January is National Birth Defect Prevention Month, a time to help raise awareness of birth injuries, including those resulting in cerebral palsy. It also raises awareness about people with disabilities that present themselves before birth, during delivery, or in early childhood.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders most often caused by damage to the brain while the baby is still in the uterus. In some cases, it results from complications during delivery.
In general, this is a rare condition that occurs in 1 to 4 out of every 1,000 births. Children who live with cerebral palsy may also develop a number of coexisting conditions that impact their day-to-day life.
Raising awareness about birth injuries like cerebral palsy is important because:
- It helps educate both experienced and new parents. As a result, they may be encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes to help ensure a healthy baby.
- It encourages expectant parents to carefully research their medical and birth teams. Taking time to find the right doctor prior to delivery may help reduce the chances of complications or injury.
- It puts disorders like cerebral palsy in the public eye, which helps generate funding for research. This can help prevent future birth defects and birth injuries and lead to better treatment options for those currently living with cerebral palsy.
How to Prevent Birth Defects
National Birth Defects Prevention Month brings awareness in part by distributing information on how to prevent disabilities like cerebral palsy.
Most cases of cerebral palsy are not the fault of parents or the result of foreseeable circumstances. However, knowing and guarding against the causes of cerebral palsy can mitigate the possibility of a child developing the condition.
Expectant parents can take these steps to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery:
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and secondhand smoke.
- Consulting your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications.
- Do not consume raw fish or undercooked meat.
- Make sure you’re up-to-date on vaccines before trying to get pregnant.
- Manage any pre-existing medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Take recommended vitamins.
- Visit your primary care doctor and obstetrician regularly.
The most common causes of cerebral palsy are blood clots and bacterial infections in the mother’s body that spread to the baby during pregnancy. These conditions can hinder the development of the fetal brain or cause a fetal stroke that deprives the baby of vital oxygen.
Taking the precautions listed above decreases the likelihood of any complications that could lead to cerebral palsy.
The most important precaution expecting mothers can take is to see their obstetrician on a regular basis. Scheduling frequent checkups is important for monitoring the baby’s development. It can also help your care team spot any areas of concern before they escalate or become more dangerous to you or your baby.
Continuing Cerebral Palsy Research and Community Support
Raising awareness about birth defects creates an opportunity to discuss scientific research around cerebral palsy and highlight available support options.
National Birth Defects Prevention Month is a great time to support researchers and scientists who are continually working to advance the understanding of how these types of developmental disorders occur.
Cerebral Palsy Guide has also compiled information on community support organizations. If your child or another loved one is living with cerebral palsy or another disability, these organizations can help you find much-needed assistance and connect you with other families who understand your experience.