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Causes of Cerebral Palsy

In the previous section, we talked about the Types of Cerebral Palsy. In this section, we will pick up with a discussion on the causes of Cerebral Palsy. In this post, you will learn about the brain injuries that can cause Cerebral Palsy and about the warning signs that a baby may be in danger of an injury before, during, and after birth.

This information has been compiled from government sources, medical sources, and from consulting with experts on Cerebral Palsy. 

Let’s start with the main causes of Cerebral palsy.

Brain Damage and Congenital Cerebral Palsy

The vast majority of CP cases are considered “congenital” cases of Cerebral Palsy. As we mentioned in our section on What is Cerebral Palsy?, Congenital CP is caused before or during the time of birth. As much as 90% of cases of CP are congenital. 

Cerebral Palsy is caused by brain damage that affects a person’s ability to control the muscles in her body. One common cause of CP is from a lack of oxygen to the brain, either before or during birth. 

Other risk factors may include: low birth weight, premature birth, infections, jaundice, uterine rupture, placental abruption, improper use of delivery instruments such as forceps and vacuum extractors, and a failure to timely order and perform a cesarean section. 

Throughout the rest of this post, we will cover each potential cause and describe how these factors may contribute to causing CP.

Lack of Oxygen to the Brain

In the womb and during birth, babies need oxygen to develop successfully. When a baby goes too long without oxygen, often called asphyxia, brain damage may occur. 

There are a number of causes of lack of oxygen flow to the brain. If the umbilical cord gets kinked or clamped shut, then blood carrying oxygen to the brain may slow or stop. If the placenta tears from the uterus, or if the uterus ruptures, blood flow may also be interrupted. Sometimes even a mother’s contracts may interrupt oxygen flow to the brain. 

When a baby’s oxygen is limited or cut off, the baby may send a distress signal: accelerations or decelerations of the heart are a potential sign of distress. If oxygen is not restored quickly to the baby, the resulting diagnosis is called “hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy,” or “HIE.” HIE is a common cause of CP.

Medical professionals should carefully monitor for signs of distress from the baby during the pregnancy and during the delivery process. Through careful monitoring and swift action, many birth injuries may be prevented. 

Low Birth Weight

Babies that weigh less than 5.5 lbs (or 2,500 grams) are at risk of CP. As the child’s weight decreases below normal averages, the chances of having CP improve. One way to help prevent a child from having CP is to carefully monitor the child’s growth before delivery, taking additional steps as necessary to help the baby grow on a healthy track when still in the womb. 

Premature Birth

Starting at approximately the 37th week of pregnancy, a child’s risk of CP increases the earlier the child is born. If a child is at risk for being born prematurely, there are treatments that doctors may be able to pursue to try and help keep the baby inside the uterus for longer. 

In addition to administering medicine and hormones to slow down and delay labor, a doctor can also provide recommendations to the mother about how to maintain a proper diet and health regimen to reduce the chances of a premature birth. 


When a mother has an infection during pregnancy, a protein called “cytokines” can be produced within the mother’s body. This protein circulates through the umbilical cord into the baby and can cause inflammation in the baby’s body. Inflammation can contribute to brain injuries associated with CP. In order to reduce the chances of CP because of an infection, it’s important for medical professionals to test for treat infections as necessary during pregnancy. 


If left untreated, Jaundice may result in a condition called “kernicterus.” Kernicterus is due to a chemical build up that goes left untreated after the baby is born. In severe cases, this condition can cause CP. Medical professionals should monitor and treat Jaundice according to the standard of care in order to reduce the chances of CP. 

Uterine Rupture

Uterine rupture occurs when the uterus tears before or during labor and delivery. The most common cause of uterine rupture is when a mother has previously had a c-section birth. Sometimes the scar line from a previous c-section will be weaker than the rest of the uterus, eventually giving way to pressure by tearing. Uterine rupture can cause a lack of oxygen to the baby, which can result in CP. To prevent further injury from a uterine rupture, the medical professionals should consider doing an immediate c-section delivery. 

Placental Abruption

The placenta is normally attached to the uterine wall during a healthy pregnancy. If the placenta tears away from the wall, there may be heavy bleeding, abdominal pain, and a lack of oxygen flowing to the baby’s brain. A lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain is a common cause of CP. To catch a placental abruption, medical providers must act quickly. A c-section is a potential treatment option that may save the mother and baby from further injury. 


Forceps are a clamp like devices that doctors can use to help guide a baby out through the birth canal during delivery. Forceps are not used as commonly anymore during delivery because of the risks associated with a forceps assisted delivery. If the doctor mis-applies the forceps, or uses too much force, the baby’s skull may be injured, causing a brain injury that results in CP. 

To prevent injury, doctors should only use forceps if they have been well trained and are skilled in the proper application of the tool. 

Vacuum Extraction

Vacuum extraction is a procedure used to help along a slow labor process. During the procedure, a vacuum is suctioned onto the baby’s head and then used to help guide the baby out of the birth canal. 

Improper use of a vacuum extractor puts both the mother and the baby at risk of injury. If the baby’s brain is injured during vacuum extraction, the resulting injuries may include CP. Only medical professionals who are well trained and skilled with vacuum extractors should consider using them in delivery. 

Cesarean Section

A cesarean section delivery (commonly called a c-section) is one potential way to reduce the risks of a difficult delivery. If a baby is sending distress signals due to a lack of oxygen, or other abnormal conditions, a c-section can be beneficial. Once the baby is out of the mother’s womb, many more treatment options become available. For example, cooling therapy may be used to treat oxygen deprivation caused injuries, but only once the baby has been delivered. 

Many birth injuries can be attributed to a delay or failure of medical professionals to order and quickly perform a c-section. 

In our next section, we will cover the Prognosis and Life Expectancy of someone with Cerebral Palsy. Keep reading to learn more.

About Brown Trial Firm

Getting help for a child with cerebral palsy can make a big difference. Because early intervention is often key to helping improve a child’s wellbeing, it’s important to act swiftly.

At the Brown Trial Firm, our birth injury attorneys can help you investigate your case, find answers to your questions, and determine whether you are entitled to compensation. 

We offer case reviews at no cost or obligation. Many birth injuries that cause cerebral palsy could have been prevented. Don’t wait, get help today. Call us toll free at +1 (866) 223-7465 or email us a [email protected].


Cerebral palsy – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. (2019). Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved 6 November 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cerebral-palsy/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354005

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