Almost 80 per cent of all child disabilities are detected by their parents; seeing their children every day they are naturally best placed to detect intellectual and developmental delays.
Asking questions and seeking expert advice over such concerns can lead to an early diagnosis of conditions such as cerebral palsy.
Importantly, it can also secure the support you and your child need. It’s not unusual for parents to have concerns about whether their child is developing at the expected rate in their formative years. In the vast majority of cases, there is no cause for concern.
However, it is important for parents to be aware of the expected developmental stages their child should be reaching at certain ages and to ask questions of a medical professional if they have any concerns. Cerebral palsy is just one of many birth injuries that has severe and long-lasting effects.
Cerebral Palsy Causes
Children who have cerebral palsy typically display delayed growth and experience difficulty reaching developmental milestones. If your baby spent time in intensive care or you experienced any of the following factors, your child may face an increased risk of being diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
- Birth complications: Problems with the umbilical cord during birth, uterine rupture, or the detachment of the placenta can disrupt the oxygen supply to the baby and cause cerebral palsy.
- Restricted blood flow to the brain: This can be caused by cerebrovascular accidents, like a stroke or bleeding in the brain, sickle cell disease or a heart defect being present at birth. Blood clotting problems or the failure to form blood vessels properly may be another reason.
- Infections during pregnancy: Infections can cause an increase in cytokines, a protein that circulates in the baby’s brain and blood during pregnancy. Cytokines cause inflammation which can lead to brain damage. Fever during pregnancy or delivery can also cause this problem. Illnesses like chickenpox and German measles have been linked to a heightened risk of cerebral palsy, along with maternal pelvic infections.
- Mum’s medical history: Mums with a thyroid problem, a history of seizures, or intellectual disability have a slightly higher risk of their child being born with cerebral palsy.
- Premature birth: Children born before the 37th week of pregnancy, and especially before the 32nd week, have a greater chance of medical problems, which can heighten the risk of cerebral palsy.
- Low birth weight: Babies with a birth weight of less than five-and-a-half pounds (2,500g), and especially those weighing less than 3lbs 5oz (1,500g) are at greater risk of having acquired cerebral palsy.
- Multiple births: Twins, triplets, and other multiple births face a higher risk for cerebral palsy, especially if a twin or triplet dies before birth or shortly after being born. Research suggests that some, but not all, of this increased risk is because babies from multiple pregnancies are often low in weight or born prematurely, or both.
- IVF and assisted fertility treatments: Babies born from pregnancies where some form of fertility treatment was used are at greater risk of cerebral palsy. This is often because children conceived using fertility treatments are frequently delivered prematurely or as part of a multiple births, or both.
- Jaundice and kernicterus: Many newborn babies suffer from jaundice, a yellowing of the skin because of a build-up of the chemical bilirubin in their blood. If left untreated for too long, jaundice can lead to kernicterus, a condition that can cause cerebral palsy.
- Brain infection: Serious infections like meningitis or encephalitis can occur during infancy and heighten the risk of acquired cerebral palsy. This is why it is important to ensure certain vaccinations are received as they can decrease the risk of brain infections.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a condition that occurs as a result of a brain injury or due to the abnormal development of the brain. It affects a child’s ability to control their muscles.
The brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy can happen during fetal development in pregnancy, during labour and delivery, or shortly after birth. It can also develop during the formative years of a child’s life, while the brain is still growing and developing.
Each person with cerebral palsy will experience a unique set of circumstances, depending on the severity they have. For a cerebral palsy diagnosis to be determined, a paediatrician will need to evaluate your child’s core motor skills to establish the type of impairment and its severity. The areas which will be evaluated include:
- Muscle tone
- Movement coordination and control
- Reflex irregularity
- Posture and balance
- Gross motor function
- Fine motor function
- Ability to make sounds and speech
There is no known cure, but treatments and therapies can make a major difference in a child’s life.
Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Babies
The symptoms of cerebral palsy impact a baby’s coordination and ability to move independently, so they are not always recognised immediately.
