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What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy and its causesCerebral palsy affects one in every 1000 babies born yearly. It is a condition where brain damage occurs during pregnancy or birth, which causes problems with muscle control, coordination, and movement.

There are many causes of cerebral palsy, including premature delivery, low oxygen levels, infections, trauma, genetic factors, and maternal complications such as diabetes. In medical malpractice or negligence by the delivery team is typically the underlying cause of cerebral palsy.

Was your child born with cerebral palsy or another birth defect likely caused by medical negligence? The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Lawyers, LLC, are legal advocates for children born with neurological problems. Contact our cerebral palsy lawyers at (888) 424-5757 to schedule a free legal consultation.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder that disrupts muscle coordination and the brain's neurological functions. A cerebral palsy diagnosis will lead to abnormal development and missed developmental milestones. Generally speaking, the child's development with physical movement and fine motor skills is likely to suffer.

Most cases of cerebral palsy (CP) are linked to injuries sustained during pregnancy to the baby's developing brain or during the child's delivery. When detected quickly and with an adequate treatment plan, these injuries can be addressed while preventing cerebral palsy. The disorder is primarily the result of delayed action or the failure to detect injuries that can impair brain development or function.

Children with cerebral palsy are affected by the condition for life and, in most cases, require constant and ongoing care to treat their symptoms.

Your family may be eligible for significant financial compensation if your child has suffered brain damage because of a doctor's negligence.

The Chances of Developing Cerebral Palsy According to the Centers for Disease Control

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every 345 infants born in the United States will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Most people with cerebral palsy do not develop the condition naturally alone. While the exact cause may be determined after the fact, usually, something has gone wrong in fetal development or the birthing process. Cerebral palsy is caused as opposed to developing on its own. Usually, something has happened to cause an increased risk of the disease.

Infants born with the condition have had some trauma, issues with oxygen flow, low birth weight, or difficulty in utero that put them at a high risk for cerebral palsy (CP). Cerebral palsy is a common form of birth injury leading to malpractice lawsuits. A baby's risk is greater when being born, and they may develop neurological disorders from brain damage due to a lack or delay of medical intervention.

The Different Types of Cerebral Palsy (Including Spastic Cerebral Palsy)

While it is hard to tell what causes cerebral palsy, it is essential to know the different types of cerebral palsy (CP):

  • Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common form of the disease, making up about 80% of cases. This type of cerebral palsy has stiff muscles. Muscle tone becomes too tight.
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy: There are issues with muscle tone that make it difficult to control movement due to conflicts with brain signals, which makes them more likely to have problems with motor skills.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy: As the least common type of cerebral palsy comprising only 5-10% of cases, ataxic cerebral palsy causes low muscle tone, tremors, speech disorders, and slow eye movements, with the child's sense of balance and depth perception being affected as well. Ataxic cerebral palsy affects primarily unborn babies and develops when an infant's cerebellum is damaged before the baby's brain has had time to fully develop. This part of the brain compensates for the child's ability to keep their balance and ensures each aspect of their body moves in coordination.
  • Mixed cerebral palsy: They live with various health problems that fall into different categories. Mixed cerebral palsy is often a mix of spastic, athetoid, and ataxic cerebral palsies. Symptoms may include increased muscle tone that causes rigidity, floppiness, and jerky movements, as well as imbalance and lack of coordination.

Cerebral palsy can mean both physical and intellectual disabilities. The child will experience difficulty in reaching developmental milestones due to the condition, lower motor skills, and an array of neurological disorders. Many children with cerebral palsy (CP) have brain damage that further complicates the issues due to their inability to communicate.

Primary Causes and Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy (CP)

While it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what causes cerebral palsy, there are links between elevated bilirubin levels and cerebral palsy due to the ability of bilirubin to freely pass into the brain and the undeveloped liver's inability to process and eliminate bilirubin from a newborn's system quickly.

Many cerebral palsy cases involve depleted oxygen levels that play a factor in the development of cerebral palsy, as the areas of the brain affected are responsible for the development of standard motor functions, balance, and the ability to speak.

Here are some common reasons (risk factors) why children suffer the brain damage that causes the disorder:

Birth Injuries and Low Birthweight

Cerebral palsy may develop in the fetus during pregnancy or result from harm received during the arduous labor process.

Low birthweight has a higher risk of experiencing related complications and developing cerebral palsy. According to the Center for Disease Control, infants who weigh less than 5.5 pounds — especially children weighing less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces — are at greater risk of having cerebral palsy.


