Cerebral Palsy as a Result of Birth Injury: What You Need to Know

person wearing gray shirt putting baby on scale

Did you know that Cerebral palsy is one of the most common motor disabilities in childhood? It occurs in every 1.5-2.5 per 1,000 live births. 

The causes of cerebral palsy are varied and include genetic abnormalities, lack of oxygen during labour and delivery, maternal infections during pregnancy, trauma due to the improper use of forceps during delivery, and complications of prematurity. Though the disease itself is not progressive, the associated medical issues can develop or worsen over time. Its major symptoms include poor coordination, stiff and weak muscles, involuntary movements, and problems with posture. 

It’s important to know that there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but supportive treatments, medications, and surgery, along with rehabilitation, can help manage symptoms.

Understanding Cerebral Palsy as a Birth Injury

Cerebral palsy can result from complications and injuries during the birthing process. During labour and delivery, a baby’s brain is at risk of not getting enough oxygen, experiencing trauma as they pass through the birth canal, suffering bleeding in the brain, and infections. These problems can lead to brain damage that causes cerebral palsy. 

Can Seeking Legal Action Help?

If cerebral palsy is suspected to have resulted from medical errors during labour and delivery, it is advisable to consult a medical malpractice attorney. Working with specialized cerebral palsy lawyers can provide a depth of understanding of the specific nuances and complexities involved in these cases. When an experienced lawyer investigates the events surrounding the birth, they aim to determine if proper standards of care were met. If negligence is established, families may be eligible for financial compensation. This compensation not only addresses medical negligence but also assists families with the extensive medical costs of lifelong care.

While no amount of compensation can truly compensate for the challenges faced, it does provide a means to alleviate some of the financial stresses families encounter. With that understanding, let’s explore the potential causes that might lead to such devastating outcomes.

Causes Of Cerebral Palsy Due To Birth Injury

  • Asphyxia – Lack of oxygen in the brain during labour and delivery. This could be due to issues with the umbilical cord or placenta or failure to monitor fetal distress.
  • Brain bleeding (hemorrhage) – Bleeding in the brain can damage delicate brain tissue. This is often due to trauma from a difficult delivery.
  • Maternal infections – Infections in the mother, like rubella, herpes, and cytomegalovirus, can cross the placenta and infect the baby’s brain.
  • Placental abruption – When the placenta separates from the uterus prematurely. This can deprive the baby of oxygen.
  • Use of forceps or vacuum extraction – Improper use of these instruments can cause brain bleeding and damage.

Around 85-90% of cerebral palsy cases are estimated to be the result of birth injuries, which could potentially have been avoided with proper management of labour and delivery.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The symptoms of cerebral palsy vary greatly from person to person and range in severity from mild to disabling. They can include:

  • Delays in reaching motor skill milestones like rolling over, sitting up,  and crawling 
  • Muscle stiffness, spasms, or involuntary movements
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination
  • Abnormal gait patterns like toe-walking or crouched gait
  • Trouble swallowing or controlling drooling
  • Impaired vision, hearing, or speech

Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed in the first few years of life as symptoms become apparent. Doctors will observe the child’s development and motor abilities over time and may order tests like an MRI to look for signs of brain damage. Early diagnosis allows for early intervention with physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are several different types of cerebral palsy, reflecting the specific parts of the brain that are differentially affected:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy – Stiff, tight muscles, and exaggerated reflexes. The most common type.
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy – Involuntary, uncontrolled movements. Includes athetoid and dystonic CP.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy – Problems with balance, depth perception, and coordination.
  • Mixed cerebral palsy – A combination of symptoms from the different types.

Cerebral palsy can also be classified by the parts of the body affected:

  • Hemiplegia – One side of the body
  • Diplegia – Primarily the legs
  • Quadriplegia – All four limbs
  • Monoplegia – One limb

Treatment and Management

Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, the following treatments and therapies can help manage symptoms:

  • Medications – Muscle relaxants, anticonvulsants, botox injections
  • Surgery – Orthopedic surgeries to correct bone and joint deformities or improve gait. Selective dorsal rhizotomy to reduce spasticity.
  • Physical therapy – Stretching and exercise to improve mobility, gait training, and the use of braces or splints.
  • Occupational therapy – Activities and tools to improve fine motor skills needed for daily tasks.
  • Speech therapy – Assistance with swallowing disorders, drooling, and speech impediments. 
  • Recreational therapy – Develop skills for participation in leisure and play.
  • Assistive technology – Walkers, wheelchairs, and communication devices.

With early, intensive therapy, some children with cerebral palsy can grow up to live relatively normal lives with minimal assistance needed. However, cerebral palsy requires lifelong care, and the more severe the symptoms, the greater the level of support required.

Outlook for Cerebral Palsy from Birth Injury

The outlook for a child with cerebral palsy depends on the severity of symptoms and associated medical issues. Those with mild forms may have relatively normal motor function and intellectual abilities. However, those with severe spastic quadriplegia have much greater impairments.

Possible complications to be aware of include:

  • Intellectual disability – About 1/3 of individuals have an IQ under 70.
  • Seizure disorders – Around 35% of people with CP also have seizures.
  • Speech and communication disorders – Difficulty with articulation and expressive language. 
  • Learning disabilities – Even those with normal intelligence can struggle.
  • Visual and hearing impairments 
  • Malnutrition or feeding problems
  • Hip dislocation and early onset arthritis
  • Spinal deformities like scoliosis
  • Sleep disorders and trouble breathing
  • Incontinence
  • Skin breakdown due to poor circulation and sensation
  • Depression and other mood disorders

Life expectancy can vary considerably. Those with severe quadriplegic CP only live into their 30s on average, while those with mild forms have a normal lifespan. Overall, the average life expectancy for cerebral palsy is around 40 years.


Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects muscle movement and coordination. Though incurable, treatment and therapy can help improve motor function and manage associated medical issues. When cerebral palsy results from preventable mistakes during labour and delivery, the long-term impacts on the child are tragic. However, working with a knowledgeable lawyer provides hope for obtaining justice and securing the resources needed to maximize quality of life.