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What Causes Cerebral Palsy in Babies?

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects a child’s muscles and motor skills. In many cases, cerebral palsy is a genetic disorder. Unfortunately, many children develop cerebral palsy during or after birth because of preventable errors.

Numerous factors, including birth injuries, infections, and trauma, might cause cerebral palsy. Signs of cerebral palsy can vary from case to case, but common signs include developmental delays, weak limbs, or clumsy movements. Medical malpractice is often a factor in cerebral palsy cases, as birth injuries are a major cause of the condition in many infants. If your child exhibits signs of cerebral palsy, contact our experienced Baltimore birth injury attorneys to review your pregnancy and delivery in detail. Your child could have been the victim of medical malpractice. Although there are treatments to help infants born with cerebral palsy, there is no cure, and the condition is life-long. Although most medical malpractice claims adhere to a 2-year time limit, minors have until they turn 18 before the clock starts counting down.

Schedule a free case evaluation at Rice, Murtha & Psoras by calling our birth injury attorneys at (410) 694-7291.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Many possible causes of brain damage could result in cerebral palsy. Unfortunately, some of these stem from preventable mistakes that occur during pregnancy, delivery, or soon after birth. Often, the signs of cerebral palsy are not visible until the infant grows and develops, so diagnoses sometimes come months or even years after birth. Our birth injury attorneys can help you review your child’s medical records and records from their birth to determine if medical malpractice played a role in their diagnosis.


Asphyxia occurs when a child’s brain is deprived of oxygen. This condition could be caused by a pinched umbilical cord, a ruptured uterus, or a detached placenta. During a difficult delivery or breech birth, doctors must appropriately address any issues and complications to protect the health of the mother and child.


A brain hemorrhage occurs when there is abnormal bleeding in the brain. Usually caused by a ruptured blood vessel, a hemorrhage could happen naturally or because of the negligent conduct of the treating doctor. Cerebral palsy could develop when the bleeding results in pressure that damages the brain.

Brain Trauma

The skull surrounding an infant’s head is soft and not fully formed. This is necessary to facilitate birth. However, it also means that the brain is subject to injury if the child experiences trauma during the birthing process. Doctors often injure children by applying excessive pressure with forceps or a vacuum extractor. Any brain damage could cause cerebral palsy.

Infections in Mothers or Newborns

If the mother is ill or has a serious infection during pregnancy, their child is also at risk. The developing baby could be harmed when a doctor fails to treat or misdiagnoses a mother’s medical condition. Conditions such as cytomegalovirus and rubella present significant risk factors for cerebral palsy.

A newborn infant could also contract a serious infection. For example, meningitis is an infection that could result in brain damage and cerebral palsy.


It is not uncommon for a newborn infant to experience a mild case of jaundice. The excess bilirubin in an infant’s blood is typically filtered through the liver. Once this occurs, the condition should clear up. However, if left untreated or undiagnosed, a severe case of jaundice could develop into a condition known as kernicterus. High bilirubin levels are often toxic and could cause permanent brain damage and cerebral palsy.

Sings of Cerebral Palsy in Infants

Cerebral palsy is a complicated medical condition, and infants might show a variety of signs and symptoms in the months and years after birth. The signs of cerebral palsy can vary depending on the severity of the condition. In more serious cases, signs might be more pronounced, while they could be more subtle and easier to miss in cases where the condition is less severe.

Missing Developmental Milestones

If you notice that your child is not hitting childhood developmental milestones when they should be, or at all, you should speak to a doctor about the possibility of cerebral palsy. Developmental milestones often include speech, sitting up, crawling, and overall physical development. If you notice your child remains quiet while others are babbling and becoming more vocal, there might be a cause for concern.

A delay in a single developmental milestone is often normal, and different children will grow and develop at different paces. However, if your child is delayed in several milestones, see a doctor immediately. If your doctor believes your child has cerebral palsy, an attorney can help you evaluate the possibility of a birth injury claim.

Difficulty with Seeing and Hearing

Cerebral palsy affects numerous body parts, systems, and functions. The senses are no exception. If your infant is exhibiting trouble with vision or hearing, you should have them evaluated by a doctor for cerebral palsy.

Again, developmental delays are not unusual in young infants and babies. However, if you notice multiple developmental delays, there might be a cause for concern. Such delays in young babies or infants are often connected to birth injuries negligent inflicted by doctors.

Shaking, Spasms, and Other Uncontrolled Movements

Physical movements are perhaps the symptoms most associated with cerebral palsy. A child with cerebral palsy might have their movement and coordination affected in numerous ways. First, they might experience muscle stiffness and spasticity, which refers to exaggerated reflexes. On the other hand, some infants and babies show signs of weak or floppy limbs with variations in muscle tone.

