The term cerebral palsy refers to motor coordination problems due to an injury to the brain, which controls both voluntary movement and coordination. Cerebral Palsy is characterized by either weakness or stiffness of the arms and legs. It can also be associated with seizures and some degree of mental retardation. There are different types of Cerebral Palsy, based on either the effect on the child's movement or the area of the brain affected. The overall incidence of Cerebral Palsy is reported to be about 2.5 per 1,000 live births in the U.S.
The most common cause for cerebral palsy is prematurity, where the baby is delivered before the brain fully develops. Babies born prematurely in the range of 26 to 30 weeks gestational age have a significantly increased risk of developing cerebral palsy.
Babies born at term (more than 37 weeks), however, can also develop Cerebral Palsy if there is significant hypoxia or asphyxia associated with the delivery. Because any degree or type of cerebral palsy can have lifelong consequences to both the baby and family, any diagnosis with cerebral palsy requires a careful investigation of the facts surrounding the labor and delivery to determine if there was hypoxia or asphyxia that could have been prevented. In many cases, the medical records, including fetal monitor strips, will show significant problems during labor that should have led to an earlier delivery that would have prevented the outcome of cerebral palsy.
The diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy is typically made sometime after birth, after there is evidence of a developmental delay, a movement disorder or both. While many babies born severely asphyxiated at birth — and who demonstrate problems with feeding or have seizures — will clearly develop a picture of Cerebral Palsy, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that its members do not diagnose a child with Cerebral Palsy before age two.
In any case where there have been significant problems during labor or delivery, where the baby requires admission to the intensive care unit (NICU) because of birth depression, the parents should insist on complete evaluation by a pediatric neurologist or developmental pediatrician to plan a course of therapy or other interventions early in the child's life. Medical malpractice or negligence may be the cause of your child's diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.
If you believe your child suffers from Cerebral Palsy as a result of medical error, negligence or malpractice, please contact our office to discuss your claim.