What are the Causes of Cerebral Palsy?

babyMany possible factors can lead to a cerebral palsy diagnosis, but they all revolve around damage to the brain. Cerebral palsy occurs due to brain abnormalities or injuries associated with negligent labor and delivery. It is also possible for cerebral palsy to develop after birth in response to certain injuries and illnesses. Parents must carefully determine whether an attending caregiver was negligent during pregnancy and delivery, and a medical malpractice attorney can be a great resource in determining whether medical negligence caused a child to be born with cerebral palsy.

Labor and Delivery Complications

Different complications during pregnancy, labor, and delivery can cause problems that impact brain development.

  • Oxygen deprivation is one of the most common causes of cerebral palsy. Doctors must ensure a baby receives adequate oxygen throughout pregnancy and during labor and delivery.
  • A detached placenta interferes with a developing baby’s oxygen supply and can cause cerebral palsy.
  • Doctors performing deliveries may cause cerebral palsy through the negligent use of forceps and vacuum extractors.
  • Infections during pregnancy increase the risk of a baby developing cerebral palsy.
  • Some babies develop with genetic mutations linked to brain development. Interruptions to normal brain development are another common cause of cerebral palsy.
  • Injuries after birth may lead to cerebral palsy, such as a traumatic brain injury from falls or car accidents during infancy.
  • Infants who contract certain infections like meningitis during the first years of life may also develop cerebral palsy.
Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy

Heart rate is one of the most important vital signs to track during pregnancy. If a doctor fails to properly monitor fetal heart rate or delays appropriate action upon detecting a fetal heart rate abnormality, the developing baby may go without oxygen for too long and develop cerebral palsy.

Premature babies inherently face a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy at about 20 to 80 times the rate for full-term babies. This most often occurs due to bleeding in the brain. A premature baby is any baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy and who weighs less than 3.5 pounds at birth.

Some babies develop severe jaundice and can develop cerebral palsy due to excess bilirubin in the baby’s blood. Most jaundice cases are mild and do not need immediate medical attention, but severe cases that go too long without treatment can lead to brain damage and cerebral palsy.

It is possible to prevent cerebral palsy with careful fetal monitoring. Doctors, midwives, and other attending caregivers must pay close attention to a pregnant mother’s vital signs and those of her baby to detect risk factors for cerebral palsy as soon as possible. Any sign of oxygen deprivation or slowed heart rate should be a clear indication that the developing baby is at risk of developing cerebral palsy.

How Poor Medical Care Can Lead to Cerebral Palsy

A cerebral palsy diagnosis does not automatically mean that the attending doctor or midwife was negligent in providing care to the pregnant mother. Some babies develop cerebral palsy due to unavoidable causes, such as genetic mutations or other elements beyond a physician’s control. However, when a doctor uses excessive force during delivery, does not appropriately use vacuum extractors or forceps, or fails to properly monitor a pregnant mother’s and her developing baby’s vital signs, the baby may develop cerebral palsy and the baby’s parents would have grounds for a medical malpractice claim against the doctor.

A medical malpractice attorney is a great resource for any parents who recently had a baby diagnosed with cerebral palsy. A careful review of the mother’s and the child’s medical charts can help determine whether attending caregivers followed appropriate steps and met the standard of care for their patients.