A Close Look at Neonatal Seizures

For every 1,000 newborns, 3 will experience seizures, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). It’s also reported that 80 percent of seizures will begin between the first or second day of life and the first week. To better help your infant, it’s important to understand what seizures are, what causes them, and how they are treated.

What Are Neonatal Seizures?

A neonatal seizure occurs in a newborn when abnormal and excessive electrical activity discharges through the central nervous system. These seizures are typically short and can sometimes be difficult to identify because certain symptoms are subtle. Common markers of a neonatal seizure are:

  • Repetitive facial movements such as abnormal sucking, mouth movements, or eye movements
  • Unusual leg movements resembling peddling
  • Loss of awareness or staring absently
  • Halted breathing
  • Jerky motions in a rhythm—also known as clonic seizures
  • Rigidity throughout whole muscle groups—also known as tonic seizures
  • Quick, isolated jerks—also known as myoclonic seizures

What Causes Neonatal Seizures?

Neonatal seizures can stem from errors made by medical staff during delivery. The following are common causes:

  • Birth asphyxia. Also known as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), asphyxia occurs when the baby’s oxygen supply is compromised—sometimes by cord compression or a ruptured uterus—causing fetal distress. Improper monitoring by medical staff can lead to asphyxia.
  • Infection. Babies who come in contact with meningitis, group B streptococcus, encephalitis, and herpes can experience neonatal seizures. These infections are usually detectable and treatable before delivery, so a doctor could be liable if he did not screen the mother before labor.
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI). A baby who experiences brain damage because of lack of oxygen or was injured by surgical instruments such forceps or a vacuum extractor during delivery may suffer neonatal seizures. Additionally, if a doctor improperly handles a situation in which a baby’s head is too large or a mother’s pelvis too small for a vaginal delivery, TBI can occur and cause seizures.

Treatment Options for Newborns Suffering Seizures

Treatment for neonatal seizures depends on the kind of seizure and what area of the brain has been damaged. After a doctor uses an EEG or ultrasound to determine which part of the baby’s brain has been affected and diagnoses neonatal seizures, he might suggest the following treatments:

  • Medications such as phenobarbital or phenytoin
  • Electrolyte replenishment
  • Calcium therapy
  • Discontinued feeding, which can sometimes aggravate a seizure

Several weeks after seizures, as well as during and after seizures, doctors will use MRI scans to determine the extent of any damage to the newborn’s brain.

Legal Help You Can Trust

If your baby experienced seizures in the days following birth, and you suspect fault on the part of the medical staff, we are here to answer your questions. The team at the Holton Law Firm invites you to request a free consultation to discuss your case.