Should I Worry If My Newborn’s Eyes Are Rolling Back?
Being a first-time parent comes with both excitement and fear. During the first few weeks, it’s more of the latter, especially because babies have weird movements we’ve never seen before. One particular motion I remember vividly is when my newborn’s eyes were rolling back.
At first, I thought it was because he was sleepy. Then I noticed him doing it even when nursing or just playing.
So I did what any concerned mother would do--talk to his pediatrician, who has kind enough to answer my inquiries immediately.
I’m sharing here what she and my research told me.
Newborn Eyes Rolling Back: What’s Normal
Our babies’ muscle control is not fully developed when they were born; hence, they have weird movements like that. NHS UK says it manifests around two weeks old--the same time their eyes can follow colorful objects or your face.
They may also roll away from each other, which is called squint, and that’s still perfectly normal.
It should subside when they’re two months old then go away completely at three months. If it doesn’t, that’s the time you talk to your doctor.
You can also see their eyes rolling back when they’re sleeping with eyes open. It’s called nocturnal lagophthalmos, or zombie kid.
It’s not something you should call 911 for, but make sure to close your baby’s eyes when this happens because it can dry or scar your little one’s eyes.
As we mentioned previously, there are several reasons this happens but they’re all normal. It should also go away after the first birthday or until she’s 18 months old.
What’s not Normal then?
If your newborn’s eyes are rolling back, and she shows other symptoms outlined below, it could be a neonatal seizure.
A seizure may or may not pose health risks to your neonate. It depends on the duration and severity.
I will be outlining all, nonetheless.
According to Benioff Children’s Hospital (BCH), there are four stages of neonatal seizures; subtle, clonic, tonic, and myoclonic.
Subtle seizures have the following symptoms:
Random eye movements such as fluttering, rolling up, or just staring
Chewing, smacking, sucking, and protruding tongue
Pedaling movements of the legs, which seem unusual
Long pauses in breathing
For clonic seizures, you may also witness jerking movements of the face, arms, legs, and other parts of the body. These movements are often rhythmic.
For tonic seizures, you can see tightening of the muscles and turning the head or just the eyes to one side. A baby having tonic seizures may also bend or stretch the arms or legs.
Lastly, you’ll know a baby is having myoclonic seizures if there are quick yet single jerking motions of the arm, leg, of the entire body.
How is Neonatal Seizure Diagnosed?
If you see any of the symptoms above, call your doctor right away. She may order EEG or electroencephalogram, MRI or magnetic resonance imaging, and CT scan or computed tomography.
EEG is done to record the electrical activities of the brain. A baby with seizures will have excessive electrical activity.
The other two tests are imaging tests to determine the cause of the seizures.
However, if the seizure is subtle, the EEG result could be normal. But the doctor may still order an MRI or CT scan to confirm.
How is Neonatal Seizure Treated?
The first level of medications that will be given to your baby is anticonvulsant. Then she will be observed and monitored while undergoing treatment.
If there’s not enough oxygen in the brain, hypothermia treatment may also be added. A hypothermia treatment cools down your baby’s brain and body temperature. It could last for a few hours to several days, depending on the need.
But don’t worry.
Your baby will be closely monitored during the treatment.
When the level of oxygen in the brain is back to normal, she will be rewarmed to normal body temperature.
When Do Neonatal Seizures Occur?
According to pediatric neurology experts, Manish Prasad and Gabriel Chow, it can happen anytime during the first 28 days of a full-term infant. Most instances (80%), however, happen in the first two days up the seventh day.
If your baby is underweight or premature, neonatal seizures are more likely to occur.
What are The Risks of Neonatal Seizures?
If the seizures are subtle and short-lived, there may be no lasting health problems.
On the other hand, if it’s prolonged and untreated, it could cause complications such as brain damage because seizures decrease the oxygen flow in the brain.
It’s also critical to have your baby checked if she’s having any type of the seizures above to know whether there are serious underlying conditions such as brain injury, which can lead to mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and other disorders affecting the brain’s neurons.
Also, it is possible for a baby who has had neonatal seizures to develop epilepsy when she grows up.
What are The Causes of Neonatal Seizures?
Neonatal seizures are symptomatic, which means there is an underlying reason it occurred in the first place.
The most common is the lack of oxygen in the brain or hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy. For pre-term infants, it could be intracranial hemorrhage.
Other reasons include metabolic disorder, cerebral malformation, intracranial infection, and focal ischaemic stroke.
What does This Information Tell Us?
There are different reasons a newborn’s eyes are rolling back. It could be a lack of muscle control or a symptom of neonatal seizures.
You’ll distinguish the latter from the former because of other symptoms that occurs along with eye-rolling.
It includes jerking movements of the extremities or other parts of the body, stiffening of the muscles, struggling movements, pauses in breathing, and unusual pedaling of the legs.
When this happens, you have to call your doctor immediately because seizures in neonates need urgent care.
Thus, as a parent, you should be very observant particularly during the first few weeks of your baby’s life. This is when you’ll discover different irregularities such as this.