What causes Cerebral Palsy?

In most cases, the exact cause of Cerebral Palsy cannot be established. For reasons unknown, the brain of the unborn child does not develop normally or is damaged during pregnancy. This could be due to maternal health problems or infection – or during labour and delivery, when the baby may experience a shortage of oxygen.

Premature babies – particularly those weighing less than 1.5 kg – have a higher risk of Cerebral Palsy than full term babies. This is why there is a greater risk of Cerebral Palsy with multiple births as they are often premature.

Brain damage in infancy or early childhood can also lead to Cerebral Palsy. A baby or toddler might suffer this damage as a result of lead poisoning, bacterial Meningitis, drowning, being shaken as an infant (shaken baby syndrome) or suffering head injuries in a car accident.

It can be very difficult for doctors to give an exact reason as to why part of a baby's brain has been injured or failed to develop. In some instances, there may be no obvious single reason why a child has Cerebral Palsy. It is generally accepted that causes of Cerebral Palsy can be multiple and complex.

Risk factors
A risk factor is not a cause; it is a condition or characteristic which, if present, can increase the chance of something occurring, in this case, Cerebral Palsy. Even though a risk factor may be present it does not mean that Cerebral Palsy will occur; nor does the absence of a risk factor mean it will not occur.

These are some of the risk factors:

  • Difficult or premature birth
  • Twins or multiple birth
  • Mother’s age being below 20 or over 40
  • Father under 20 years
  • First child or child born fifth or more
  • Baby of low birth weight (less than 1.5 kgs)
  • Premature birth (less than 37 weeks)

More than one risk factor can be present at the same time (for example, low birth weight and being a twin) and such a combination can further increase the probability of Cerebral Palsy occurring.

What does NOT cause Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy is not a disease and it is not hereditary. It is highly unlikely that two children in the same family would be born with the condition.

unborn baby

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