Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Birth Injury, Causes of Cerebral Palsy, Cerebral Palsy Information

Infant looking up at speech bubble with orange question mark

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is the result of abnormal development or damage in the areas of the brain that control movement. The events that cause CP typically occur before, during, or shortly after a baby is born, or when the brain is developing in the first few years of the baby’s life. Here is a look at the primary causes of CP.

Anoxia/Lack of Oxygen

If a baby’s brain goes with inadequate oxygen for too long, it can cause damage that could lead to CP. There are, unfortunately, many circumstances that could result in an infant getting inadequate amounts of oxygen.

Birth Asphyxia

Birth asphyxia refers to when a fetus experiences a loss or reduction of oxygen before, during, or after birth. While birth asphyxia or anoxia happens when there’s a complete deprivation of oxygen, it can also occur for a variety of other reasons. Without proper oxygen, the baby is at risk for brain damage.


Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, or HIE, is a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation during delivery. HIE can lead to brain damage and a long-term disability like CP.

Brain Injury

Although uncommon, a brain injury can occur during the labor and delivery process, usually because of medical mistakes or negligence. Traumatic brain injuries are considered a severe medical issue and must be immediately addressed for the best possible outcome.


A stroke can cause a disruption of blood flow to the brain. If a stroke occurs while the baby is in the womb or during its first month of life, it can cause brain damage that could lead to CP.

Labor and Delivery Complications

There are many complications that can occur during labor and delivery that can lead to CP.


Cesarean section deliveries, or C-sections, have become more common over the years. However, if the C-section is delayed and the delay causes a decrease in oxygen to the baby’s brain, it can lead to CP.

Vacuum Assist

With a vacuum assist, a doctor uses a vacuum and suction to guide the baby out of the birth canal. However, vacuum extractions can cause complications, including brain damage that could lead to CP.

Mismanagement of Labor

If there is considerable mismanagement of normal delivery procedures, a baby’s delivery could be delayed, or other mistakes could occur that might cause brain injury.

Cord Around Neck

If the infant becomes wrapped around the infant’s neck during delivery, it could cut off the baby’s oxygen and cause brain damage that may lead to CP.

Fetal Position

There are certain fetal positions that can lead to complications with severe adverse outcomes, including developmental disabilities and CP.


If the mother cannot successfully push the baby out, the doctor may use forceps to guide the baby’s head down the birth canal. However, this creates a risk of skull fractures, brain and nerve damage, bruising, and even seizures.

Improper Fetal Heart Monitoring

Fetal monitoring has been around for decades and gives doctors and nurses insight into the health of the child while still in the womb. However, on occasion, preventable mistakes occur, such as when the fetal monitor shows the baby is in distress but medical providers fail to take necessary action.

Uterine Rupture

A uterine rupture refers to any tear in the wall of the uterus. If not properly managed, it can lead to serious brain damage for the infant or even the death of the mother or infant.

Placental Abruption

This is an uncommon condition in which the placenta partially or completely separates from the uterine wall before delivery. This is extremely dangerous, as placental abruption can deprive a baby of oxygen, causing premature birth, brain damage, or other future growth problems.


Healthcare practitioners sometimes use Pitocin to induce labor or speed up labor. Pitocin is a synthetic version of the naturally-occurring hormone oxytocin and, while it’s commonly used during labor, it can still cause complications that lead to brain injury and CP.

Other Causes

Here are some other factors that can cause a child to develop CP:


While CP often occurs because of specific events during labor, it’s not preventable in the rare case that it’s related to a genetic defect. A genetic predisposition to certain characteristics can also lead to CP.

Hereditary and Congenital

While there isn’t yet a complete understanding of all aspects related to CP, scientists have found that familial CP is uncommon. That said, certain hereditary factors make some children more likely to have it.

Jaundice and Kernicterus

Jaundice occurs when a chemical called bilirubin builds up too much in a baby’s blood. If a baby has severe jaundice that goes untreated for too long, it can develop kernicterus, a type of brain damage. This brain damage can also lead to CP.


While doctors have administered anesthesia for decades, there are still risks that accompany the practice. Any mistakes in the way the anesthesia is administered can lead to reduced oxygen supply to an infant’s brain and the possible development of CP.

Get Help For Your Child’s Cerebral Palsy

If you believe that your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by the behavior of your medical team during labor and delivery, you may have the right to hold them responsible for medical negligence. For a free case evaluation, contact the experienced Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs today.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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