According to the Centers for Disease Control, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood. Around 10,000 babies are diagnosed with the condition in the U.S. annually. There are many causes for cerebral palsy, though in some cases, the cause is never known. There are two types of cerebral palsy, congenital and acquired, both of which may be caused by a difficult birth.
Congenital Cerebral Palsy
Although there are several risk factors for congenital cerebral palsy, which is the most common type of the condition, birth complications are one of them. There are several complications that can occur at birth that may lead to cerebral palsy, including:
- Detachment of the placenta
- Medical conditions of the mother
- Umbilical cord problems
- Uterine rupture
It is important to note that congenital cerebral palsy can also occur before birth. Infections lead to cytokines in the body that can enter the brain and blood of the baby. Cytokines cause inflammation which can lead to brain damage. Chickenpox, rubella, and cytomegalovirus have been linked to brain damage in babies.
Acquired Cerebral Palsy
Acquired cerebral palsy occurs after birth and is often linked to injuries. This may be an injury from a car accident, a fall, child abuse or other causes. Normally, acquired cerebral palsy occurs more than 28 days after a child is born. If your child was diagnosed with acquired cerebral palsy, it is unlikely they were injured by your difficult birth.
What Is a Difficult Birth?
Any delivery that lasts more than 18 hours is considered a difficult birth. Delivery that lasts that long puts stress on the mother and child. There can be many reasons why a birth may be difficult. If your child weighed 8 pounds, 13 ounces or more, the doctor may have had difficulty delivering it. If your pelvis is small or the baby was too large for your pelvis, your labor may be difficult.
An unusually positioned baby can also increase the difficulty of labor. In the case of an unusually positioned baby or a small pelvis, it is possible your doctor should have arranged for a cesarean section rather than allow you to go into labor.
Lack of Oxygen
One of the risks of difficult labor is that your baby could suffer from a lack of oxygen. This is common if you have an umbilical cord issue.
For example, if the umbilical cord drops into the vagina ahead of the baby, a situation known as umbilical cord prolapse, it can make delivery extremely difficult. If the baby continues to put pressure on the umbilical cord in this position, it could decrease the flow of oxygen to the baby leading to brain damage. It is also possible for an umbilical cord to twist around the baby, cutting off the supply of oxygen as the baby travels down the birth canal.
Other Difficult Birth Problems
In an effort to deliver your baby during a difficult birth, your doctor may choose to use suction devices or forceps to pull the child from the birth canal. If they make a mistake with those devices, there can be injury to the baby. It is rare for doctors today to use forceps, but the use of suction devices is still common. These devices can pull too hard on the baby’s neck or head, leading to brain damage.
If you suffered through a difficult labor and you suspect your baby may have cerebral palsy, bring your concerns to your pediatrician’s attention. New parents need to be knowledgeable about signs of cerebral palsy in babies so you can recognize it and catch it early if it happens to your baby. You can follow the link to learn more.