What can we help you find?
Top searches

Cerebral palsy causes

Cerebral palsy (CP) is usually caused by damage to the developing brain before, during, or shortly after childbirth. In some cases, medical negligence in labor and delivery — like failing to monitor fetal distress — contributes to what causes CP. Learn more about cerebral palsy causes and what steps to take if your child has been affected.

Did you know?

About 70% of cerebral palsy cases result from a birth injury. Was your child one of them?

Free case review

What causes cerebral palsy?

Doctor pointing at brain scan images on a tablet, showing detailed scans of the brain.Generally, the most common cerebral palsy causes involve injury to the brain during childbirth. Damage to different parts of the brain can result in various types of cerebral palsy, affecting a child’s ability to control their muscles.

Brain damage can lead to permanent disabilities, including problems with motor control, coordination, and balance. The level of disability depends on the severity of the brain injury and the resulting physical and neurological symptoms of cerebral palsy.

Roughly 85-90% of all cerebral palsy cases are congenital, meaning they’re present at birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sometimes, the causes of cerebral palsy are unavoidable. However, for many families, the condition was caused by medical mistakes made during pregnancy, delivery, or shortly after their child was born.

It’s important to understand that CP is a lifelong condition with no cure. Additionally, many children are not diagnosed until they get older. Don’t wait to find out if you may be able to take legal action.

Seeking legal advice early can help secure the necessary support and resources for managing cerebral palsy.

Get a free case review right now to see if your family could be eligible for financial support.

Cerebral palsy caused by medical negligence

Unfortunately, many cases of cerebral palsy are caused by mistakes made by health care professionals during childbirth. Medical negligence is one of the preventable cerebral palsy causes. This means the condition could have been avoided with proper care.

Forms of medical negligence that can cause cerebral palsy include:

  • Failing to detect or properly treat infections in the mother or baby
  • Delaying or neglecting a medically necessary cesarean section (C-section)
  • Misusing forceps or vacuum extractors (assisted delivery tools)
  • Overlooking signs of fetal distress, like abnormal heart rate or oxygen loss

If your child has cerebral palsy caused by medical negligence, you could be eligible to pursue financial compensation.

Watch our short video to learn more about how medical malpractice is one of the leading causes of cerebral palsy.

Cerebral Palsy and Medical Malpractice Video Thumbnail

Learn how medical malpractice can lead to cerebral palsy that could have been avoided. If your child was harmed, you may be able to access financial aid. View Transcript.

Duration: 1 min 14 sec

Medical malpractice can take many forms, including failures that should never happen. Sadly, when these failures occur during childbirth, the results can be catastrophic, causing cerebral palsy that could have been prevented with proper care. These failures can include:

Failure to detect and properly treat infections, putting innocent lives at risk.

Fetal distress should never go unnoticed, denying babies the vital oxygen they need.

Failure to schedule or perform a necessary cesarean section, endangering both the baby and the mother.

Failure to detect a prolapsed umbilical cord, a dangerous situation that demands immediate attention.

Improper use of delivery tools, like vacuum extractors and forceps, causing irreversible harm.

At Cerebral Palsy Guide, we understand the devastation that arises when preventable medical mistakes during childbirth lead to cerebral palsy. Our dedicated team is here to fight for justice on behalf of families like yours.

Contact us today. We're here to help you and your family.

What caused my child’s cerebral palsy?

Doctor smiling at a baby sitting on an examination table with toys nearby.

Unfortunately, it can take anywhere from several months to several years to find out what caused a child’s cerebral palsy. Additionally, in many cases, exact cerebral palsy causes are never determined.

Part of the challenge of identifying cerebral palsy causes is that many children aren’t diagnosed until they’ve grown older, and the symptoms have become more noticeable. From there, parents may need to work backward to find out what caused their child’s condition.

If you notice your child missing any developmental milestones, you should contact your pediatrician so they can determine the exact cause.

The CDC recommends screening children for signs of developmental delays at 9, 18, 24, and 30 months.

Doctors may use computer tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to find damaged areas of the brain. These imaging tests can help medical professionals determine the cause of cerebral palsy.

If you have questions about common cerebral palsy causes or what may have happened to your child, our labor and delivery nurses are here to help.

Connect with a registered nurse right now. There is no cost or obligation.

Understanding cerebral palsy causes and brain damage

Cerebral palsy often stems from brain damage caused by several factors. The severity of these factors directly impacts the extent of abnormal brain development.

Learn more about different types of brain damage that are common causes of cerebral palsy below.

Bleeding in the brain

Bleeding in the brain

Brain hemorrhages (abnormal bleeding in the brain) are caused by ruptured blood vessels. Risk factors, like premature delivery, and causes, like birth trauma, can lead to ruptured blood vessels.

Hemorrhages occurring before and during childbirth can cause serious damage.

