Can Cerebral Palsy be Prevented?

Fetal MonitorUp until recently, medical experts and researchers and even the CDC have leaned on the idea that the causes of cerebral palsy were mainly unknown, and by extension, not preventable. In many cases, CP occurs due to any of a number of genetic abnormalities which the medical community doesn't yet know how to address. However, more recent research suggests that at least 10 percent of cerebral palsy cases result from a variety of stresses put upon the baby during labor and delivery-and sometimes even during infancy- which can cause damage to the brain. In these situations, CP is considered preventable.

When Does Cerebral Palsy Begin?

The vast majority of CP cases are congenital, meaning they occur in utero or during the birth process. However, cerebral palsy can also develop after birth in situations where the child's brain sustains stress or injury during the critical developmental stage.

Common Causes of Cerebral Palsy During Childbirth

The birthing process is the time at which babies are most vulnerable to conditions that may cause cerebral palsy. These risk factors may include any/all of the following:

  • Oxygen deprivation to the brain. The baby may suffer from lack of oxygen due to factors such as breech delivery, maternal shock, or umbilical cord problems.
  • Ignoring risk factors prior to birth. If the mother experiences health issues that are improperly addressed, it can also put the baby at risk. In vitro fertilization may also be a risk factor that should be monitored.
  • Incorrect or improper use of medical instruments-e.g., forceps, vacuum.
  • Overuse of induced labor medications, such as Pitocin.
  • Failing to detect or respond to signs of fetal distress. This distress may occur from many factors, including uterine rupture, placenta separation, fluid on the brain, intracranial hemorrhaging or even an oversize fetus who won't fit through the birth canal.
  • Delayed delivery-e.g., if the baby stays too long in the birth canal and the physician hesitates to call for a C-section.
  • Prolonged pregnancy. When the baby remains in the womb too long past the due date with no indications of labor, it can cause distress and increase the risk of CP.
  • Preeclampsia-high blood pressure in the mother, which can cause constriction of oxygen to the placenta.
  • Kernicterus-a rare condition accompanied by extreme jaundice in the fetus or infant.
  • Various infections in the baby before and after birth.
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in the newborn.
  • Premature birth.
Preventing Cerebral Palsy

Vigilant physicians and hospitals are taking proactive measures to try and prevent instances of cerebral palsy before and during birth. A fetal monitoring machine may be used to keep track of the baby's heartbeat during labor, and a Cesarean section may be indicated when the baby shows signs of distress. Physicians may also prescribe antibiotics to cure intrauterine infections during preganancy or take other precautions when the pregnancy is considered high-risk.

Acquired cerebral palsy-the type that occurs during early childhood-is one of the most preventable forms of CP. Brain injury can be averted by taking the following precautions:

  • Using car seats correctly to keep baby's head and neck stable
  • Use of helmets for small children riding bicycles and other equipment
  • Supervising infants and young children closely during bath time
  • Keeping medications and toxic chemicals well out of children's reach
More Research Is Needed

Despite all monitoring and preventative efforts, many cases of cerebral palsy are still unpreventable, the causes for which may never be known. Researchers continue to investigate this issue to learn more about CP and what can be done to prevent it.