8: Does your child coo or make gurgling noises?
  • Q9: Does your child follow things with their eyes?
  • Q10: Does your child try to look at their parents or caregivers?
  • Q11: Does your child show boredom, cry, or fuss when engaged in an activity that hasn’t changed in a while?
BACKBACK0-2-years old child


  • Q2: Can your child hold their head steadily on their own?
  • Q3: Does your child push down on their legs when their feet are on a flat surface?
  • Q4: Has your child started to roll over from their stomach to their back?
  • Q5: Can your child hold and shake a toy such as a rattle?
  • Q6: Does your child bring their hands to their mouth?
  • Q7: Does your child play with people and start to cry when the playing stops?
  • Q8: Does your child smile spontaneously, especially at people?
  • Q9: Does your child copy some movements and facial expressions of other people?
  • Q10: Does your child babble with expressions and copy sounds they hear?
  • Q11: Does your child cry in different ways to show hunger, pain, or tiredness?
  • Q12: Does your child respond to affection like hugging or kissing?
  • Q13: Does your child follow moving things with their eyes from side to side?
  • Q14: Does your child recognize familiar people at a distance?
BACKBACK3-4-years old child


  • Q2: Can your child roll over on both sides (front to back/back to front)?
  • Q3: Has your child begun to sit without support?
  • Q4: Does your child rock back and forth?
  • Q5: Can your child support their weight on their legs (and perhaps bounce) when standing?
  • Q6: Has your child begun to pass things from one hand to the other?
  • Q7: Does your child bring objects such as toys to their mouth?
  • Q8: Does your child know if someone is not familiar to them and is a stranger?
  • Q9: Does your child respond to other people’s emotions, such as a smile or a frown?
  • Q10: Does your child enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror?
  • Q11: Does your child look at things around them?
  • Q12: Does your child respond to sounds they hear by making sounds themselves?
  • Q13: Does your child make sounds to show joy or displeasure?
  • Q14: Does your child respond to their own name?
  • Q15: Has your child started to string vowels together, such as "ah," "eh," or "oh," or started to say consonant sounds such as "m" or "b"?
  • Q16: Has your child begun to laugh?
BACKBACK5-6-years old child


  • Q2: Can your child crawl?
  • Q3: Can your child stand while holding on to something to support them?
  • Q4: Can your child sit without support?
  • Q5: Can your child pull themselves up to stand?
  • Q6: Does your child play peekaboo?
  • Q7: Can your child move things from one hand to the other?
  • Q8: Can your child pick small things up, such as a piece of cereal, with their thumb and index finger?
  • Q9: Does your child look for things that they see you hide?
  • Q10: Does your child watch the path of something as it falls?
  • Q11: Does your child show fear when around strangers?
  • Q12: Does your child become clingy with adults who are familiar to them?
  • Q13: Does your child have favorite toys?
  • Q14: Does your child use their fingers to point?
  • Q15: Does your child understand “no”?
  • Q16: Does your child make a lot of repetitive sounds, such as “mamama” or “bababa”?
  • Q17: Does your child copy the sounds and gestures of other people?
BACKBACK7-9 years old child


  • Q2: Can your child stand alone with no support?
  • Q3: Does your child walk while holding on to furniture?
  • Q4: Can your child take a few steps without holding on to anything?
  • Q5: Can your child get into a sitting position without any help?
  • Q6: Does your child bang two things together when playing?
  • Q7: Does your child poke with their index finger?
  • Q8: Has your child started to use things like hairbrushes or drinking cups correctly?
  • Q9: Does your child find hidden objects easily?
  • Q10: Does your child play peekaboo or pat-a-cake?
  • Q11: Does your child become shy or nervous around strangers?
  • Q12: Does your child repeat actions or sounds to get attention?
  • Q13: Does your child put out an arm or leg to help when getting dressed?
  • Q14: Does your child cry when a parent leaves the room?
  • Q15: Does your child show that they have favorite things or people?
  • Q16: Does your child show fear?
  • Q17: Does your child say things such as “mama,” “dada,” or “uh-oh”?
  • Q18: Does your child try to say the words you say?
  • Q19: Has your child started to use gestures like waving or shaking their head “no”?
BACKBACK10-12 years old child


  • Q2: Can your child walk by themselves?
  • Q3: Does your child walk up stairs and run?
  • Q4: Does your child pull toys while walking?
  • Q5: Can your child drink from a cup on their own?
  • Q6: Can your child eat with a spoon on their own?
  • Q7: Can your child help undress themselves?
  • Q8: Does your child have occasional temper tantrums?
  • Q9: Does your child show affection to familiar people?
  • Q10: Does your child become clingy in new situations?
  • Q11: Does your child explore their environment alone with parents close by?
  • Q12: Can your child say several single words?
  • Q13: Can your child say and shake their head “no”?
  • Q14: Does your child point to show things to other people?
  • Q15: Does your child scribble?
  • Q16: Does your child know what ordinary products such as phones, spoons, and brushes are used for?
  • Q17: Can your child follow one-step commands such as “sit down” or “stand up”?
  • Q18: Does your child play with a doll or stuffed animal by pretending to feed it?
BACKBACK13-18 years old child


  • Q2: Has your child begun to run?
  • Q3: Has your child kicked a ball?
  • Q4: Can your child climb down and onto furniture on their own?
  • Q5: Can your child walk up and down stairs while holding on?
  • Q6: Can your child stand on their tiptoes?
  • Q7: Has your child thrown a ball overhand?
  • Q8: Does your child copy others, especially people older than them?
  • Q9: Does your child get excited around other children?
  • Q10: Has your child shown more independence as they've aged?
  • Q11: Does your child do what they were told not to do and become defiant?
  • Q12: Does your child point to things when they are named?
  • Q13: Does your child know names of familiar people or body parts?
  • Q14: Does your child say 2 to 4-word sentences?
  • Q15: Does your child repeat words they hear?
  • Q16: Does your child complete sentences and rhymes in familiar books?
  • Q17: Does your child name items in books, such as dogs, cats, and birds?
  • Q18: Does your child play simple pretend games?
  • Q19: Has your child started to use one hand more than the other?
  • Q20: Has your child begun to sort shapes and colors?
  • Q21: Does your child follow 2-step instructions, such as “pick up your hat and put it on your head?”
BACKBACK19-23 years old child


