By Alex Diaz-Granados
Cerebral Palsy Guidance
Every year, thousands of babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, one of the most common childhood disorders. Caring for a baby with cerebral palsy is daunting for many parents, but understanding how the disorder affects infants can help the caregiving process go more smoothly. The following topics are generally what parents of newly diagnosed babies with cerebral palsy tend to ask about the most.
Babies don’t always reach developmental milestones at the same time, and although infants with cerebral palsy can sometimes reach milestones early, they usually reach milestones later than other infants their own age. In some instances, a baby with cerebral palsy may not reach milestones at all, depending on how severe the disorder is.
Typical milestones that come later than average for many babies with cerebral palsy include crawling, rolling over, sitting up alone, holding a bottle alone, and grasping objects. Once you’ve learned your baby has cerebral palsy, it’s important to work with your child’s doctor to set up a comprehensive care plan that usually entails a team of medical specialists who can provide physical and occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and medical updates. Babies with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy are eligible for Early Intervention Services from birth and your local provider should be contacted immediately so that your baby can be evaluated and begin to get services at home as early as possible.
Feeding a Baby with Cerebral Palsy
Babies with cerebral palsy tend to have poor muscle tone, spastic, jerky movements or stiff, rigid movement, and poor control of their mouths. Some infants will have troubles with lip and tongue control, as well as impacted motor skills that make it hard to hold finger foods.
Keep in mind when bottle feeding or breastfeeding, you’ll need to provide additional support to your baby’s head and body. The feeding will probably take longer than average, especially if your infant has poor oral muscle control.
Some babies with cerebral palsy may not able to feed at all on their own. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, dysphagia is closely linked to cerebral palsy, which sometimes can make it difficult for children to swallow successfully or keep down food and liquids without the assistance of a feeding pump.
By working closely with your baby’s doctor, feeding can be effective, but if feeding issues go unnoticed and untreated, it can lead to dangerous health problems. According to Dr. Houtrow of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Council on Children with Disabilities,
“Some babies with cerebral palsy have difficulties swallowing and can aspirate, meaning that the liquid gets into their lungs instead of their stomachs, placing them at risk for pneumonia.”
For babies who can’t keep food and liquids down, a feeding tube will probably be recommended, at least until the infant start to grow and develop more. If babies can swallow but have issues with reflux, a physician may recommend a thickening agent to add to bottles of breastmilk or formula.
TEIS therapists can work with your child with cerebral palsy to overcome feeding challenges.
Diaper changing isn’t high on the list of the fun tasks of being a parent, but it’s a relatively easy chore even if it isn’t the most pleasant. Changing the diaper of a baby with cerebral palsy, however, poses a few challenges.
Since infants with cerebral palsy tend to have jerky, spastic movements, it’s a little more difficult when removing their diapers and putting on new diapers. Their little arms and legs may flail a lot, and if you’re not careful, it can cause quite a mess. Babies that have hypertonic cerebral palsy (tight, stiff muscles with constricted movement) may have tight hips, making it hard to wedge their legs apart enough to clean them properly.
As long as you understand the issues that may arise when changing your baby’s diapers, you should be able to complete the task while paying special attention to safety. For example, some doctors recommend to always change your baby’s diapers on a flat, padded surface on the ground. It’s also a good idea to “baby proof” your clothing before changing diapers. Consider wearing an apron or old t-shirt that you don’t mind getting messy.
Remember, if you ever feel overwhelmed or need assistance, reach out to your baby’s doctor. There are a myriad of options available to help make the care giving process easier, from early intervention, outpatient physical therapy, support groups, in-home assistance, and much more.
For additional resource information on Cerebral Palsy, check out the Cerebral Palsy Group.