Infections can lead to increases in specific proteins called cytokines that circulate in the brain and blood of the baby in pregnant women. Cytokines cause inflammation, which can lead to brain damage in the baby. Fever in pregnant women or delivery also can cause this problem.

Infections threaten brain development by triggering an immune response, elevating the internal temperature, and increasing bilirubin levels.

Most infections are cured by administering antibiotics, but the failure to detect the presence of an infection is the primary cause of cases of cerebral palsy (CP).

Detachment of the Placenta During Birth

It can cause uncontrolled bleeding, distressing the infant and limiting the blood supply reaching the brain. The mother and child must be monitored for fetal distress during labor.

Conditions With the Umbilical Cord

When the cord is twisted or wrapped around the child's neck, it causes cerebral palsy. The blood flow to the child's brain can be interrupted.

Injuries to the Developing Brain

These injuries result from assisted delivery devices such as forceps or a vacuum.

One prevalent symptom of injuries sustained in this manner is the presence of a caput succedaneum, a formation on the scalp that results from bleeding and swelling following the use of delivery devices to suction the child's head.

It can permanently damage blood vessels in the brain and lead to brain injury. Bleeding results in the production of bilirubin, and it is vital to monitor babies who have sustained trauma for jaundice as this is a sign of elevated bilirubin levels.

Genetic Mutations

In some cases, genetic markers or mutations that occur naturally throughout the pregnancy may increase the risk of cerebral palsy (CP) or act as the catalyst.

Abnormal Brain Development

Some cases of cerebral palsy and neurological disorders are not linked to the conditions or treatment at the time of birth but result from a traumatic injury occurring during the developmental stages of a child's life.

Blows to the head, such as from a fall or sustained in a car accident, may result in elevated bilirubin levels. Internal bleeding can also limit oxygen supply to the brain, resulting in the death of cells essential to cognitive and motor function, causing further medical problems.

Infections that Occur After Birth

Infants possess underdeveloped immune systems and are susceptible to infection in the months following delivery.

It is vital to detect the presence of serious infections such as meningitis as they are linked to the development of cerebral palsy in infants. The Center for Disease Control mentions that these infections can also include severe jaundice and German measles.

Preventative Measures to Help Identify at-Risk Babies

While medical error is not always the primary cause of cerebral palsy, the Center for Disease Control points out that around ten percent of cases have been linked to medical negligence. Doctors and medical staff should take the following precautions to ensure the unborn child's safety throughout the pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

  • Proper monitoring of the child throughout the pregnancy to detect abnormalities, mutations, infections, or other risk factors that place the child at risk of developing neurological disorders. In the case of a premature baby, doctors should be aware of the risk of the infant developing CP, particularly when the newborn has low birthweight or lacks muscle tone.
  • Special treatment must be given to premature infants or low birth weight, as these factors increase the chance of hemorrhaging during and after delivery. Some studies have suggested that premature babies could be up to 80 times as likely to develop cerebral palsy as those delivered full-term, but these studies have been inconclusive thus far. However, a definitive link between premature birth and cerebral palsy has been proven.
  • The heart rates of both mother and child need to be constantly monitored during delivery to detect symptoms of fetal distress. The baby's abnormal heart rate is likely a symptom of reduced blood or oxygen supply. It represents a threat to its developing brain and overall well-being. Doctors must make decisive decisions regarding using an emergency cesarean section if it is determined that the child or mother is in distress to avoid brain damage.
  • Monitoring newborns for jaundice: The yellow coloration accompanying bruising is due to bilirubin, a substance excreted during the healing process. The liver can normally regulate bilirubin levels and eliminate any excess bilirubin through the urine, but newborns' livers cannot eliminate the substance quickly enough. This results in the yellowing of the skin and eyes as bilirubin accumulates throughout the body, and if detected in time, the condition is easily treatable. Failure to act in time is what allows the excess bilirubin to reach the brain and cause harm to areas responsible for motor function and speech (permanent brain damage)

Contact a Cerebral Palsy Lawyer

If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, we understand the difficulties that you are currently facing. You may have questions and concerns about whether your child's condition resulted from negligence and how best to ensure that you will be able to care for them.

Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC has had extensive experience and success working with clients injured during labor, and we would like the opportunity to answer your questions.

Contact a cerebral palsy lawyer today at (888) 424-5757 or use the contact form to arrange a free consultation to evaluate the details of your case with you and investigate the facts of your situation so that we can advise you on your legal options and how best to proceed.

If we cannot assist you or collect compensation on your behalf, our services will come at no cost to you. Working with an experienced birth injury attorney is in your best interest.


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