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Learning About the Signs of Seizures in Newborns

What is a seizure?

Seizures are the body's response to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Some babies may have them in the weeks after birth. A newborn may have a seizure for a few reasons. A lack of oxygen in the baby's brain is a common reason. So is an infection.

What are the signs?

Events that are not seizures are common. But some signs of a seizure can look like normal movements in a newborn. If a movement is repeated or goes on for several minutes, it may be a sign of a seizure.

Your doctor may use a test to make sure your baby is having seizures. This test may be an electroencephalography (EEG). Or the test may be an amplitude integrated EEG (aEEG).

Signs of a seizure in a newborn last for 15 seconds or longer and include:

  • Muscles jerking in a rhythmic way that doesn't stop when the arm or leg is held.
  • Muscles stiffening for a few seconds or minutes.
  • Head turned to the side.
  • Eyes turning to one side or rolling up.
  • Eyelids blinking or fluttering.
  • Staring.
  • Mouth movements. These may include sucking, smacking, chewing, and the tongue sticking out.
  • Unusual body movements. These movements may look like rowing, swimming, pedalling, thrashing, or struggling.
  • Pauses in breathing.

If you think your baby may be having a seizure, call your doctor or nurse advice line right away. Call 911 or other emergency services if your baby also has a fever, movements that last for 10 minutes or more, or a change in their colour or breathing.

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