For example, intraventricular hemorrhage is bleeding into the spaces in the brain where cerebrospinal fluid (a liquid that acts as a protective cushion for the brain) is made. Bleeding in this area of the brain can lead to cerebral palsy.

Brain trauma

Brain trauma

Head injuries may occur during labor or delivery or within the first few years of life. Trauma to an infant or toddler’s developing brain can cause damage that leads to cerebral palsy.

Genetic factors

Genetic factors

The link between genetics and the causes of cerebral palsy is still being researched today. A study published in the journal Nature Genetics found that 14% of all cerebral palsy cases are related to rare genetic mutations.

Lack of oxygen

Lack of oxygen

Asphyxia is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, which can result in brain damage. An early detachment of the placenta, a ruptured uterus, or a pinched umbilical cord during birth can all stop or restrict blood flow to the fetus and cause oxygen deprivation to the tissues in the brain and other body parts (hypoxia).

Low birth weight

Low birth weight

Children with low birth weight have an increased risk of experiencing birth-related complications and developing cerebral palsy, according to the CDC.

Infants who weigh less than 5.5 pounds — especially children weighing less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces — are at greater risk of having cerebral palsy.

Infants with low birth weight may also have a harder time fighting off infections that can lead to brain damage if left untreated.

Maternal and newborn infections

Maternal and newborn infections

Infections passed from mothers to their babies during pregnancy can be dangerous, especially in the early weeks after conception. Viral infections can trigger the mother's immune system to release proteins that cause inflammation in the baby's brain.

Infection-related risk factors during pregnancy include:

  • Consumption of raw or undercooked meat
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Rubella (German measles)
  • Viral infections causing inflammation

Newborn infections, like meningitis, can also cause severe brain damage. Meningitis leads to intense inflammation, which may harm the motor control centers in a child's brain, potentially resulting in cerebral palsy.

Premature birth

Premature birth

Infants born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy) have a greater risk of developing cerebral palsy.

Babies born before the 32nd week of pregnancy have a very high risk of developing cerebral palsy, according to the CDC.

Many premature infants face medical problems that are common causes of cerebral palsy, like periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), which is the softening and death of white brain tissue due to a lack of oxygen or blood flow.

Severe jaundice

Severe jaundice

Newborns often experience mild cases of jaundice after birth. Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, which shows up as yellowing of the baby’s skin and the whites of their eyes.

Typically, jaundice occurs because a newborn’s liver is still developing, and the liver is responsible for removing bilirubin.

Most cases of jaundice clear up once the liver filters out the excess bilirubin. However, severe untreated jaundice can develop into kernicterus, which causes an unsafe level of bilirubin in the brain. High bilirubin levels can be toxic and cause brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy.

If one of these factors may have caused your child to develop cerebral palsy, you could be eligible for financial compensation. Reach out to our team now for a free consultation.

Call us at (855) 220-1101 or Click to Live Chat if you have questions about what caused your child’s cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy causes and areas of brain damage

Children can develop different types of cerebral palsy depending on the location of brain damage.

The areas of the brain that control motor skills are:

  • Basal ganglia
  • Cerebellum
  • Motor cortex
  • Pyramidal tracts

These areas relay impulses from the brain to the nerves and muscles to control movement. Damage to these parts of the brain can result in movement impairments and intellectual disabilities.

Learn more about CP types below.

  • Ataxic cerebral palsy

    This type of CP is caused by damage to the cerebellum. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy have difficulty with coordination, depth perception and balance, speech, and fine motor skills (using the muscles in their hands, fingers, and wrists).

    Ataxic cerebral palsy can also cause shakiness or tremors.

  • Athetoid (dyskinetic) cerebral palsy

    Athetoid or dyskinetic cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the cerebellum and/or basal ganglia. This can lead to balance problems, involuntary movement, drooling, and shifting muscle tone (between stiff and floppy).

  • Mixed cerebral palsy

    Children with mixed cerebral palsy experience symptoms of more than one type of the condition. Damage to multiple areas of the brain can cause mixed cerebral palsy.

  • Spastic cerebral palsy

    Spastic CP is caused by damage to the motor cortex and pyramidal tracts. The motor cortex controls voluntary movement, and the pyramidal tracts pass brain signals to the muscles.

    Damage to these parts of the brain can cause spasticity (jerky, repetitive movements) and stiff muscle tone.

Get legal help for your child’s cerebral palsy

Raising a child with cerebral palsy can feel overwhelming, especially when it comes to covering the costs of care. Thankfully, there are options available to help families with these expenses.

Understanding common cerebral palsy causes is essential, especially if you believe your child's condition resulted from medical negligence. Financial assistance and legal support can help ease your family’s financial burden, allowing you to focus on your child's care.

Cerebral Palsy Guide partners with birth injury law firms that can help families in all 50 states. Together, they have recovered over $917 million for families affected by preventable birth injuries, including CP.

