Although in some instances doctors cannot determine exactly why a child develops cerebral palsy, there are a number of different risk factors that may play a role.
Risk Factor #1: Birth Complications
Complications during the delivery process can increase a baby’s chances of developing cerebral palsy. In fact, in the past, birth complications were believed to be the only cause of cerebral palsy, but as science progressed, numerous other factors were discovered.
Birth complication risk factors include:
- Not having enough oxygen during the delivery process
- Abnormal delivery position, such as the breech position
- Placental problems, including the placenta detaching too early
- Improper use of forceps and other birth-assisted tools during delivery
- Membranes rupturing too early
Risk Factor # 2: Infections
Certain maternal and fetal infections can heighten the risk of an infant developing cerebral palsy, especially if not treated in a timely manner. The most common infections that increase the risk include:
- Sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and syphilis
- High fever
- Bacterial infections
- Toxin exposure
- Untreated infant jaundice
Risk Factor #3: Rh Incompatibility
Blood type incompatibility occurs when the mother’s blood type is different from her infant’s and is not compatible. For example, a mother with Type O blood may be incompatible with a child with Type A, B, or AB blood.
Rh incompatibility doesn’t always mean that a baby will develop cerebral palsy, but it’s a risk factor and, therefore, a blood compatibility test should be carried out during early pregnancy.
Risk Factor #4 Multiple Births
Carrying twins or multiples has been linked to a higher chance of infants developing cerebral palsy due to numerous complication that have the tendency to surface when carrying more than one infant, including:
- Premature delivery
- Low birth weight
- Breech birth position
- Delivering the infants via C-section
Risk Factor #5 Fetal Growth Restriction
Fetal growth restriction, also known as intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), occurs when a baby falls below the 2.5 percentile when compared with other infants the same age. IUGR can occur due to numerous reasons, including:
- Maternal heart disease
- Maternal alcohol and illegal substance use
- Placenta issues
- Inadequate nutrition
- Smoking during pregnancy
In addition to a heightened risk of developing cerebral palsy, IUGR is one of the leading causes of perinatal death.
Risk Factors Are Not Symptoms Or Causes of Cerebral Palsy
It’s important to understand that risk factors are not signs or symptoms of cerebral palsy. For example, a baby born prematurely isn’t a symptom of the disorder like spastic movements are. Risk factors are simply factors that can cause cerebral palsy.
Furthermore, risk factors are also not causes of cerebral palsy. For instance, cerebral palsy can be caused by brain damage, but a difficult delivery and oxygen loss during delivery are risk factors that can lead to brain damage.
How to Avoid Risk Factors
In some instances, mothers take every step possible to ensure a healthy pregnancy, but genetics, physician mistakes and negligence, and other issues still make risk factors arise. However, there are different things to keep in mind that will help you avoid risk factors, which include:
- Always keep prenatal appointments, and be certain to ask your doctor about any potential risk factors he/she may notice during routine exams.
- Don’t drink alcohol, take illegal drugs or smoke during pregnancy.
- Avoid exposure to known toxins
- Ask for a blood compatibility test to be performed as early as possible during pregnancy.
- Avoid harmful household products
Cerebral Palsy Risk Factors Facts and Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Infants are a great risk of developing brain damage via risk factors when compared to older children.
- Multiples are five times more likely to develop cerebral palsy when compared to single babies.
- Babies born via in vitro fertilization are 1.6 times more likely to develop cerebral palsy, typically because babies born with this method tend to have lower birth weight and/or born as multiples.