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Cerebral Palsy (cont.)

What Increases Your Risk

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.

It is estimated that about 80 out of 100 children with CP had a disruption in the normal development of parts of their brain during fetal growth.2 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.

For information about fetal growth, see the Interactive Tool: From Embryo to Baby in 9 MonthsClick here to see an interactive tool..

Risk factors before birth

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

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

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 at increased risk for developing bleeding in the brain (intraventricular hemorrhage, or IVH), which may result in CP.
  • Difficult or prolonged labor. Brain infection or physical trauma (such as from the use of forceps or other instruments, which is rare) are all risks associated with a problem birth that can increase a baby's risk of developing CP. A lack of oxygen, although it occurs less commonly, also increases a baby's risk. 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. If it separates before the baby is born, the baby loses the blood and oxygen supply from the mother, which increases the risk of developing CP.
  • Infections in the mother's uterus or vagina, such as strep infections, that transfer to the baby during birth.

Risk factors after birth

Risk factors for developing CP just after birth or within the first 2 or 3 years of life are related to brain damage and include:

  • A serious illness, such as severe jaundice, meningitis, or lead poisoning (very rare). Early signs of concern include breathing problems, low levels of thyroid hormone (thyroxine), seizures, and low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). Babies born prematurely or with a low birth weight are susceptible to these illnesses.
  • Serious head injury from an accident or fall. This includes injury to a baby from shaking, throwing, or other force (shaken baby syndrome, also called intentional head injury or IHI).
  • Lack of oxygen to brain tissues, such as the result of a brain tumor or a near-drowning incident.
  • Having some kinds of blood-clotting or genetic problems.
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