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Epilepsy in babies

If a baby has epilepsy, it means they have had seizures. This information is about seizures in 2 groups of babies:

  • Babies under 1 month old (newborn or neonates)
  • Babies between the age of 1 month and 1 year (infants)

Seizures in babies under 1 month old (newborn or neonates)

The brains of newborn babies are sensitive to seizures in the first week of life. Some babies will continue to have seizures as they get older, but some babies will never have any more. It really depends on:

  • The type of seizures they have
  • Why they started
  • When they started

What types of seizures do newborn babies have?

Subtle seizures – In babies, seizures might not be obvious to an onlooker. Their seizures may show as changes in breathing patterns or movements of their eyelids or lips. They may have bicycling movements of their legs, brief jerks or episodes of stiffening of their body and limbs. They might be less alert than usual. It might be difficult to attract their attention and their eyes may not focus properly.

Clonic seizures - the baby may have jerking or stiffening of an arm or leg that can switch from side to side.

Myoclonic seizures – the baby’s whole upper body may suddenly jerk forward. Or both their legs may jerk up towards their stomach, with their knees bent.

Tonic seizures – the baby’s body will stiffen and their eyelids might flicker.

Seizures in babies between the age of 1 month and 1 year (infants)

What types of seizures do infants have?

Clonic seizures - the baby may have jerking or stiffening of an arm or leg that can switch from side to side.

Infantile spasms - the baby may bend forward and their body, arms and legs go stiff. Or their arms and legs might be flung outwards. These seizures usually affect both sides of the body equally.

Myoclonic seizures – the baby’s head may appear to be nodding, or their whole upper body may suddenly jerk forward. Sometimes babies’ legs jerk up towards their stomach, with their knees bent.

Tonic seizures – the baby’s body will stiffen and their eyelids might flicker.

Focal seizures - the baby will stop what they are doing, and they won’t be aware of what is going on around them. They may stare, or move their eyes or head to one side. One side of their body might jerk, and this could change from one side to the other. The baby might go on to have a tonic-clonic (convulsive) seizure.

What causes seizures in newborn babies and infants?

There are many causes of seizures in babies. In around 8 out of 10 babies with seizures, a cause will be found. These are the most common:

  • Being born very early, and having bleeding inside the brain. This is called intracranial haemorrhage
  • Being born on time but having a lack of oxygen to the brain. This is called perinatal hypoxia and can cause an injury to the brain called ‘hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy’
  • Having low levels of glucose, calcium or sodium in the blood
  • Having an infection such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Being born with some damage to their brain. This is called cerebral dysplasia or dysgenesis. Cerebral means relating to the brain. Dysplasia or dysgenesis means unusual development
  • Inheriting a medical condition, such as benign neonatal convulsions or having a metabolic disorder such as GLUT 1 deficiency or a genetic disorder such as Dravet syndrome

For around 2 or 3 in 10 babies, no cause is found.

How are seizures diagnosed in newborn babies and infants?

It can be difficult to recognise seizures in babies and infants. That’s why it’s important that they are referred to a doctor who has had specialist training in diagnosing and treating epilepsy. The specialist will ask about:

  • The baby’s behaviour
  • Whether all the seizures look the same, and last the same length of time
  • Whether the seizures happen while the baby is awake or asleep, or both
  • Whether the seizures are caused by changes in the baby’s posture or when they are doing different things
  • Whether the seizures interfere with, or stop, the baby’s activities such as feeding
  • Whether you can stop the seizures after they have started

Recording any behaviour changes on a mobile phone could be very useful to show the specialist. It can help with making the diagnosis.

Epilepsy Action has more information about diagnosing epilepsy

The specialist may then arrange for some, or all, of the following tests.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

The baby’s brain is constantly producing tiny electrical signals. During an EEG test, electrodes (flat metal discs) are placed on their head. The electrodes pick up the electrical signals from their brain and record them on an EEG machine.

The EEG can give information about the electrical activity that is happening in your baby’s brain at the time of the test. Sometimes, but not always, it can be very helpful in showing whether a baby is actually having seizures, rather than abnormal movements. This is because the brains of babies are very different to the brains of older children, and not all of their seizures show up on the EEG. However, if the EEG is very abnormal, it will tell the doctors more about the baby’s epilepsy.

Epilepsy Action has more information about EEGs

CT scans (computed tomography)

A CT scan is a type of X-ray that can show the physical structure of the brain. It doesn’t show if the baby has epilepsy. But it might show if there is anything in their brain, such as a scar, or damaged area, that could cause epilepsy. Not every baby will need to have a CT scan.

Epilepsy Action has more information about CT scans

MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging)

An MRI scanner uses radio waves and a magnetic field to show the physical structure of the brain. It’s more powerful than a CT scanner and has a higher chance of showing whether there is a cause for the baby’s epilepsy. Not every baby will need to have an MRI scan.

Epilepsy Action has more information about MRI scans

Blood tests

Blood tests are used to check the baby’s general health, and to look for any medical conditions that might be causing their epilepsy. They can also be used to find out if the seizures are not caused by epilepsy, but another medical condition. An example would be low blood sugar (glucose) or low calcium levels. 

