Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy can occur during pregnancy, during the birth process, or during the newborn period. Though there are many possible causes of cerebral palsy, the following are some of the more common identifiable causes or contributing factors.

During Pregnancy:

  • specific types of infections may occur for the first time during pregnancy, including toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegallovirus (CMV), herpes simplex, or untreated group B strep
  • placental abnormalities may occur, including placental insufficiency or premature aging of the placenta during the pregnancy, or premature or sudden separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus (placental abruption), causing intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) of the fetus
  • severe malnutrition of the mother
  • frequent use of certain types of prescription, nonprescription or illegal drugs, or frequent use of alcohol by the mother during pregnancy
  • exposure to certain types of toxic chemicals or other harmful environmental hazards
  • mother's untreated high blood pressure, preeclampsia, eclampsia, toxemia, or diabetes
  • effects of certain types of genetic defects or syndromes

During the Birth Process:

  • untreated umbilical cord compression, prolapse or occlusion
  • unrecognized or untreated signs of fetal distress from pressure on the umbilical cord
  • dystocia, where the baby is stuck in the birth canal too long due to its size or position
  • damage to the placenta by the birth process - placenta previa or placental abruption

During the Newborn Period:

  • complications of severe prematurity, including problems with the heart, blood pressure, circulation, breathing, meconium.aspiration, nutrition, hydration, temperature, infection, jaundice, or bleeding
  • hereditary conditions which interfere with the baby's digestion
  • untreated seizures

Each of the causes noted above has the potential to interfere with proper development of the nervous system or potential to interfere with the delivery of oxygen and nutrition to the brain of the fetus or the newborn infant. When the delivery of oxygen and nutrition to the brain is interrupted, severely impeded, or decreased for a period of time, the brain becomes injured. Depending on the location and the extent of the brain injury, the infant may begin to show signs of delayed development, abnormal activity, increased tone, spasticity, seizures, bleeding in the brain, paralysis of the extremities, hypotonia (flaccidity in the trunk), mental retardation and other signs of defects in physical and mental functioning.

It is essential to realize that cerebral palsy occurs even without malpractice, under the best possible medical care, where there was nothing that should have or could have been done by the health care providers to avoid the injury. Unfortunately, however, it is often the case that the injury could have been prevented altogether or it may have been made considerably less severe if timely and appropriate intervention by the health care providers had occurred. The only way to determine whether the injury was avoidable is to have the prenatal, delivery and newborn medical care reviewed by appropriately credentialed professionals who understand the complex physiological relationship between the mother and the fetus during gestation, the stresses that the infant undergoes during the process of birth, the mechanisms it uses to cope with those stresses, the process of adjustment of the newborn to life outside the womb, and its requirements and responses to certain types of stresses and factors in its environment.