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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 a Family 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. See Epilepsy in babies. 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 8 comments or add yours


My daughter started with seizures at 6 days old and was put on pyrodoxine and phenobarbital. She is now off the pyridoxine . We we t moths without any seizures then she hit six months and they are back with a vengeance. She has has 3 in the past ten day with episodes of absence, will this have any effect on her development? I'm a first time mum who is terrified of what could happen xx

Submitted by natalie on

Hi Natalie

That sounds like a tough place to be with your baby daughter.

We aren't medically trained, so we won't be able to diagnose what is happening now, or what might happen in the future.

Hopefully you have already read through our information about babies and epilepsy: https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/newborn.

As you can see it is quite difficult to make an accurate diagnosis of exactly what might be happening for a baby, as they are at such an early stage in their development.

But it may be that the consultant thinks it would be a good idea for your daughter to go back on the pyridoxine. I am linking you to an article about this as it may be helpful: http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/pyridoxine-dependent-seizures

It is definitely worth talking to your daughter's consultant again soon though.

I really hope you are able to get good medical advice soon.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on

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