You should also keep an eye on how your child is crawling or moving. If your child can crawl or walk, they might be uncoordinated, clumsy, or show a lack of balance. You should also watch out for walking with an unusual gait, such as walking with knees crossed or an unusually wide stance.

Shaking and spasms are also common signs of cerebral palsy. Tremors, spasms, and jerky movements are not unusual in babies with cerebral palsy. Often, these movements are uncontrolled and unintentional. In some cases, children with cerebral palsy experience serious seizures.

Difficulty with Speaking, Eating, and Swallowing

One of the more concerning signs of cerebral palsy is trouble eating, swallowing, and speaking. If a child has difficulty eating and swallowing, they are at a higher risk of malnutrition and other developmental complications caused by the lack of nutrition. You might also notice difficulty with sucking and chewing.

As your child gets older, they should be engaging in more and more baby talk and babbling. If this is not the case, talk to a doctor about the possibility of cerebral palsy.

How Does Medical Malpractice Result in Cerebral Palsy?

Many of the conditions described above could be prevented with proper medical care. In many cases, brain damage in a newborn is the direct result of a preventable mistake by the treating doctor or another medical professional assisting during the birth. Mistakes could also occur before the child is delivered.

Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose Medical Conditions

A baby could experience harm, including brain damage, during pregnancy if the mother has a medical condition, infection, or illness that goes untreated or misdiagnosed. When doctors fail to provide the care a pregnant mother requires, their conduct could constitute medical malpractice.

Birth Injuries

Many things could go wrong during delivery. Experienced doctors must adequately assess the risks a mother and child face and be prepared to address any problems that arise. Some common causes of birth injuries that result in brain damage include improper use of forceps, failure to order a cesarean section, and misdiagnosing fetal distress.

Lack of Post-Natal Treatment

Some infants develop cerebral palsy soon after birth. If a child suffers from untreated infections, such as meningitis, it could injure their brain and cause cerebral palsy. Failure to diagnose or treat a severe case of jaundice could also constitute medical malpractice.

The above is far from a complete list of errors and careless mistakes your doctor or hospital staff could make. If your child has cerebral palsy, it is crucial to speak with a knowledgeable Baltimore medical malpractice attorney to help determine if someone should be held liable for your pain and the harm your child suffered.

Is Cerebral Palsy Treatable?

Cerebral palsy is a permanent condition, and there is no cure. However, depending on your child’s specific condition, treatment options might exist. Treatments can help alleviate certain symptoms and improve your child’s condition. How your child responds to treatment depends on the extent of their diagnosis.

The best treatment for your child depends on their needs. Certain medications help with muscle control, making movement easier and more controllable. Physical therapy could also help children with cerebral palsy learn to walk better and move around on their own. Occupational therapy is useful for teaching children how to be more independent and perform ordinary daily tasks more easily.

If cerebral palsy is more severe, children might need mobility aids. Wheelchairs, crutches, and other aids might be a necessary part of living.

If we believe that your child’s cerebral palsy diagnosis stems from medical malpractice from when they were born, we can help you claim these treatment costs as part of your damages in a lawsuit. The more treatment your child needs, the greater your financial compensation should be. Often, children need life-long care and help, and we can assess future damages in your lawsuit.

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit if My Child was Born with Cerebral Palsy?

Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524(2), most medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within 2 years of the date the malpractice occurred or was realized. The time frame for cases involving cerebral palsy related to birth injuries might be tricky to determine.

If a birth injury is apparent immediately after birth, the deadline will most likely run from the date of birth. However, if your child’s condition was not apparent until much later, the statute of limitations might be tolled, and you might have additional time. For example, suppose you and your doctor did not realize your child has cerebral palsy from a birth injury until the child was 1 year old. In that case, the statute of limitations would run from the date you realized the condition, not the date of birth.

There was a hard limit on how long a statute of limitations might be tolled in the past. Ordinarily, the deadline to file is tolled for minors until they turn 18. However, the statute of repose enforced a time limit of at most 7 years. This meant that if a case was not filed by the time a child was 7, their right to sue was lost.

However, in the 2019 case of Yanakos v. UPMC, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania declared that the statute of repose was unconstitutional regarding medical malpractice claims involving minors. This means the deadline begins to run once your child is 18, and they have until they turn 20 to file a medical malpractice claim.

Contact Our Maryland Birth Injury and Cerebral Palsy Lawyers to Discuss Your Case

Schedule a case evaluation free of charge with our Maryland medical malpractice attorney of Rice, Murtha & Psoras by calling (410) 694-7291.