  • Q2: Can your child run easily?
  • Q3: Can your child climb?
  • Q4: Can your child walk up and down stairs with one foot on each step?
  • Q5: Can your child dress and undress themselves?
  • Q6: Does your child show affection for friends without being told?
  • Q7: Does your child take turns when playing games?
  • Q8: Does your child show concern when others are crying?
  • Q9: Does your child understand the idea of “mine" and "theirs"?
  • Q10: Does your child show many different emotions?
  • Q11: Does your child copy adults and friends?
  • Q12: Does your child separate easily from their parents?
  • Q13: Does your child get upset when there is a major change in their routine?
  • Q14: Does your child say words such as “I,” “me,” “we,” “you,” and some plural nouns?
  • Q15: Can your child say their first name, age, and gender?
  • Q16: Can your child carry on a conversation with 2 to 3 sentences?
  • Q17: Can your child work toys with buttons and other moving parts?
  • Q18: Does your child play pretend with dolls, animals, or people?
  • Q19: Can your child finish 3 or 4 piece puzzles?
  • Q20: Can your child copy a circle when drawing?
  • Q21: Can your child turn pages of a book one page at a time?
  • Q22: Can your child turn door handles?
BACKBACK24 months + old child

Effects of Brain Damage in Newborns

Newborn brain damage can lead to a number of behavioral and cognitive abnormalities in children. These effects may change with age as the brain starts to develop.

It is important for parents and caregivers to recognize the effects of brain damage and seek medical care as needed. Getting a proper diagnosis can help your child get prompt treatment.

  • Behavioral effects: Brain damage can cause an exaggeration of personality characteristics (such as agitation or anger) that can affect their behavior.
  • Cognitive effects: Brain injuries can change a child’s ability to learn, think, and perceive. Children may have issues remembering people and events.
  • Coma and reduced awareness states: Children with newborn brain damage may constantly seem as if they are in a daze. Some children with severe brain damage may fall into a coma.
  • Communication problems: Infants and children with brain damage may find it difficult to communicate through spoken language or physical movements.
  • Emotional effects: Individuals suffering from brain damage may suffer from extreme mood swings, depression, or anxiety.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Brain damage can also affect hormone levels in the brain. Hormonal imbalances can cause diabetes, weight gain, or reduced body hair.
  • Physical effects: Traumatic brain injuries can cause problems with mobility, muscle weakness, balance, and coordination.

Prognosis for Newborn Brain Damage

The prognosis for newborn brain damage can depend on the severity of the injury.

Children with mild brain damage have a good prognosis. Children with moderate to severe brain damage may experience symptoms that can affect independence and overall quality of life.

It is incredibly important to seek medical intervention as soon as possible to improve your child’s prognosis. Researchers are continuously studying ways to accurately diagnose and treat brain damage to improve overall health outlook.

A study conducted by 7 hospitals in the U.K. found that a 15-minute imaging scan called magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy showed 98% accuracy in detecting brain damage. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is usually used to detect brain damage and has an accuracy rate of 60-85%.

These advances in technology can help to improve the prognosis and overall quality of life for children who have suffered from newborn brain damage.

Treatment for Newborn Brain Damage

The best and most effective way to treat newborn brain damage is to seek medical help immediately.

Although brain damage does not improve or worsen over time, symptoms can be managed through a variety of birth injury treatment options.

Newborn brain damage treatment options may include:

  • Assistive devices
  • Medication
  • Mobility aids
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Surgery

Treatment options can vary depending on the type and severity of the brain injury. After getting a brain damage diagnosis, doctors are able to create a treatment plan tailored specifically to your child’s needs.

Get Help Caring for a Child With Brain Damage

Many families are not prepared to pay for costly birth injury treatment, especially if their child’s injury could have been prevented.

Doctors and medical professionals are expected to uphold a high standard of care during the birthing process. Careless medical errors from healthcare providers can result in lifelong injury to a child and may be considered medical negligence.

Thankfully, there are options available to your family to help pay for your child’s brain damage treatment. You may be eligible for financial compensation through a lawsuit if your child’s brain damage was caused by medical negligence.

Get a free case review today to learn if you are qualified to take legal action against medical malpractice.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

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  3. Hagberg, H., Edwards, D., & Groenendaal, F. (2016, August). Perinatal brain damage: The term infant. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from
  4. Ibrahim, N. A., Muhye, A., & Abdulie, S. (2017). Prevalence of Birth Asphyxia and Associated Factors among Neonates Delivered in Dilchora Referral Hospital, in Dire Dawa, Eastern Ethiopia. Clinics in Mother and Child Health, 14(4). doi: 10.4172/2090-7214.1000279
  5. Keenan, H. T., Hooper, S. R., Wetherington, C. E., Nocera, M., & Runyan, D. K. (2007, March). Neurodevelopmental consequences of early traumatic brain injury in 3-year-old children. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from
  6. Roan, S. (2013, Summer). Healing the youngest brains. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from
  7. Stevenson, D. K., Benitz, W. E., Sunshine, P., Hintz, S. R., & Druzin, M. L. (2018). Fetal and neonatal brain injury. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Traumatic brain injury. (2021, February 04). Retrieved July 28, 2021, from
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