Can Cerebral Palsy Be Diagnosed Before or During Birth?

Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Female doctor performing ultrasound on pregnant woman with screen displaying large question mark

The brain damage that causes or contributes to cerebral palsy can occur during pregnancy, during birth and even after birth. Many parents ask if cerebral palsy can be detected before birth, but the diagnosis usually does not happen until a child is two or three. The earlier you get the diagnosis, the better, so bring your child to a doctor as soon as you notice any delays in development.

Can Cerebral Palsy Be Detected Before Birth?

Cerebral palsy cannot be detected before birth. However, if a fetus is in a high-risk category for developing cerebral palsy, performing an ultrasound can detect an abnormality. This allows doctors and parents to start therapy early to help with development.

Can Cerebral Palsy Happen After Birth?

While it is not as common as congenital cerebral palsy, acquired CP is possible. This type of cerebral palsy is the result of brain damage that happens more than 28 days after a baby’s birth. A baby can be born with full brain function, but something happens when they are an infant or small child that restricts blood flow to their brain. In most cases, causes of acquired cerebral palsy include:

  • Infection: An infection of the brain such as meningitis or encephalitis in an infant can result in brain damage.
  • Injury: It is possible that a head trauma or injury can result in CP.
  • Stroke: While strokes are not common in children, they are possible. Blood clotting issues or a heart defect can also cause a decrease in the flow of blood to the brain, causing a stroke.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Some signs of cerebral palsy can appear when your child is an infant, and others may become apparent when they are preschool-aged. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of CP include:

  • Problems swallowing
  • Eye muscle imbalance
  • A reduced range of motion
  • A child that has variations in muscle tone, such as being either too stiff or too limp
  • Lack of balance and coordination
  • Involuntary movements
  • Delays in motor skill milestones such as crawling, sitting up and using their arms to push themselves up
  • Favoring one side, such as only using one hand to reach or dragging one of their legs when crawling

It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you notice any of these delays in development.

How Is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

A doctor will diagnose a child with cerebral palsy based on how they move and by looking at their muscle tone. A visit to the doctor might include a check of their reflexes and a check to see if they have a hand preference. Since most children do not develop a preference until at least six months, an early preference might be an indication of CP.

Brain imaging tests can also be used to diagnose cerebral palsy. MRI or CT scans can sometimes even help to determine the cause. In cases where a preterm baby is at high risk for cerebral palsy, an ultrasound can help doctors see any brain abnormalities that are associated with cerebral palsy.

Risk Factors for Developing Cerebral Palsy After Birth

Some external factors can increase a child’s chance that they will have or develop cerebral palsy. Having a risk factor does not mean that your child will have CP, but it does mean that they should be monitored. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Preterm infants: Babies born prematurely have a higher risk of developing acquired cerebral palsy.
  • Low birth weight: Babies with low birth weight also have a higher risk.
  • Infancy: Infants, in general, have a higher risk of suffering some kind of injury or event resulting in brain damage than that of older children.
  • Lack of vaccinations: Children who do not get certain vaccinations have a higher risk of developing CP.
  • Mother’s vaccinations: Expectant mothers who don’t get an Rh test and the necessary vaccination can increase their infant’s risk.


Most congenital cerebral palsy cases cannot be prevented, but there are some things you can do to help reduce the risks. If you plan to become pregnant or if you are already pregnant, make sure to:

  • Get vaccinated: Making sure you have the vaccinations for rubella and other diseases could prevent an infection that could lead to brain damage in your child while in utero.
  • Get good prenatal care: Early and regular prenatal care is essential in reducing the risks to you and your unborn child.
  • Avoid alcohol, drugs and tobacco: Studies have linked the use of drugs and alcohol to a higher risk of cerebral palsy.
  • Provide a safe environment for your child: Always use a car seat when you take them in the car, and make any necessary changes to improve the safety of living areas.

The Importance of Diagnosis

It is crucial to get a diagnosis as early as possible. As soon as you know your child has cerebral palsy, they can start therapies that will help with motor skills such as walking, muscle strength, speech and language, and mental health. If you feel that your child’s cerebral palsy may have developed due to medical malpractice, you may be entitled to compensation.

If you suspect medical negligence, choose the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC to explore your case and help you seek justice. Call us today with your questions.

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?