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Is Cerebral Palsy Always Caused by Birth Injury?


Cerebral palsy (CP) is a mobility condition caused by infant brain damage; however, infant brain damage can have multiple causes and risk factors. As a result, it can be difficult to determine exactly what caused your child’s CP. Today’s article is intended to serve as a general guide to help parents understand what might have caused their child’s cerebral palsy and whether their child’s mobility problems were caused by birth injuries.

Cerebral palsy is medically classified into two categories:

  • Congenital CP is cerebral palsy that is caused by brain damage before or during birth.
  • Acquired CP is cerebral palsy that develops from brain damage caused after birth.

The vast majority of CP cases (85-90%) are caused either in pregnancy or during birthing process.

Is CP Always a Result of Birth Injury?

Because brain damage can occur due to a number of risk factors, it can sometimes be impossible to pinpoint what exactly led to your child’s disorder. There are some children who have numerous risk factors and suffer little to no brain damage. There are others who suffer severe loss of brain function despite few risk factors. Even so, nurses and doctors are trained to identify and prepare for these risk factors. Their failure to respond correctly to cerebral palsy risk factors can absolutely contribute or cause babies to develop cerebral palsy.

In other words: no, not all cerebral palsy is caused by birth injury. However, there are a high number of cases where cerebral palsy develops as a result of a doctor’s inaction or negligence. In many of these cases, the patients never realize their doctors made a mistake.

The Birth-Related Causes of Congenital Cerebral Palsy

Congenital CP is caused by brain injury before, during, or sometimes immediately after delivery. Preventing congenital CP is a matter of understanding the mother’s health risks, such as if the mother has rubella, syphilis, Zika, thyroid problems, or other issues known to cause birth problems. Preventing CP is also a matter of monitoring fetal distress, which can indicate when a fetus lacks oxygen during the birth process.

The common causes of birth injury CP include:

  • Jaundice: Excess bilirubin in the blood can lead to brain damage (kernicterus).
  • Placental Abruption: When the placenta separates from the uterine wall, it prevents the baby from getting oxygen to the brain.
  • Umbilical Cord Problems: If the umbilical cord wraps around the baby’s neck, it can cut off blood to the brain, leading to damage.
  • Breech Presentation: If the baby delivers feet-first, it could make it difficult for them to get air—especially during a difficult birth.
  • Misuse of Forceps: Poor use of birthing aids could cause brain injuries that lead to long-term damage.
  • Infections: A variety of infections in the mother or infant during pregnancy when not timely identified and treated can lead to brain damage during pregnancy and the birth process.

The key to understanding congenital CP is that brain damage is not always “genetic.” Damage to the brain can occur during delivery in a variety of ways, but ultimately, it’s the doctor’s job to account for those risk factors and respond accordingly. The medical team’s response to the mother’s risk factors, from infection to low birth weight, could mean the difference between a baby with full mobility and a baby with CP.

Is Acquired CP the Same as Birth Injury CP?

It’s worth noting that “acquired CP” is a bit of a misnomer. Cerebral palsy caused by medical malpractice during birth is technically “congenital,” even when the child’s brain damage was directly caused by poor medical care or negligence during delivery. Acquired cerebral palsy cases only include cases where the child’s brain damage was caused after delivery, either by infections like meningitis, through accidental head injury or loss of oxygen after delivery.

Why You Should Always Consult a Lawyer If Your Child Has CP

You may be surprised to hear that healthcare providers are not required to report their mistakes to patients. If a medical team responds too slowly to fetal distress or mishandles a breech birth or infections during pregnancy, you wouldn’t know unless you investigated it yourself. Because the signs of cerebral palsy won’t show for a few months, and because diagnosis can take up to two years or longer, you may never even realize the role your doctor might have played in your child’s developmental problems.

If you suspect your child has cerebral palsy, calling a lawyer offers your best chance at getting answers. A birth injury lawyer is well-versed in hospital administration and can cut through bureaucratic red tape in order to find out what happened during your child’s delivery.

The Florida birth injury lawyers at Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A. have successfully resolved some of the most severe and painful birth injury cases in the nation. Our team works with hospital administration experts, medical experts, and investigators to create a thorough timeline of what happened during your child’s birth. Our experience with the American healthcare system gives us insight into how doctors, nurses, and hospital officials behave, allowing us to uncover negligence. Most importantly, our work has provided our clients with the financial resources to get treatment, physical therapy, and long-term care so their child can live as independent a life as possible.

If you suspect your child has CP, let us help you get answers. Call (305) 770-6335 to get a free consultation today. There is no fee unless you win, so there’s no risk to calling.