What Causes Cerebral Palsy During Pregnancy?

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

pregnant woman with question mark on abdomen

Cerebral palsy is a type of disorder that affects body movement, muscle tone and motor skills. In many cases, people with this condition have difficulty performing basic tasks such as walking, speaking and swallowing. Cerebral palsy can occur before, during or after birth. In about 70% of cerebral palsy cases, however, this condition results from events that happen before birth, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Learn what causes cerebral palsy during pregnancy.

Understanding Fetal Brain Damage

During pregnancy, cerebral palsy may occur if an infant’s brain sustains damage or develops abnormalities. This disorder affects the cerebral cortex, the motor region of the brain’s outer layer, preventing it from developing normally during fetal growth. Consequently, the brain loses its ability to direct movement and maintain balance and posture. Several types of brain damage that may lead to cerebral palsy during pregnancy include:

  • Damage to the brain’s white matter: White matter transmits signals from the brain to other parts of the body. When the white matter of a baby’s brain is damaged, it causes gaps to form in the brain tissue and interferes with the normal transmission of signals. In a developing fetal brain, the white matter is especially sensitive to injury during the third trimester of pregnancy.
  • Bleeding in the brain: Bleeding in the brain commonly occurs because of fetal stroke. Some infants experience a stroke while they’re still in the womb as a result of blood clots blocking the flow of blood to their brains. Weak or malformed brain blood vessels or blood-clotting abnormalities may cause other types of fetal stroke.
  • Abnormal brain development: During fetal development, any event that interrupts the normal process of brain growth may lead to malformations that affect the brain’s ability to transmit signals. The infant’s brain may fail to develop normally because of many factors, including gene mutations and maternal infections.
  • Lack of oxygen in the brain: Also known as asphyxia, oxygen deficiency in a baby’s brain may result from poor oxygen supply or breathing interruption. When the oxygen supply is reduced or cut off, the infant may experience a type of brain damage that destroys tissue in different parts of the brain, including the cerebral cortex. During pregnancy, asphyxia can occur because of insufficient oxygen in the mother’s blood, maternal low blood pressure, detachment of the placenta from the uterus or problems with the umbilical cord.

Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy During Pregnancy

If you’re expecting a child, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors associated with birth injuries. Some of the factors that may contribute to cerebral palsy before birth include:

  • Blood-type incompatibility: Rh incompatibility occurs when a mother’s Rh blood type, which is either positive or negative, differs from her baby’s blood type. In this case, her system is unable to tolerate her infant’s different blood type. As a result, her body starts to produce antibodies that attack and destroy the baby’s blood cells, which may lead to brain damage.
  • Multiple pregnancy: Multiple births such as twins and triplets have a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. The risk may further increase if one of the twins or triplets dies before birth.
  • Maternal health problems: Certain maternal health problems may significantly increase a baby’s risk of developing cerebral palsy. These health issues include cytomegalovirus, German measles, toxoplasmosis, herpes, syphilis, thyroid diseases, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart abnormalities and anemia. Sometimes, high maternal fever may also lead to fetal brain damage.
  • Maternal exposure to toxic substances: If a woman is exposed to toxic substances such as methyl mercury while pregnant, she is at a higher risk of delivering a baby with cerebral palsy. Smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs can also contribute to the condition.

How to Prevent Cerebral Palsy

You may be able to reduce your baby’s risk of brain damage by minimizing pregnancy complications and living a healthy lifestyle. While cerebral palsy related to genetic disorders cannot be prevented, expectant mothers may be able to manage or avoid certain risk factors associated with congenital cerebral palsy.

  • Get vaccinated to prevent infections that can lead to fetal brain damage.
  • Seek early prenatal care to identify and eliminate health risks as soon as possible.
  • Take good care of yourself to minimize your risks of developing health problems that may affect your infant.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs.

Besides taking these precautions, you may want to research the quality of the medical facility where you plan to give birth to your baby.

In many cases, cerebral palsy results from medical malpractice. If you think it’s possible that your child’s cerebral palsy is the result of medical malpractice, you may be eligible for compensation. Janet, Janet & Suggs LLC has helped more than 30,000 families decide how best to move forward with their medical malpractice cases. Contact us today to learn more.

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