Infant physical trauma occurring before, during, or shortly after birth has shown to have an effect on a child’s physical growth and development. Infant physical trauma can also cause many different types of disorders and disabilities that may impact children’s lives. Due to the vulnerability of an infant’s head and brain during birth, physical trauma during delivery is often the cause of head injuries and brain damage in infants.
Infant Physical Trauma Causes
Physical trauma that occurs while the mother is still pregnant may be caused by car accidents, physical abuse, or the mother taking part in physically taxing activities. Physical trauma that occurs during delivery may include excessive pressure being placed on the infant’s body during delivery. Improper delivery techniques that pull or jerk the infant and improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors that put strain or pressure on the infant’s body may also be a source of trauma.
Infant Physical Trauma after Birth
Infant physical trauma that occurs after a baby is born can be caused by many different things. Babies may be mishandled by parents, nurses, or other parties in the medical facility or after leaving the medical facility. Physical trauma can be caused by rough handling of infants, dropping infants, or subjecting infants to physically traumatic procedures. Since infants are not capable of escaping uncomfortable conditions or understanding why discomfort may be necessary, minor discomforts such as low or high temperatures and temporary hunger may also be traumatic to an infant.
Physical Trauma Response
The way that an infant’s body responds to physical trauma may vary depending on the cause of the trauma and the individual. Infants may develop physical conditions and cognitive impairments as a result of physical trauma, in some cases. In other cases, infants may not suffer any noticeable adverse physical affects as a result of trauma.
Conditions and injuries that can develop as a result of infant physical trauma include:
- Head deformity
- Subgaleal hemorrhage
- Caput succedaneum
- Erb’s palsy
- Meconium aspiration syndrome
Whether or not children can have permanent emotional damage as a result of physical trauma is a topic that is controversial and is being researched extensively. Many studies seem to indicate that even minor physical trauma while in infant stages may have a lasting effect on the child’s ability to process and deal with emotions. At this time, there is no conclusive evidence, however.
Trauma Effects on Brain Development
Many studies indicate that there may be alterations in the structure and function of the brain when infants suffer physical trauma. The brain grows to about three times the size that it was at birth over the first five years of an infant’s life. During this time, the brain has shown to have about twice as many synapses visible as the brain of an adult. The synapses close and change depending on what the child learns and how he or she develops. There is some evidence that infant physical trauma may alter the way that the brain grows and develops during this time.
Infant Physical Trauma and SIDS
SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, has recently been linked to spinal cord injury occurring as a result of physical trauma. Many infants that suddenly perished were found to have blood in the spinal cord that may have been caused by obstetric trauma. Spinal cord trauma may be missed after delivery when symptoms are not present, but a small tear can cause blood to pool in the spinal cord for up to a year before brain functions are affected. It may be difficult to diagnose a tear in the spinal cord without using specific diagnostic procedures.
Infant Physical Trauma Symptoms
Since infants cannot communicate verbally, it is important to be aware of symptoms that may indicate physical trauma, including:
- Developmental regression
- Extreme separation anxiety
- Sleep disturbances
- Issues with feeding
- Language delay
- Constricted play and exploration
Moroney, Diane. “Recognizing the Potential Effect of Stress and Trauma on Premature Infants in the NICU: How Outcomes Are Affected.” Journal of Perinatology 1 Dec. 2003. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. <http://www.premature-infant.com/Stress-and-Trauma.html>
Pickett, William, Susan Streight, Kelly Simpson, and Robert Brison. “Injuries Experienced by Infant Children: A Population-Based Epidemiological Analysis.” Pediatrics 111.4 (2003): 365-70. Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. 3 Feb. 2015. <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/111/4/e365.full>
Schore, Allan. “The Effects of Early Relational Trauma on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, & Infant Mental Health.” Infant Mental Health Journal 22 (2001): 201-69. Trauma Information Pages. Trauma Information Pages. Web. 3 Feb. 2015. <http://www.trauma-pages.com/a/schore-2001b.php>
“Trauma Signs and Symptoms.” Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. <http://www.ecmhc.org/tutorials/trauma/mod3_1.html>