Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) occurs when small blood vessels burst and bleed into the ventricles of a baby’s brain. The ventricles are spaces in the brain. These spaces are full of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). In most cases, the bleeding gradually stops. The blood vessels heal themselves. Surgery may not be needed. If brain tissue is damaged, the baby may have long-term problems with development. IVH is most common in premature babies.

Ventricles of the Brain

Ventricles of the Brain
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


It is often not clear why IVH occurs. Changes in blood pressure in the baby’s brain may cause immature blood vessels to rupture (burst). This may occur during the first 48 hours after birth.

Risk Factors

These factors increase your baby’s chance of developing IVH:

  • Prematurity
  • Low birth weight
  • Direct trauma to the baby’s head during birth (eg, pressure caused by hip bone, forceps, or vacuum)
  • Breathing complications at birth


In many cases, there are no visible signs of IVH. If your baby has any of the following symptoms, do not assume it is due to IVH. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. The hospital staff will examine your baby to see if he has:

  • Swelling of fontanelles at the top of the head (soft spots between the bones of the skull)
  • Apnea (pauses in breathing)
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pale or blue color
  • Weak suck


The doctor will do a physical exam of your infant. The doctor will look for any signs of injury in the brain. The following tests may be used:

  • Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to examine the baby’s head to look for burst blood vessels and bleeding; often used to make the diagnosis
  • Other tests (eg, blood tests to check for anemia, metabolic acidosis, infection)


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your baby. Treatment options include the following:

  • Monitoring your baby’s condition to make sure it remains stable
  • Treating any other medical conditions
  • Having procedures done—If too much fluid builds up in the brain, it can cause damage to the brain. Examples of procedures that may need to be done include:
    • Lumbar puncture, fontanelle tap, or surgery—to drain fluid from your baby's brain
    • Ventriculoperitoneal shunt—a tube that runs from the ventricle, under the skin, and into the baby's abdomen to drains fluid from the brain


It is not possible to prevent IVH, but there are some steps that can be taken:

  • If you are at risk of having a premature baby, your doctor may prescribe medicines to decrease the chance of IVH.
  • If you are pregnant, be sure that you go to all of your prenatal appointments.