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Signs of Head Trauma to a Baby

author image Sarah Harding
Sarah Harding has written stacks of research articles dating back to 2000. She has consulted in various settings and taught courses focused on psychology. Her work has been published by ParentDish, Atkins and other clients. Harding holds a Master of Science in psychology from Capella University and is completing several certificates through the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association.
Signs of Head Trauma to a Baby
Signs of Head Trauma to a Baby

Head trauma in babies can be the result of many intentional and accidental actions. Shaken Baby Syndrome is one form of serious head trauma. Early in life, the infant’s head is very tender due to fontanels, or soft spots. A soft spot is a section of the baby’s skull that has not grown together fully to allow for rapid growth after birth. While it is true that a baby’s head is fragile, head trauma does not occur as easily as one may assume. A baby is likely to suffer many mild to moderate head injuries.

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General Head Injury

Signs of mild head trauma in infants include lethargy, irritability, vomiting, poor sucking or swallowing, reduced appetite, lack of smiling or vocalization, rigidity, seizures, difficulty breathing, changes in consciousness, irregular pupil size in one or both eyes, inability to lift the head and/or the inability to focus the eyes or track movement, according to Dr. Alan Greene at, indicates that these signs of head trauma require medical attention to be sure a concussion or other head injury has not occurred.


Green explains that babies and toddlers will “bonk” their head many times during their development. Although these bumps may be painful or result in bruising, they are often harmless. Signs that a head injury may require medical attention include a brief, temporary loss of consciousness or a change in conscious state. If a baby appears confused or off-balance she may have a concussion. Green explains that these are mild to moderate forms of head trauma that do require medical attention if the following symptoms occur: crying longer than 10 minutes, vomiting repeatedly, bleeding from the ears or nose, dripping of clear liquid from the ears or nose, inability to walk or talk normally, rapid swelling just above the ear, severe or worsening headache (or irritability in babies who can't speak yet). The child may have neck pain, seizures, skull indentation, large bump and/or any changes in behavior. A head injury to a child under 6 months of age or loss of consciousness episode for any period of time and/or following a forceful injury like a car accident, require a doctor's visit.

Diagnostic Signs

An infant brought in for assessment of both mild and severe head trauma symptoms will be examined for a number of other signs. When a parent or caregiver has shaken a baby, the doctor will examine a baby for signs of shaking or abuse if the parent has not reported the cause of the infant’s apparent injury. Signs that a doctor looks for include bleeding within the retina of the eyes, skull fractures, swelling of the brain, blood pooling and exerting pressure on the the brain, rib fractures, broken arms, broken legs and/or bruising around the head, neck or chest.

Developmental Signs

A child who experienced head trauma as an infant may suffer long-term challenges including impaired development of language, vision problems, balance issues and/or a delay in motor skill development. points out that some children may require speech or physical therapy and may even need to participate in special education programs at school.

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