Some babies will be referred to a genetics department for further testing. This will depend on a number of things, such as whether they have any other medical issues, and their family history. The referral will usually be made by the paediatrician or the paediatric neurologist.


There is a large range of epilepsy medicines used to treat seizures in babies. The choice of medicine will depend on:

  • The baby’s seizure type
  • The age when the epilepsy began
  • The cause of the epilepsy, if known
  • Whether the baby has any other medical conditions, or takes any other medicines
  • The likely outlook for their particular type of epilepsy

Some of the epilepsy medicines used in babies include phenobarbital, phenytoin, clonazepam, carbamazepine, stiripentol, sodium valproate, levetiracetam, and vigabatrin. Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) is also sometimes used. An epilepsy specialist might also prescribe other epilepsy medicines, depending on the baby’s condition.

Epilepsy Action has more information about treating epilepsy

Long-term development

The outlook for a baby’s long-term development depends on what type of epilepsy or epilepsy syndrome your baby has. Their epilepsy specialist will be in a better position to discuss your baby’s outlook once all the test results are available.

Further information

The health visitor, epilepsy nurse, or epilepsy specialist may be able to give you information about the baby’s condition. 

The organisation Contact may be able to provide information and details of self-help groups for parents of babies with specific conditions, including the less common types of epilepsy.
Tel: 0808 808 3555
Website: cafamily.org.uk

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact the Epilepsy Action Helpline on freephone 0808 800 5050.


Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr Amanda Freeman, Consultant Paediatrician at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, UK for her contribution to this information.

Dr Amanda Freeman has no conflict of interest to declare.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated May 2016
    To be reviewed May 2019

Comments: read the 18 comments or add yours


Hi my son is 16mths old he had his first seize on 7/12/15 he started shaking (fullbody) was not responsive oxygen levels was low sodium levels low and blood sugar low he was admitted to a&e and had 4 more seizures the doctors gave him some medicine to stop the seizures the first shot didn't work but the second lot did thank god other wise they told me they would of had to put him in a comma for his own safety after 5 days of been in hostpital they noticed he had tonsillitis so they put his seizures down to that on the 23/12/15 my son was playing then started shaking his legs first then his arms and body he went very pale and shallow breathing I took him hostpital he had low oxygen level and low blood sugar but no sign of infection so now they want him to go down the root of having a eeg done I'm very worried over my son as I don't know when they are gonna come im a single mum and don't have no family so it's terrifying when I witness my little boy going through this tonight he has been twiching like his body jerkin is this a little fit ?? Also my son has a big birthmark covering his knee is it true its some times a indecator which is linked to epilepsy ,thank you for reading

Submitted by selina on

Dear Selina
Thank you for your comment.

I appreciate that you are worried about your son. Seeing your son having his seizures will not be pleasant. If you haven’t already you may find it helpful to look at our first aid for seizures. It may help you feel a bit more in control.

Living with an unpredictable situation is not easy. So it’s understandable, you have concerns about your son’s safety. We have information on safety for people with epilepsy that I hope you will find helpful. We also have information on the EEG test that again I hope you will find helpful.

If it would help you to make contact with other parents we have an active presence on social media and we have our online community, forum4e.   

We cannot say if the twitching is epilepsy so it would be best to keep a dairy of anything that concerns you. This information can be very helpful for the doctor when making their diagnosis.

If you become more concerned about your little boys symptoms, it would be best to try contact his doctor. In some situation they my start a child on epilepsy medicine whilst waiting for the tests to be carried out.

The birth mark on his leg will unlikely to be connected to epilepsy.

I hope things improve for you and your son soon.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact the helpline team directly. You either by email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm.

Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

my son is 9 months old.he had 3 seizures in 24 hours when he was 8 months old . they lasted for a few seconds . we took him to pediatric neurologist. he prescribed epilex syrup . i wanted to know for how long we have to give him this drug and after withdrawing the drug will he be fine for lifetime .. inshallah..

Submitted by sumaya on
Hi Sumaya
Thank you for your post. I hope your little boy is doing well.
If your little boy has epilepsy, generally he will need to be on epilepsy medicine for a while. How long this will be will depend on your son’s individual situation. In some cases it can be for a few months or years and for some children it can be for a lifetime.  It would be best to put the question to your son’s doctor.
If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again. You can email us directly at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk, or phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm.
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team
Submitted by Diane@Epilepsy ... on

My sisters baby has what they describe as 'relaxed' time. She suddenly has loss of awareness of what is going on (she has a video of this happening during a bath), staring into space appearing relaxed. Should I be telling her to take her to see the dr about it?


Submitted by Sophie on

Hello Sophie

This sounds like a worrying situation for your sister to find herself in.
We are not medically trained, so are not able to say what may
be happening to your sister’s baby. When someone is worried
about a child we always recommend that they get them
checked out by a doctor. It would be worth your sister talking
to her daughter’s GP about what they have noticed. The GP can
then explore with you what has been happening, and make a referral to a specialist doctor if they feel it is needed.
It is great that she has managed to capture this on video,
as this can help the doctor to see what is happening. invaluable.


