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Stiff Baby and Birth Injuries || Hypertonia

BabyBeing able to finally take your baby home from the hospital can feel like one of the greatest moments of your life. It symbolizes a new chapter in your family and begins a unique journey in raising a child.

If you notice your baby is unusually stiff or hypertonic within the first few days of being home, you may be alarmed.

Most likely, it is not a big deal, particularly if your birthing process was not traumatic. If your baby is stiff when you are holding him or her, there is also the remote possibility that your child's stiffness is a symptom of a more serious underlying problem.


An infant experiencing muscle stiffness or rigidity is can be a symptom of several different conditions which range in severity. Muscle stiffness is referred to as hypertonia, which is the umbrella term that describes when there is too much muscle tone in the infant's body. When there is too much muscle tone, it causes the baby to be stiff and rigid. Babies with this condition may have difficulty with mobility and flexing. A stiff baby is often called hypertonic. A child will often exhibit both active and passive symptoms of hypertonia.

Again, this bears repeating. While it's important to be concerned about your baby's health, there is often no need to start imagining worst-case scenarios. There are many causes of stiff baby syndrome that can be completely harmless and easily fixed. Even for more serious conditions, there are available treatments that can manage your baby's symptoms. If you had a prior pregnancy with no complications, there is a much lower chance that your baby will develop one of the conditions listed below.

It is important when we are talking about these things to get our definitions right. Many doctors use spasticity and hypertonia interchangeably. Spasticity is a subtype of hypertonia that involves exaggerated reflex responses.

If you're concerned about your baby, it is fine to research the condition online to better understand the condition. But, ultimately, you are going to want to talk to your pediatrician who can apply the understanding of the medical science to your child and give the appropriate tests (like an EMG).

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is one condition that can develop as a result of injury to the brain during childbirth. During delivery, if the baby experiences a lack of oxygen going to their brain over an extended period, the baby becomes hypoxic. Hypoxia is the term that describes when a part of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. This lack of oxygen damages the motor control centers of the brain and causes cerebral palsy. The symptoms of this condition include muscle stiffness, rigidity, and spasticity. CP is one of the most common birth injuries cited in medical malpractice cases.

A child with cerebral palsy may have difficulty moving or walking because they don't have proper control of their muscles. Their muscles may also have involuntary movements or be pulled towards a certain side of the body. This condition is permanent but there are a wide variety of treatments that can mitigate and manage the symptoms.

Erb's Palsy and Shoulder Dystocia

Erb's palsy is a different type of birth injury that involves the function of the nerves. Erb's palsy is not caused by lack of oxygen but instead occurs when the nerves in the baby's upper arm, shoulder, or neck (known as the brachial plexus) are physically damaged while descending through the birth canal. This often happens when a baby develops shoulder dystocia during delivery.

Shoulder dystocia is when the baby's head can to fit through the opening of the cervix but the shoulders get stuck. Doctors have to perform certain maneuvers to be able to deliver the rest of the baby but these maneuvers can be too harsh on their body. Pulling on the head, using forceps, or using vacuum extraction are known to damage the nerves in the brachial plexus and limit or completely restrict the spinal cord's ability to send messages to the shoulder, arm, and hand. Erb's palsy symptoms include muscle stiffness, arm weakness, decreased grip, impaired circulatory development, or paralysis of the arm.


Kernicterus is a type of highly preventable brain damage that occurs as a result of untreated jaundice in a newborn. Most babies experience jaundice shortly after being born, with 50-80% of infants in the United States being affected. The condition is usually harmless and most babies are quickly treated with no complications. The yellow-orange skin color that you see on a baby comes from a build-up of bilirubin in their blood, which is a waste product that's produced when your liver breaks down old blood cells.

With proper monitoring after birth, jaundice is not a cause for concern. It's a natural part of the baby's body adjusting after birth. However, if the jaundice is not treated by a doctor and is allowed to progress, a baby can start to accumulate high levels of bilirubin, which can lead to brain damage. Since mild neonatal jaundice is such a common occurrence, there have been cases of doctors neglecting to screen for excessive bilirubin in a baby's blood.

Kernicterus symptoms include reduced muscle tone, muscle stiffness and spasms, fever, and unusual eye movements. If your baby is experiencing signs of kernicterus, it's important to seek out medical help to prevent any kind of complications.

Contact Miller & Zois About Birth Injuries

If you believe your baby was injured during birth, you and your child may be entitled to financial compensation from the doctors or hospital that handled the delivery. If your child does have a lifelong injury, money can change quality of life that your child will have. Call a lawyer may also give you the opportunity to find out what really happened to your child. Give us a call if only to just discuss your options. Call the birth injury lawyers at Miller & Zois at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.

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