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What Can Cause Cerebral Palsy at Birth?

By: Anapol Weiss

Each year in the United States over 10,000 babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a congenial disorder that affects one’s motor skills and is due to abnormal brain development. Birthing injuries that can lead to cerebral palsy take place during pregnancy, labor and delivery if there is damage to an infant’s brain. A birth injury is an injury to an infant that takes place before, during or shortly after birth. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 20% of children with cerebral palsy endured brain injuries during birth.

Types of Brain Damage Birthing Injuries

At one-point, researchers thought that asphyxiation was a leading cause of cerebral palsy during birth. However, asphyxiation accounts for around 10% of cerebral palsy cases. Cerebral palsy most commonly develops during the pre-birth stage due to the follow brain development injuries:

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy – brain damage that occurs due to low blood and oxygen levels to the brain close to the time of delivery. The destruction that occurs in the brain due to restricted blood flow accounts for 4 out of every 1,000 births. This is the most common preventable birthing injury. The medical professionals must closely monitor the baby’s health during pregnancy, delivery and after-birth process to ensure there isn’t oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. With proper medical care, the risk factors can be recognized and solved to prevent this birthing injury.

Periventricular leukomalacia – the white matter in the brain, responsible for learning and functioning, is destroyed and brain tissue is lost.

Intracranial hemorrhage – bleeding in the brain most often due to a fetal stroke. A few risk factors of intracranial hemorrhaging include high blood pressure, damage to blood vessels, infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and complications with the placenta.

Cerebral dysgenesis – abnormal development of the fetal brain caused by direct injury during birth or shortly after. For example, an infection could cause a gene mutation or the fetus could suffer from a stroke. Both of these injuries could lead to cerebral palsy.

Detecting Cerebral Palsy

Typically, babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy by age two, but if the symptoms are mild, the diagnoses could take place as late as five years old. Generally, parents will become skeptical if their infant does not hit milestones that other babies reach at that time and will begin investigating.

The General Movements Assessment is conducted by doctors to infants ranging from newborns to 5 months old to assess the infant’s motor development, posture and muscle tone. These are all predictors of infant development and the General Movement Assessment is a dependable predictor of cerebral palsy. Additionally, doctors will order MRI testing to scan the brain to identify any abnormalities.

Who is Responsible?

There are many birthing injuries that are avoidable during pregnancy, delivery and shortly after birth. These preventable medical mishaps take place usually due to lack of communication between medical professionals either in the delivery, operating or examination room. Issues like failing to diagnose the mother with an infection in a timely manner, misdiagnosis, failure to properly use medical equipment and neglect of safe delivery procedures are all avoidable situations that can lead to serious birthing injuries.

About 50% of all birthing injuries could be avoided if medical professionals identified and properly planned for birthing risks factors. In order to prove a successful medical malpractice case, you must prove your healthcare professional had a duty of care to treat you as their patient, they breached their duty of care and that neglect caused your infant’s injury. If your doctor agreed to treat you, you had a doctor-patient relationship. Essentially, your doctor has a duty to provide you with a reasonable standard of medical care. If your medical professional is negligent in some way, he or she has breached their duty of care. Due to this breach of care, your infant suffered birthing injuries.

Hospitals can be held liable either directly or vicariously for neglect. If a hospital is negligent in their hiring process and hires a healthcare professional who is not competent, the hospital can be held directly liable. If an employee of the hospital neglects their patient, the hospital can be held vicariously liable because they are the entity responsible for all of their employee’s actions. On the other hand, if the healthcare professional is an independent contractor, he or she can be held directly liable for their actions since they are not employed directly by a hospital.