Understanding cerebral palsy risk factors
Knowing the risk factors associated with cerebral palsy can help parents know what to look out for and how to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and birth.
Risk factors are defined as any attribute, characteristic or exposure that would increase the likelihood of a child developing cerebral palsy.
Risk factors include things such as premature birth and health issues in the mother during pregnancy. These factors could lead to irreparable brain or nerve damage, resulting in cerebral palsy.
Being exposed to one or more of these risk factors doesn’t always mean the child will be diagnosed with CP. Similarly, if a child has no known risk factors, this doesn’t mean that they can’t develop cerebral palsy during early childhood.
By knowing what would put your baby at risk for cerebral palsy, parents can take preventative measures before, during and after birth.
Risks of CP during pregnancy
There are several factors that occur before birth that can increase the chance of the child developing cerebral palsy. In fact, most cases of cerebral palsy develop as a result of issues that occur while the child is still in the womb.
About 85-90 percent of CP cases develop before or during pregnancy as a result of pre-existing or genetic factors. This is referred to as congenital cerebral palsy.
Risk factors during pregnancy that can lead to CP include:
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Maternal blood clotting
- German measles (rubella)
- Maternal bleeding in later weeks of pregnancy
- Exposure to toxins (mercury from raw fish, undercooked/raw meat, cat feces)
- Maternal thyroid problems
- Incompatible blood type between mother and fetus
- Maternal seizures
Risks of CP during birth
While most cases of cerebral palsy are the result of complications during pregnancy, it is also possible for CP to develop during labor and delivery. Things such as low birth weight and a baby’s position in the womb can lead to brain or nerve damage.
Risk factors during labor and delivery that can lead to CP include:
- Loss of oxygen to the infant brain
- Breech birth (baby being delivered feet or rear end first)
- Premature birth (a child is born before start of 37th week of pregnancy)
- Low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 5 ounces)
- Inability of placenta to provide nutrients and oxygen
- The use of vacuum extractors of forceps
In multiple births like twins or triplets, the risk of cerebral palsy increases due to the higher likelihood of premature birth and low birth weight. This is often because the placenta may struggle to supply sufficient nutrients in these pregnancies.
Risks of CP after birth
After a child is born, there are still a few risk factors that may increase their likelihood of developing cerebral palsy. About 10-15 percent of cerebral palsy cases occur more than 28 days after birth. This is referred to as “acquired CP.”
Some children develop cerebral palsy shortly after birth, while still in the delivery room. Other cases of CP can occur within the first few years of life.
The risk factors after birth that can lead to CP include:
- Severe jaundice
- Vascular problems shortly after birth
- Lack of oxygen (asphyxiation)
- Head trauma
These are the least common risk factors that may lead to cerebral palsy. It is estimated that approximately 10 percent of cerebral palsy cases were caused by a lack of oxygen. Even fewer cases resulted from the other factors listed.
Monitoring development of at-risk children
Children who experienced any of these risk factors and are showing symptoms of cerebral palsy should be carefully screened for developmental milestones. Getting an early diagnosis can lower your risk for increased movement problems.
If your child was not considered to be “at-risk” for cerebral palsy, but was later diagnosed with CP, parents may be wondering if there was any way their child’s condition could have been prevented. If you suspect that your child’s doctor, nurse or hospital facility fell below their required standard of care, you may have grounds for a cerebral palsy lawsuit.
To learn more about whether medical malpractice could have contributed to your child’s cerebral palsy, parents can get in touch with our experienced CP lawyers. They will be able to help determine if you have a case.