A number of factors are associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy.

Maternal health

Certain infections or health problems during pregnancy can significantly increase the risk of giving birth to a baby with cerebral palsy. Infections of particular concern include:

  • German measles (rubella). Rubella is a viral infection that can cause serious birth defects. It can be prevented with a vaccine.
  • Chickenpox (varicella). Chickenpox is a contagious viral infection that causes itching and rashes, and it can cause pregnancy complications. It can be prevented with a vaccine.
  • Cytomegalovirus. Cytomegalovirus is a common virus that causes flu-like symptoms and may lead to birth defects if a mother experiences her first active infection during pregnancy.
  • Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by a parasite found in contaminated food, soil and the feces of infected cats.
  • Syphilis. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection.
  • Exposure to toxins. Exposure to toxins, such as methyl mercury, can increase the risk of birth defects.
  • Other conditions. Other conditions may increase the risk of cerebral palsy, such as thyroid problems, intellectual disabilities or seizures.

Infant illness

Illnesses in a newborn baby that can greatly increase the risk of cerebral palsy include:

  • Bacterial meningitis. This is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation in the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.
  • Viral encephalitis. This viral infection causes inflammation in the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.
  • Severe or untreated jaundice. Jaundice is a condition that appears as a yellowing of the skin. Jaundice occurs when certain byproducts of "used" blood cells aren't filtered from the bloodstream.

Other factors of pregnancy and birth

Other factors of pregnancy or birth that are associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy include:

  • Premature birth. A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Babies who are born fewer than 37 weeks into the pregnancy are at higher risk of cerebral palsy. The earlier the baby is born, the greater the risk of cerebral palsy.
  • Low birth weight. Babies who weigh less than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) are at higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. This risk increases as birth weight drops.
  • Breech births. Babies with cerebral palsy are more likely to be in a feet-first position (breech presentation) at the beginning of labor rather than in a headfirst position.
  • Multiple babies. The risk of cerebral palsy increases with the number of babies sharing the uterus. If one or more of the babies die, the chance that the survivors may have cerebral palsy increases.
Aug. 16, 2013

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