"Tummy time" strengthens the arm muscles in infants with cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects the brain in newborns. It can develop in the womb or during birth or early infancy. This condition affects body movement, reflexes and balance. Although the brain damage associated with cerebral palsy does not progress, the symptoms affect function throughout life. Cerebral palsy is not always obvious in newborns.
The exact cause of cerebral palsy, or CP, is not known. However several risk factors have been identified. Certain infections during pregnancy increase the unborn baby's risk of having CP, including rubella (German measles) and herpes. Health problems in a pregnant mother may also increase the risk for CP, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid disorders. Placental problems that reduce or disrupt blood flow to the developing baby may interfere with brain development and potentially lead to CP. A premature or complicated delivery is another risk factor for CP. Serious health problems experienced by a baby shortly after birth may cause brain damage that manifests as cerebral palsy. Examples include bleeding in the brain, serious infections, seizures and head trauma.
Cerebral Palsy in Newborns
A newborn with CP may have difficulty nursing or sucking on a bottle due to weak, uncoordinated mouth muscles. Weakness can also cause the baby to have difficulty holding his head up. Some newborns with CP are less active than healthy newborns. Spastic CP is the most common form of this condition, causing muscles to be excessively tight. Newborns with spastic CP may seem usually stiff due to increased muscle tightness. This can cause difficulty with dressing and bathing the baby. Other types of CP cause low muscle tone, making the newborn seem unusually floppy. Involuntary movements, such as jerking of the arms or legs, may also occur in a newborn with CP. Cerebral palsy may not be obvious in newborns, especially if the baby has a mild form of the illness. This condition affects body movements, and newborns do not move a lot.
Motor Development and Growth
Muscles that are affected by CP do not always develop normally. Increased muscle tightness can also cause bone and joint deformities as the baby grows. The spine can develop abnormal curves called scoliosis. A newborn may have difficulty lifting her head briefly and turning it to the side, a skill that usually develops within 1 to 2 months. Other early developmental milestones, such as rolling over, lifting the head or arms while lying on the stomach and crawling, may also be delayed.
Physical and occupational therapy are usually prescribed when a newborn is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Physical therapy includes stretching tight muscles and strengthening exercises to improve motor skill development. Parents or caregivers are taught how to position the baby to encourage use of weak muscles. "Tummy time" is encouraged to strengthen muscles in the back and neck. Occupational therapists use adapted bottles for feeding and specialized seats to position the newborn to support weak muscles.