Cerebral palsy causes vary, depending on the type of disorder the child has. Knowing what may have caused your child’s cerebral palsy can help you understand the disorder better, as well as help your child manage the associated conditions.
Congenital Cerebral Palsy
When a baby develops cerebral palsy either before or during birth, it’s known as congenital cerebral palsy. Congenital cerebral palsy remains the common type of the disorder and can develop due to a myriad of causes, including:
- Maternal infections, such as rubella, chicken pox, urinary tract infections, and cytomegalovirus (CMV).
- Carrying twins or multiples
- The use of infertility treatments
- Placenta problems
- Uterine Ruptures
- Incompatible Blood (can lead to Rh factor diseases)
- Medical negligence and mistakes (See below for more information)
- Low birth weight: Birth weight of five pounds and under may increase the chances of an infant developing cerebral palsy.
- Infertility treatments: Women who undergo infertility treatments have a higher chance of having a premature baby with low birth rate, which can lead to cerebral palsy.
- Jaundice: Jaundice can lead to kernicterus, a form of brain damage caused by too much bilirubin. In turn, the risk of the baby developing cerebral palsy heightens.
Acquired Cerebral Palsy
Acquired cerebral palsy is defined as the disorder developing at least 28 or more days after the baby is born. This form of cerebral palsy accounts for around 20% of all people who have the disorder.
The most common reason that acquired cerebral palsy occurs include:
- Blood flow problems to the brain, which can cause blood clotting
- Sickle cell diseases and other infections
- Head injuries during birth, such as when a baby is dropped or has a severe accident that causes brain damage
Brain malformations are defects that happen when the baby’s brain develops abnormally. Although it can occur any time during fetal development, if it happens 20 weeks gestation or prior, the baby runs the highest risk of developing brain damage, cerebral palsy, and other medical conditions.
Jaundice is caused by bilirubin buildup in the blood. Although some cases of jaundice will clear up on its own, it’s the excessive cases that need close monitoring and treatment. If jaundice is left untreated, a form of brain damage called kernicterus can occur, which can lead to the infant developing cerebral palsy.
Rh incompatibility is a medical condition marked by the mother’s blood and infant’s blood being incompatible. The mother’s blood produces a certain type of antibodies that destroy the infant’s blood cells during pregnancy. This in turn can lead to jaundice, which can lead to brain damage, which can cause cerebral palsy.
Maternal infections such as measles, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, chickenpox, and certain other diseases, if not properly detected and treated, can lead to an infant developing cerebral palsy. Infections have the ability to cause brain damage (see below), which can cause cerebral palsy and other medical conditions.
Prolonged labor is labor that lasts longer than 16 to 24 hours. When labor is considered prolonged depends on the individual, with new mothers expected to take longer to deliver than mothers who have given birth at least once before. There are many possible complications of prolonged labor, including cerebral palsy. It is associated with the use of instruments, like forceps, which can physically damage a baby’s head.
Prolonged labor is also associated with a number of complications that can cause brain damage by asphyxiation, or deprivation of oxygen. These include a breech birth position, a large baby, the baby getting stuck in the mother’s pelvis or in the birth canal, complications with the placenta or umbilical cord, and the failure of a doctor to perform a Cesarean section, which could prevent brain damage.
Brain damage is one of the primary reasons that cerebral palsy occurs. It can happen before, during, or after birth.
Maternal high blood pressure and infections can lead to brain damage while the baby is still in utero. Abnormal brain development during pregnancy can also cause brain damage, which can occur due to maternal infections and high blood pressure. It’s extremely important to get prenatal care and routine medical monitoring while pregnant.
Hemorrhaging is another reason infant brain damage happens, and is more common in babies born prematurely. Hemorrhages result after a baby has improper blood flow to the brain or reduced oxygen to the brain. Unfortunately, bleeding inside the brain isn’t obviously visible and it isn’t until certain symptoms occur that a proper diagnosis can be made. In some instance, medical malpractice is the direct cause if infant hemorrhaging (see the following section for additional details on medical negligence).
Brain damage can also lead to a number of other medical conditions, including brachial plexus palsy, Erb’s palsy, cognitive problems, social and emotional issues, and hearing and vision problems.
Unfortunately, there are some cases of cerebral palsy that could have been prevented if not for medical mistakes and negligence. In addition to failing to find and diagnose medical problems early that may have prevented damages, physicians can also play a hand in causes brain damage during childbirth. Although these medical mistakes are never done on purpose, the end result is that sloppy medical care can lead to severe problems.
The most common types of medical mistakes that can lead to cerebral palsy include:
- Failure to identify, schedule, and carry out an emergency C-section
- Failure to monitor infant heartbeat
- Failure to identify, diagnose, and treat umbilical cord issues and/or placental issues
- Failure to detect and treat maternal infections
- Improper use of forceps or a vacuum extraction tool during childbirth
- Failure to get oxygen to an infant in time during childbirth
- Failure to monitor oxygen levels
- Surgery errors
Risk Factors That May Lead to Cerebral Palsy
The following risk factors heighten the risk of infants developing cerebral palsy:
- Breech-position births (or other unusual positions)
- A low APGAR score shortly after birth; APGAR tests the baby’s breathing, heart rate, reflexes, muscle tone, and color
- The infant weighing under 5 lbs. 7.5 oz. after birth
- Microcephaly (small head when born)
- Infant seizures (shortly after birth)
- Proteinuria (excessive protein in the mother’s urine)
- Maternal seizures
- Maternal hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism
Keep in mind that not all infants exposed to these risk factors will develop cerebral palsy. Yet, it’s always important to be aware of factors that can contribute to the disorder. Physicians especially should be mindful of the conditions and monitor them carefully.
Tips to Help Prevent Cerebral Palsy
With so many things that can cause cerebral palsy, it seems overwhelming to most parents. However, there are numerous steps you can take while pregnant to give your baby the best chances of avoiding cerebral palsy.
-Keep all of your prenatal appointments. Routine medical care can pick up on issues that can be dealt with early on.
-Make sure your vaccinations are up to date, specifically chickenpox and rubella vaccinations.
-Blood type is important. Keep in mind that RH incompatibility can lead to medical issues that can cause cerebral palsy.
You can also start prevention prior to pregnancy by staying as healthy as possible. Make sure all your vaccinations are up to date, practice good hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly, and make sure you know your blood type prior to getting pregnant. Your physician can treat rH incompatibilities if caught early on, which can help prevent jaundice and kernicterus.