Can Infant Brain Damage Lead to Cerebral Palsy?

Birth Injury, Causes of Cerebral Palsy

baby in mothers lap playing with toy with overlay or brain damage

A significant majority of cerebral palsy cases will occur in the womb or during childbirth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts this number at about 90% of cases. The other 10% of cases will occur after birth, a condition known as acquired cerebral palsy.

Acquired CP is most likely to occur as a result of some sort of brain damage that occurs during infancy. The brain damage can be caused by something as mild as a brief choking incident to something as severe as an automobile accident.


Asphyxiation, also referred to as a lack of oxygen, can occur before, during, or after birth. Regardless of when it actually happens, asphyxiation will deprive an infant of oxygen flow to the brain. After a few minutes, brain cells will die and the risk of permanent brain damage increases.

The lack of oxygen to the brain can be caused by anything that disrupts the inhalation and exhalation of oxygen. This includes solid food or small toys becoming lodged in an infant’s throat, an infant’s head becoming trapped in a plastic bag, a baby born with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck, and so on.

The longer it takes to remove the source of oxygen deprivation, the potentially greater risk that a newborn will experience severe and permanent brain damage. This greatly increases the risk of cerebral palsy as well.

Brain Infections

In some instances, health conditions and infections that impact blood flow to the developing infant brain may cause cerebral palsy. That’s especially the case with infections like encephalitis and meningitis. Both of these conditions can cause swelling in the brain and in the spinal cord.

The concern with these infections is the lowered immune system functioning seen in infants and young toddlers. In the case of meningococcal meningitis, up to 15% of cases may result in death, while another 15% can cause permanent brain injury.

Infant Brain Damage Recovery

Fortunately, the risk of an infant or a toddler acquiring cerebral palsy is significantly lower than being born with the condition. Only about 10% of all cerebral palsy cases will occur during infancy or the first few years of life. Most cases of brain damage in infants won’t be permanent.

Time is of the essence when an infant suffers from sudden or traumatic brain injuries. In some cases, an infant may undergo treatment known as therapeutic hypothermia. It’s meant to lower the body’s temperature, which can lower the amount of pressure and inflammation in the brain. This can help to limit the amount of brain damage and improve the odds of recovering.

In addition, surgical procedures may be able to reduce bleeding and swelling in the brain to lower the risk of long-term effects like cerebral palsy.

Avoiding Brain Damage in Infancy

There’s no guaranteed way to keep your infant free of brain damage, but there are some steps you can take to reduce the odds. These steps include:

  • Making sure your infant is secured properly in a child seat
  • Blocking off stairs and drop-offs in the home
  • Driving safely when your newborn is onboard
  • Keeping small objects, toys and plastic bags away from your infant
  • Making sure your household surfaces are clean and that your children are vaccinated
  • Avoiding shaking your baby
  • Taking your baby for regular checkups and attending to any health issues as soon as possible

Cerebral palsy brain damage will typically last a lifetime, but it doesn’t mean your child can’t live a meaningful and full life. However, cerebral palsy treatments and support services can have a significant impact on your family finances. In some cases, cerebral palsy is, unfortunately, linked to poor medical care and could have been prevented. If you think this may be the cause of your loved one’s cerebral palsy, please contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs for a free consultation. We can help you explore options that may ease the financial and emotional impact of this illness.



William R. “Topper” Cramer
Reviewed by:
William R. “Topper” Cramer, RN, MBA, MS, CCRN, CFRN, EMT-P
Legal Nurse Consultant | Nurse Paralegal

Topper has been involved in emergency, transport, and critical care medicine since 1978 when he became an EMT in high school. A United States Air Force veteran, he remains active as a pre-hospital RN/paramedic, certified flight nurse, and critical care nurse. In addition to his professional role as a nurse consultant/nurse paralegal, he is the Chief of Operations at Walkersville Volunteer Rescue in Frederick County, Maryland. READ FULL BIO

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?