Conditions and Injuries That Cause Children to Develop Cerebral Palsy

Causes of Cerebral Palsy, Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Mother working with CP in wheelchair with question mark on the wall behind them

Children develop cerebral palsy when their cerebral motor cortex development is impaired or when it is damaged. Various conditions and injuries can trigger abnormal development or damage developing brains. These problems can occur before birth, during birth, and in the first few years of a child’s life, when the young brain is developing. These issues do not always trigger cerebral palsy, but they may increase a child’s risk of developing CP.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy Before Birth

Some of the common causes and risk factors of cerebral palsy manifest during the fetal stage.

  • Multiple births: Twins, triplets, and other babies who share the womb with siblings have a greater risk of developing cerebral palsy. This may be because multiples have lower birth weights. Babies whose siblings die before or shortly after birth have an even greater risk.
  • Infertility treatments: Babies conceived through infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination, are more likely to develop cerebral palsy than babies conceived naturally. These infants are more likely to be born prematurely and have low birth weights, which are both common triggers for cerebral palsy.
  • Rh incompatibility: Rh incompatibility occurs when an expectant mother’s blood type is incompatible with her baby’s blood. Her body sees her baby as an invader and creates antibodies to attack the incompatible blood cells. These antibodies can cause brain damage and trigger cerebral palsy.
  • Maternal medical conditions: Expectant mothers with some medical conditions, including thyroid problems, seizures, too much protein in their urine, and intellectual disabilities, are slightly more likely to give birth to babies who develop cerebral palsy.
  • Toxic exposure: Mothers exposed to toxic substances, such as methylmercury in fish, are more likely to have babies with cerebral palsy.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy During Birth

Complications during labor lead to a significant number of children who develop CP, particularly preventable cases.

  • Lack of oxygen during childbirth: Babies’ brains need a constant supply of oxygen for normal development. If the baby’s oxygen is interrupted long enough or often enough, acid can build up in the baby and damage the brain.
  • Low birth weight: Babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth have a greater risk of developing cerebral palsy than heavier babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The risk increases for babies less than 3.5 pounds.
  • Premature birth: Babies born before 37 weeks are more likely to develop cerebral palsy than full-term babies. The risk is even higher for babies born before 32 weeks.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy After Birth

A baby’s brain continues developing for the first few years of their life. During this time, the growing brain is still vulnerable to conditions and experiences that can permanently impact its function and trigger cerebral palsy.

  • Jaundice: Jaundice happens when bilirubin (a substance made when red blood cells naturally break down) builds up in a baby’s blood because their undeveloped liver can’t process it. While jaundice is a common problem that may resolve by itself or with simple treatment, improperly treated or untreated jaundice may cause another condition called kernicterus. This condition can damage the brain and may cause cerebral palsy.
  • Seizures: Babies and children who have seizures are more likely to develop cerebral palsy. A lack of oxygen is a common cause of seizures.
  • Brain infections: Brain infections, such as meningitis and encephalitis, can trigger cerebral palsy, especially if not recognized and treated quickly enough.
  • Head injuries: Head injuries, such as those caused by car accidents and falls, can also cause cerebral palsy.
  • Childhood medical conditions: Conditions that impair blood flow to the brain, such as sickle cell disease or pediatric strokes, can trigger cerebral palsy.

Whatever the cause, caring for a child with CP is a lifelong undertaking. While there is no cure for CP, it does not worsen over time, and with personalized treatment plans, rehabilitative care, and advances in technology, many children with CP can experience improvements that will impact their quality of life positively.

If you believe medical malpractice, such as improper fetal heart monitoring, was a contributing factor to your child’s CP, you may have a case for recovering financial compensation that can help you manage the costs of treatment.

The Cerebral Palsy Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC (JJS) are a dedicated team of attorneys who have helped thousands of families seek justice for their children. Contact us today to see if we can help you on your journey, too.

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?