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Factors That May Put Your Child at Risk for Developing Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders caused by abnormal brain development or significant brain damage that occurs during pregnancy, delivery or after the child is born. In actuality, there are multiple possible causes of damage or abnormal damage. Once considered only to be caused by oxygen deprivation during the birthing process, many scientists believe a lack of oxygen represents only a limited number of cerebral palsy cases.

Congenital Cerebral Palsy

There are specific risk factors for congenital cerebral palsy that occurs before or during the birthing process. In statistics maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about 10 percent of all cases of CP are acquired after birth. The following risk factors should not be confused as a cause for cerebral palsy, but simply a factor that might have the ability to increase the possibility of the child being affected by a mental condition or disability. The most common risk factors for congenital CP include:

  • Low Birth Weight – Newborns who are underweight (weighing 5.5 pounds or less at birth) are more likely to suffer cerebral palsy than other newborns. Children born three pounds or less have an even more significant likelihood of suffering congenital CP.
  • Premature Birth – Newborns born three weeks or more too early are considered to be preterm or premature. While every premature baby has an increased risk of congenital CP, infants born before the 32nd week tend to have the greatest potential of experiencing cerebral palsy. The number of cases of CP involving premature birth has increased significantly as neonatal intensive care has improved. This is because the survival rates tend to be higher as do the medical conditions known to directly cause CP or other serious disability.
  • Multiple Births – Mothers that birth twins, triplets or more infants during a multiple birth event likely places at least one newborn at significant risk of developing CP. Quite often this is because the multiple births occur prematurely.
  • Infertility Treatments (Assisted Reproductive Treatments) – Mothers undergoing infertility treatments tend to have a greater potential of having multiple births, where each infant weighs less than 5.5 pounds. This increases the potential of one or more babies developing CP.
  • Pregnancy-Associated Infections – Any type of infection increases the potential of the newborn developing congenital CP. This include bacterial meningitis that inflames the membranes around the baby’s spinal cord and brain along with viral encephalitis, arboviruses and some herpes viruses.
  • Kernicterus and Jaundice – Kernicterus can cause CP or other serious medical complication when there is a Rh factor and blood type mismatch between the infant and mother. Jaundice is usually the result of a high level of bilirubin that causes a faster than normal breakdown of the body’s red blood cells.
  • Mother’s Medical Conditions – Pregnant mothers with an intellectual disorder, Down’s Syndrome, thyroid issue or seizure condition have a greater potential risk of birthing an infant with congenital CP as are those that have infections or health conditions that include rubella (German measles), chickenpox, syphilis, toxoplasmosis or exposure to toxic substances.
  • Birth Complication – Any complication during pregnancy, labor or delivery that restricts the oxygen supply to the baby can cause cerebral palsy. This includes uterine ruptures, placental detachments and umbilical cord issues.

Acquired Cerebral Palsy

Any brain damage that happens within the first month or after the child’s birth might be considered acquired cerebral palsy. These medical issues are usually the result of some type of physical injury that happens to the brain of the child that could be the result of bacterial or viral infections, or significant head trauma. The most common occurrences of acquired CP involve:

  • Cerebral Blood Flow Issues – Many serious issues could include sickle-cell disease, fetal stroke or some undetected heart defect that affects the child’s brain blood supply in an adverse way.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury – Car accidents, child abuse or a dropped infant can cause significant traumatic brain injuries that lead to acquired CP. This includes shaking the infant violently.
  • Infection – Encephalitis, meningitis or other serious infection can cause significant inflammation to the newborn’s central nervous system, leading to acquired cerebral palsy.

While eliminating every risk factor known to bring on cerebral palsy and other pediatric brain traumas is likely impossible, health care professionals are required to provide the best quality care. This often includes close monitoring, diagnostic testing and a high level of skill during the mother’s pregnancy, labor and delivery of her newborn.

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