Epilepsy Action Advice & Information Team

Submitted by tpottinger on

My baby has infantile spasm siche he was 3 months old. Now the situation is under control and he is on medications. Does these spasms lasts long? Is it 100% curable?

Submitted by Neeru on

Hi Neeru

That’s good news that your baby has responded well to treatment.

His progress will depend on exactly what’s happening for him.

But here is our information about infantile spams. I hope that’s helpful for you.

And if you are outside the UK you may want to see if there is an epilepsy organisation in your country.



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

My sisters son when he was one day old got seizures and treatment was given to him and right now no seizures were occurring but after giving treatment to him he became completely lean in such manner bones are able to see and skin became very loose and he his not at all crying not all playing with his hands and legs is there anything to worry about him his he is completely alright

Submitted by Manasa on

Dear Manasa

It sounds like you are really worried about your sister’s son.

It would be best for your sister take her son to a doctor so they can look for possible reasons for why this is happening. If it is related to his epilepsy medicine they may change him to a different one.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again.



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team


Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

My son had seizures from the third day of his birth. He was put on medication but after a month he stopped responding to treatment. He was hospitalized twice by the age of four months and all possible tests including genetic and MRI were done. I had actually lost all hope of his being well again. But then I was directed to Dr R K Sabbharwal in delhi. After a comprehensive treatment of two years, my son became seizure free and medicine free. He is now 11 years old, in good health.. Good at studies and sports. I am sharing this story because I want to tell that there is hope of kids leading a normal life even after having severe seizures in infancy. A lot of effort is definitely required from our side as antiepilectic drugs slow them down in the initial stages of brain development... But with development clinics and constant monitoring the kids can be a part of mainstream... So dont loose hope

Submitted by Sheetal on

My 5 month old Grandson had a seizure 3 weeks ago he only had the 1 but was also having absence seizures (up to 11 a day)he was hospitalised for 5 days. The Doctors diagnosed Benign familial epilepsy in infancy and started him on Keppra. They did EEG and CT and lots of blood tests that showed nothing. After a week the absence seizures stopped for 5 days, his Keppra was increased to twice a day, then 2 days after the increase he started the absence seizures again. Only a couple a day but this morning he has had 2 proper fits and his now at the hospital waiting to be seen by the Doctor. Is this to be expected or could they be wrong with the diagnosis

Submitted by Terri Moore on

Hi Terri


You will probably have had a read of our information about epilepsy in babies: https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/children-young-adults/newborn


As you can see, it is really difficult to accurately diagnose a baby or young child with a particular type of epilepsy. This is because the brain is still forming.


But hopefully the doctors will be able to offer some reassurance now he is in hospital.


It must be a very upsetting time for you all. I hope things become clearer and more settled for your grandson very soon.




Epilepsy Action Helpline Tea

Submitted by rich on

My wife gave birth to a set of twins (boys). The first one weighed 2.5kg while the second weighed 2.1kg at birth. The first twin was admitted after 12 hours for seizure, he was immediately place on oxygen and also given glucose. He was not allowed to take breast milk instead he was taking baby milk. He never really cried all though his stay at the hospital and he was always looking at one direction he reduced in weight (2.2kg). He was not discharged until after 26 days. He was given an appointment a week later and by the he visited we were told by the hospital management that he is free from sizure that he had gained more weight (2.45kg against 2.2kg) we left with.

But here is 5 months plus he still as traces of seizure, he even cries a lot especially at night and he hardly sleeps even while his twin is sleeping or playing. He keeps to himself.

Kindly give us your advice.

Your sincerely
Awolusi Tolumi

Submitted by Awolusi Tolumi on

Hi Awolusi

That sounds like a distressing situation for you. We’re not medically trained so can’t offer you a diagnosis.

But as you can see from our web information it can be very difficult to diagnose exactly what is happening for such a  young child.

Hopefully you are able to talk with your health visitor or doctor about this. And that things settle down for him soon.



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I just wanted to know what kind of seizures I am having when I have them I don't even know when I have them I can be having a conversation with someone and then all of a sudden I will go into one I when I finally come to myself I just think I am asleep the only way I know is when I have a sore on my tongue and or when my pants is wet they say I just shake I have had fell off the bed on to the floor while having one and I don't have them all the time and there will be times I will have two to three at a time some times I would have one it's very can you please help me with that the doctors test me and can not figure out what kind I am having cause it's not epilepsy or grandma seizures is what I was told.

Submitted by denise conard on

And I never had seizures before but I was told by my mom that when I was a baby I had one then I never had one for the longest time on up to when I turned 21 sometime after I had my first born

Submitted by denise conard on

Hi Denise

If the doctors have decided you don’t have epilepsy but you’re still having seizures, then there is a possibility that you’re having non-epileptic or dissociative seizures.

The important thing is that you are given a diagnosis and that someone talks to you about what might help. For some people some kind of talking therapy can be useful in getting these seizures under control.

It’s possible what happened for you as a baby was a febrile seizure. These are not epileptic seizures but are very common in young children.

I do hope you get a clearer understanding of what is happening for you, and that you get some help soon.



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on