What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) can arise from an injury to a baby's brain as it develops. This may occur before, during or after birth. Or in some cases, it may be caused by genetic changes.

Risk factors

We now know from research that there are certain risk factors for cerebral palsy. Risk factors may occur during a woman’s pregnancy, as a baby is being born, or after they are born. Sometimes these risk factors cluster together to form a ‘causal pathway’. A causal pathway is complex series of events that can cause or add to brain damage. This can lead to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy (CP).


Risk factors associated with pregnancy history

  • Previous stillbirths or miscarriages
  • IVF
  • Maternal thyroid disease
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Abnormalities of the placenta
  • Bleeding
  • Infection during pregnancy e.g. CMV, Rubella, Influenza
  • Substance abuse
  • Multiple births (twins/triplets/quadruplets), especially if the babies are born early or one baby dies during the pregnancy.

Risk factors associated with birth history

  • Born prematurely
  • Admitted to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
  • Born with neonatal encephalopathy (involving seizures and resuscitation)
  • Born with birth defects (of the brain, heart or limbs)
  • Born with or admitted to hospital following a stroke
  • Born too small (growth restriction during pregnancy)
  • Low sugars (hypoglycemia) at birth
  • Jaundice at or after birth
  • Born with an infection or a brain infection shortly after birth
  • Car accident or other accident during pregnancy or shortly after birth.

Babies with any of these risk factors, or groups of risk factors, should be screened for cerebral palsy as soon as possible.