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Children's Health

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Cerebral Palsy - What Increases Your Risk

Risk factors before birth

Babies born to teen mothers or to mothers age 35 and older have a higher risk for cerebral palsy (CP).

Also, a baby's risk for developing a brain abnormality or injury that leads to CP increases when the mother has certain problems during her pregnancy. These problems may include:

Premature birth and low birth weight

About half of all children who have cerebral palsy (CP) are born prematurely.1 The risk of a baby having CP increases as the birth weight decreases.

A baby who is born prematurely usually has a low birth weight, less than 5.5 lb (2.5 kg). But full-term babies can also have low birth weights. Multiple-birth babies are more likely than single-birth babies to be born early or with a low birth weight.

Most children with CP had a disruption in the normal development of parts of their brain during fetal growth. Low-birth-weight, premature babies are more likely than full-term, normal-weight babies to have had developmental problems during fetal growth that can injure the brain. For example, a condition called periventricular leukomalacia, or PVL, which reflects injury to the white matter of the brain, is more likely in babies born prematurely than in those born at full term.

Risk factors for cerebral palsy at birth

In rare cases, some babies develop CP as a result of complications during the mother's pregnancy or at birth. Risk factors include:

  • Premature birth. Premature babies are more likely to have bleeding in the brain (intraventricular hemorrhage, or IVH) or a brain injury called periventricular leukomalacia (PVL). Either of these problems may cause CP.
  • Difficult or prolonged labor.
    • Brain infection or physical trauma can increase a baby's risk of getting CP.
    • A lack of oxygen also increases a baby's risk. This isn't common.
    • CP can itself cause a baby to have a difficult birth because of body movement and posture problems related to the condition.
  • Placenta abruptio. The placenta usually separates from the wall of the uterus several minutes after the birth of the baby. But if it separates before the baby is born, the baby loses the blood and oxygen supply from the mother.
  • Infections in the mother's uterus or vagina, such as strep infections, that transfer to the baby during birth.
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