What causes cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is caused by an injury to the baby’s brain which occurs before, during or immediately after birth. If the injury was caused by negligent medical, maternity or neonatal care, or if the cause was an event which should have been avoided with appropriate care, the injured child may have a claim.


    How can cerebral palsy be caused?

    There are a number of ways in which cerebral palsy can be caused, many of these through medical negligence, they include:

    • Lack of oxygen

      Permanent brain damage can be caused through a lack of oxygen to the brain either during or around the time of birth. This is often described as hypoxia, hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE), asphyxia or anoxia.

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    • Infection

      Infections which can potentially cause cerebral palsy include maternal infection during pregnancy (such as Group B Strep or GBS), infection through premature or prolonged rupture of membranes (PROM) or neonatal meningitis.

      Group B Strep (GBS)

      One in every 2,000 newborn babies in the UK and Ireland are diagnosed with GBS. The infection is common, and is not a sexually transmitted disease, and will probably have been harmless to the baby’s mother. However, at this early stage, before the newborn baby has developed their immune system, group B strep infection must be diagnosed and treated quickly if more serious complications are to be avoided.

      Delayed diagnosis and treatment of GBS infection in a newborn baby can lead to life-threatening conditions, including septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis.

      One in ten babies born with group B strep die from the infection. Of those who survive GBS infection, one in every five babies is left permanently disabled by its complications, such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness or a serious learning disability.

      With prompt diagnosis and treatment, most GBS babies make a good recovery.


      Neonatal meningitis is a serious, disabling and potentially life-threatening condition affecting around 300 babies in the UK each year. Urgent hospital treatment with antibiotics is essential to avoid serious complications. With swift treatment many babies make a good recovery however if there is a delay in diagnosis or treatment of neonatal meningitis then permanent damage to the brain and nerves may already have occurred. The child can be left with a permanent disability such as cerebral palsy. 

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      Prolonged rupture of the membranes (PROM)

      Rupture of the membranes (or waters breaking) is a natural process which usually occurs around the start of labour when the pregnancy has reached full term (37 or more weeks). In some cases, rupture of the membranes takes place before labour begins (pre-labour) or before the pregnancy has reached term (pre-term pre-labour).

      From the time that the mother’s waters have broken, the unborn baby is at risk of chorioamnionitis, an infection which can be caused by bacteria ascending from the mother into the uterus where it can affect the baby. The infection risk to the baby increases with time and is, therefore, greater where there has been a prolonged time-lapse between rupture of membranes and delivery. In such cases, the pregnant woman should be carefully monitored for signs of infection, such as high temperature or uterine tenderness, and offered antibiotics if necessary. The unborn baby should also be monitored regularly to check on their wellbeing and ensure its safe delivery.

      Failure to diagnosis or act on signs of a chorioamnionitis infection could result in permanent brain damage to the child, such as cerebral palsy.

    • Kernicterus brain damage (from untreated jaundice)

      If there is a delay in diagnosis or treatment of jaundice then babies can develop kernicterus. This brain damage results in permanent neurological disability and dysfunction known as bilirubin encephalopathy. Longer term disabling effects of kernicterus include cerebral palsy, impaired hearing and learning disabilities.

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    • Brain damage caused by untreated hypoglycaemia

      Whilst permanent brain damage caused by hypoglycaemia is rare there have been incidents where we have seen delays in testing/referral/admission, delays in administering glucose or failure to properly advise parents.

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    • Complications of twin pregnancies including twin to twin transfusion (TTTS)

      Twin pregnancies, as with all multiple pregnancies, carry greater risks for the mother and baby than ‘singleton’ pregnancies.

      Many of these risks can be managed by additional scanning and monitoring in pregnancy, proper advice and planning the method of delivery for the birth, and by correct and skilled management of labour and delivery, including electronic fetal heart monitoring during labour.

      TTTS (twin to twin transfusion syndrome)

      Twin to twin transfusion syndrome (or TTTS) is a condition which can affect monochorionic twins (identical twins sharing a single placenta). TTTS occurs when abnormal blood vessel connections in the placenta allow the blood supply to flow to the unborn babies in an unbalanced or disproportionate way, so that one baby receives more of the blood supply than the other. When this happens, the ‘donor twin’ doesn’t get enough blood and is left undernourished, whilst the ‘recipient twin’ risks heart failure from receiving too much blood and complications from a build-up of amniotic fluid. 

      Delays in diagnosis, referral to a fetal medicine specialist centre and treatment of TTTS can result in death or hypoxic (lack of oxygen) brain damage to the baby.

      Breech presentation and delivery

      When an unborn baby is positioned in the womb with their bottom or feet down (instead of head down) in the final weeks of pregnancy this is known as a breech presentation. 

      Breech presentation can occur in any pregnancy, but it is common in twin pregnancies for one twin to be in the breech position. Planned caesarean section is often recommended in twin pregnancy where the presenting twin is in the breech position, but if labour begins spontaneously it may be safer for the babies to be delivered vaginally by an obstetrician who is skilled in vaginal breech delivery.

      Claims can arise where babies have suffered a brain injury from hypoxia or trauma as a result of incorrect management of the twins’ delivery.

    • Bleeding within the baby’s brain

      Bleeding within the baby’s brain can be caused by trauma from a forceps or vacuum delivery, haemorrhagic disease from a Vitamin K deficiency or intra-ventricular haemorrhage (IVH).

    Substantial settlement for boy with learning difficulties from IVH around the time of birth

    Boyes Turner’s birth injury lawyers have obtained a substantial settlement for a boy whose...

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    £4.6 million plus the security of lifelong payments of up to £360,000pa following cerebral palsy birth injury

    Boyes Turner’s cerebral palsy birth injury team have negotiated a settlement of...

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    £7.49 million birth injury compensation settlement over predicted lifetime after negligent maternity care causes severe four-limb dystonic cerebral palsy

    Boyes Turner’s cerebral palsy birth injury specialists have secured a £7.49 million*...

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    £21 million settlement for teenager with cerebral palsy from negligently delayed delivery

    Boyes Turner’s specialist cerebral palsy lawyers have secured a £21...

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