Is Cerebral Palsy Preventable?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 16, 2023
3 min read

Cerebral palsy is a disease that keeps people from being able to control their muscles. While there’s no sure-fire way to prevent it, you can take steps to make it less likely. Doctors don’t completely understand why it happens, and there is no cure.

Cerebral palsy (CP) happens when the brain doesn’t develop normally. In most cases, it’s when a baby is in the womb, but it can also develop in early childhood.

One possible cause of CP is genes: There’s a problem with the body’s growth blueprint that affects the brain’s progress.

But there are other things that may trigger it. While most often there’s no specific cause known, CP can also develop because:

  • The mother gets an infection while they're pregnant, and it hurts the baby.
  • Something limits the blood supply to the baby’s brain in the womb.
  • The mother abuses alcohol or drugs while they're pregnant.
  • A difficult childbirth keeps the baby’s brain from getting enough oxygen.
  • An infant gets an infection that causes inflammation in or near the brain.
  • An accident or fall injures a child’s brain.

There are several precautions parents can take that make these potential causes less likely. For a mother-to-be, a healthy pregnancy plays a big role.

A mother who’s as healthy as possible gives their baby better chances of being healthy, too. 

If you want to get pregnant:

  • Make sure any medical conditions -- diabetes, high blood pressure, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or eating disorders -- are being treated.
  • Don’t smoke, use drugs or drink too much alcohol (binge-drink). If you’re having trouble with any of these, ask your doctor or nurses to help you get counseling and get it under control.
  • Talk to a health professional if you’re under a lot of stress, or if you live or work close to toxic substances.
  • Make sure you are up to date on vaccines, including the flu shot, to protect against diseases such as rubella (German measles) before you get pregnant. Measles during pregnancy can affect the baby’s brain. 

A healthy pregnancy helps prevent the problems that can contribute to cerebral palsy. If you’re pregnant:

Go to the doctor for regular prenatal care. That can help protect against complications such as low birth weight and premature birth.

  • Guard against infections. Wash your hands often. If you feel sick or get a fever, call your doctor right away.
  • Have the doctor check whether you and your baby have different blood types. If so, medication can keep that from causing trouble. This can also be done after your baby is born.

A couple of important steps can help ensure that your newborn is on the right track.

Before you leave the hospital, your little one should be checked for jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes). Stopping that can help prevent a possible problem that can lead to CP.

Also, your baby’s routine recommended shots can protect them against meningitis and encephalitis. These diseases can contribute to CP.

CP sometimes happens because an infant or small child gets a head injury that keeps their brain from developing the right way. Here are some ways to guard against that.

At home: Put safety gates at the tops and bottoms of the stairs. Install window guards so your child can’t fall out. Put safety rails on their bed.

In the car: Fasten baby into whatever type of safety seat suits their age and size.

Around water: Whether it’s a baby in the tub or kids splashing around in a pool or lake, an adult should always be watching. Give them your complete attention. Don’t talk on the phone or read.

During playtime: When your youngster rides a bike, they should wear a helmet. If you take them to a playground, choose one that has a shock-absorbing surface such as sand or wood mulch.

Always and everywhere: Resist any urge to hit or shake your child.

Although these precautions won’t totally guarantee that your child will escape cerebral palsy, they will help give their life a healthy start.