Premature Birth and Cerebral Palsy
Approximately 1 to 2% of full-term live births result in infants with cerebral palsy (CP), while for premature births born before 28 weeks, the number of children with CP is ten times greater, at 100 out of every 1,000 live births. However, all babies born prior to or at 37 to 38 weeks are at greater risk for developing CP, one of the leading childhood permanent disabilities. Even babies born just two weeks before their due date double the odds of developing cerebral palsy when compared with full-term babies. Ultimately, this equates to about 10,000 babies per year with CP in the U.S. If this applies to your child, you may be worried that your preterm baby suffered harm during early delivery, and perhaps you wonder if their cerebral palsy could have been prevented, had your doctor properly addressed the situation before, during, or after birth. As the parent of a child born premature with cerebral palsy, it is imperative that you understand the connection between preterm infants and CP risk. Likewise, you should know that there are legal options that may be available to you if your obstetrician or another doctor erred while handling the birth of your child. If you have legal questions about a possible claim for premature birth injuries or cerebral palsy in New Jersey, please feel free to contact us anytime at 973-435-4551 to discuss your case with an attorney free of charge.
Preterm Birth and Risk for Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy is a brain disorder, caused by damage or abnormality, resulting in muscle spasticity, or loss of muscular control, and impaired movement and posture, along with cognitive and sensory difficulties. Some children with CP also experience epileptic seizures. In some instances, cerebral palsy is congenital, while in others, it is acquired. Although some CP causes are unknown, it may occur at any point along the pregnancy and delivery timeline, and even up until a child’s first birthday. Notably, cerebral palsy may result from brain damage suffered during the birthing process, perhaps due to lack of oxygen that leads to brain cell death. It may also be caused by infection or childhood head injury in more rare cases.
While cerebral palsy cases vary significantly among sufferers, prematurity is one of the leading risk factors for CP. In fact, low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds), preterm delivery (born before 37 weeks), multiple births, infertility treatments, pregnancy infections, severe jaundice, a mother’s medical disabilities (thyroid, developmental delay, seizures), inherited conditions, and birth complications that reduce oxygen supply to the baby, all contribute to the likelihood of an infant developing CP. As a general rule, the earlier the baby is born, the higher their risk for CP. Further, acquired CP may be caused by infections, such as meningitis; head injuries; and decreased blood circulation to the brain caused by accidents, stroke, blood clots, sickle cell anemia, and defects of the heart and blood vessels.
Can Risk for Cerebral Palsy be Reduced?
There are ways to lower the odds of your child having CP. For example, your doctor can assist you with maintaining peak health throughout pregnancy, especially by diagnosing and treating infections; updating all vaccinations (chicken pox and rubella in particular); and transferring a single embryo during infertility procedures to reduce the risk of multiple pregnancy. Your doctor should be aware of, and keep you informed about, all of the preventative measures against cerebral palsy while you prepare to bring your baby into the world. To bolster CP prevention during pregnancy, patients should have frequent prenatal care checks and physicians must recognize and treat any signs of maternal illness immediately. In addition, doctors can check for Rh incompatibility, which can cause jaundice, and recommend magnesium sulfate to prepare for preterm birth for mothers known to be at high risk. After birth, it is the responsibility of medical providers to identify and take timely action to treat jaundice and kernicterus. Recognizing blood type incompatibility between mother and infant promptly is also vital. Preterm birth prevention, however, is the best defense against cerebral palsy.
In other words, when it comes to CP treatment and prevention, the focus is more on preterm intervention than on curing CP. Doctors may take actions such as using sulfate magnesium at delivery to boost brain protection for the preemie and lowering the newborn’s body temperature for several days to slow long-term brain damage, after the baby is born. To forestall early delivery, doctors may prescribe several options to keep the baby in the womb for as long as possible. In some cases, they may give the hormone progesterone to women with multiple fetuses, or for women with abnormal cervixes, perform cerclage (stitching the cervix) to delay delivery. Bedrest is commonly ordered for women with pregnancy complications, as well as restricting practices and conditions that induce labor, like sex, dehydration, and infections.
During the labor and delivery process, doctors must immediately recognize signs of fetal distress and oxygen deprivation to prevent serious complications and possible birth injuries like Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), which are also linked with increased cerebral palsy risk. Failure to do so is far more than simply wrong – it may be considered medical malpractice.
Child born Premature with Cerebral Palsy in NJ?
If your doctor failed to protect your baby from cerebral palsy by not following the proper protocols to avoid preterm delivery and CP, you may be entitled to have your child’s extensive medical and treatment costs compensated. Our experienced birth injury lawyers can tell you more about pursuing damages for pregnancy or birth related malpractice with a lawsuit. We are dedicated to assisting children and families affected by cerebral palsy and other injuries resulting from medical negligence in New Jersey, and we are here to assist you with securing the resources your child needs to live their best life. For a free consultation, call 973-435-4551 today.