Call our experienced patient advocates at (855) 220-1101 or get a free case review right now to learn about your options.

Cerebral palsy causes FAQs

What are the main causes of cerebral palsy?

Common cerebral palsy causes include trauma to the brain before, during, or shortly after childbirth. Brain damage can lead to several types of cerebral palsy, depending on the area of the brain that is affected.

In some instances, cerebral palsy is caused by medical negligence due to improper care during the birthing process.

What causes cerebral palsy during pregnancy?

Maternal infections are one of the most common cerebral palsy causes during pregnancy.

When a mother develops an infection, it can increase the amount of certain proteins called cytokines that can travel from the mother to the infant via the placenta.

Once in the infant’s bloodstream, these proteins can pass barriers and enter the brain. Cytokines cause inflammation that can lead to brain damage in the baby.

For example, bacterial and viral infections that can lead to brain damage include CMV (cytomegalovirus), intrauterine infection (chorioamnionitis), and chickenpox.

Is cerebral palsy genetic?

Cerebral palsy can sometimes be genetic. However, it is more commonly caused by factors like birth complications, infections, or injuries to the developing brain.

Who is most likely to get cerebral palsy?

There are various risk factors leading to cerebral palsy causes. Generally, babies who are born prematurely are most at risk of developing cerebral palsy.

Specifically, the chance of being born with cerebral palsy is higher in babies who have a very low birth weight and those born before 32 weeks of pregnancy.

How do you prevent cerebral palsy?

While not all cases of cerebral palsy can be prevented, there are measures that can help reduce the risk.

Steps to preventing cerebral palsy include:

  • Ensuring proper prenatal care
  • Managing chronic health conditions
  • Monitoring fetal development closely
  • Taking steps to prevent premature birth

In some cases, delivery teams could have prevented CP. When they fail to do so, medical malpractice could have played a role, and you may have legal options.

Get a free legal case review right now to find out if we can connect you with a top CP lawyer near you.

What are the signs of cerebral palsy during pregnancy?

Cerebral palsy cannot be diagnosed during pregnancy, but certain risk factors and conditions can be indicators.

Risk factors for cerebral palsy include:

  • Complications during labor and delivery
  • Infections in the mother
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Severe jaundice in the newborn

Monitoring these factors can help identify potential risks for cerebral palsy.

What are early cerebral palsy symptoms?

Early symptoms of cerebral palsy vary in type and severity depending on the location of the brain injury.

Signs of cerebral palsy can include:

  • Delays in reaching developmental milestones, like rolling over, sitting up, and crawling
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills, like picking up small objects
  • Favoring one side of the body, like reaching with one hand more often
  • Muscle stiffness or floppiness
  • Poor coordination and balance

If you notice these signs, consult a health care professional for an evaluation.

Additionally, Cerebral Palsy Guide has a team of labor and delivery nurses on staff with decades of experience helping families understand cerebral palsy causes.

Call us right now at (855) 220-1101 to connect with a registered nurse — there is no cost or obligation to speak with a member of our team.

Reviewed by:Katie Lavender, RN

Registered Nurse

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Katie Lavender has over 8 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in postpartum mother/baby care. With hands-on experience in Labor and Delivery and a role as a Community Educator for newborn care, Katie is a staunch advocate for patient rights and education. As a Medical Reviewer, she is committed to ensuring accurate and trustworthy patient information.

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

  1. Boston Children’s Hospital. (2022, January 26). Rethinking the origins of cerebral palsy. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://answers.childrenshospital.org/cerebral-palsy-genetic/
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2023, February 23). 11 Things to know about cerebral palsy. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/features/cerebral-palsy-11-things.html
  3. CDC. (2022, May 2). Data and statistics for cerebral palsy. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://archive.cdc.gov/www_cdc_gov/ncbddd/cp/data.html
  4. CDC. (2024, February 28). What is cerebral palsy? Retrieved July 8, 2024, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/facts.html
  5. Epilepsy Foundation. (n.d.). What Is epilepsy? Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://www.epilepsy.com/what-is-epilepsy
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2023, September 28). Cerebral palsy. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cerebral-palsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20353999
  7. MedlinePlus. (n.d.). Baclofen. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682530.html
  8. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). Rh incompatibility. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/rh-incompatibility
  9. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2023, November 28). Cerebral palsy. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/cerebral-palsy
  10. National Institutes of Health. (2020, September 28). About 14% of cerebral palsy cases may be tied to brain wiring genes. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/about-14-cerebral-palsy-cases-may-be-tied-brain-wiring-genes
  11. National Library of Medicine. (2023, August 23). Fetal development. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002398.htm
  12. Rosello, M., et al. (2021, August). Hidden etiology of cerebral palsy: genetic and clinical heterogeneity and efficient diagnosis by next-generation sequencing. Pediatr Res 90, 284–288. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-020-01250-3