This is especially true when the cerebral palsy symptoms are mild, resulting in parents with a baby in intensive care being sent home without a diagnosis and often not knowing for some time that something is wrong. Usually, parents first become aware that something may be wrong when their baby:
- Has difficulty sucking and feeding
- Displays poor head control
- Cannot roll over
- Fails to crawl or walk in expected timeframes
- Shows a lack of affection
- Doesn’t respond to stimulation
Some tell-tale signs become prominent at certain developmental stages for your baby. Below are the specific signs to look out for depending on the age of your child.
Signs of Cerebral Palsy in 2-4 Month Olds
- Cannot control their head when picked up
- Difficulty sucking and feeding
- Stiff legs that cross and look like scissors
- Stiff or shaky arms or legs
Signs of Cerebral Palsy in 4-6 Month Olds
- Display poor head control
- Won’t watch objects as they move
- Don’t smile at people
- Won’t bring items to their mouth
- Can’t push up with feet when placed on a hard surface
- Have difficulty moving one or both eyes in all directions
Signs of Cerebral Palsy in 6-9 Month Olds
- Lack of affection for parents or caregivers
- Not trying to touch things within reach
- Reaching for items with only one hand while the other is in a fist
- Not responding to close sounds
- Difficulty getting things to their mouth
- Doesn’t laugh or make squealing noises
- Seems stiff and has tight muscles
- Seems very floppy
- Has problems eating and drinking
- Not able to roll over
Signs and Cerebral Palsy Symptoms at 9-12 months
- Doesn’t move toys back and forth between hands
- Won’t look where the parent is pointing
- Cannot bear weight on legs while using support
- Drags a hand and leg while crawling
- Cannot sit by themselves
- Doesn’t babble
Cerebral Palsy at 12-18 Months
- Not learning gestures like waving
- Does not point at objects or people
- Won’t search for items they see hidden
- Can’t stand with support
- Doesn’t crawl
- Possible signs and cerebral palsy symptoms at 18 months to 2 years
- Throwing head back and severely arching back in response to stimulation
- Not responding to touch, sounds or sights
- Feeding problems and excessive drooling
- Cannot sit, walk, or crawl
- Doesn’t point to objects or people
- Doesn’t know the purpose of familiar items
- Cannot copy other people
- Not learning new words or babbling
- Cannot grasp items with thumb and index finger
- Cannot drink from a cup without help
- Cannot feed themselves finger foods
- Cannot put blocks in and out of a bucket
- Has jerky or stiff arms and legs
- Displays floppy arms or legs
- Walks in a scissor pattern
- Lack of affection or fear
Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Children over 2 Years Old
- Does not show any affection towards parents
- Does not lift arms to show a desire to be picked up
- Won’t copy the actions of others or follow simple instructions
- Does not know what to do with common items
- Fails to develop a heel-toe walking pattern after months of walking
- Has legs that cross like scissors when walking
- Cannot walk steadily
- Walks only on their toes
- Cannot use two-word sentences
Seek Medical Treatment for Cerebral Palsy
If your child displays any of the above signs of cerebral palsy or a combination of symptoms, and you have concerns, we would advise seeking an expert opinion as to whether they are indicative of a medical condition such as cerebral palsy as soon as possible. There are also cerebral palsy support groups willing to offer help and emotional support.
Medical Negligence and Cerebral Palsy
Most cerebral palsy cases are recognised and diagnosed early, often before the age of two. Where cerebral palsy symptoms are moderate or mild, it may not become apparent that cerebral palsy is the issue until the child is much older.
In one in ten cases this birth injury is caused as a result of medical negligence by a midwife, doctor, or medical team either during pregnancy or birth, resulting in a life-long impact on your child and family. This may include:
- Prescribing medication that is unsafe for a pregnant mother
- Not recognising fetal distress or intervening accordingly, either during pregnancy or delivery
- Failing to resuscitate a ‘blue’ baby soon enough after birth
- Adequate care standards not being provided – before, during or after birth.
If it can be proven that the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy was due to medical negligence, you may be entitled to cerebral palsy compensation which can improve your child’s quality of life, as well as yours.
At Hudgell Solicitors we help families through cerebral palsy claims to investigate why their loved one has been affected, by uncovering the truth and answers they deserve.
In a recent case we represented the family of a boy whose mother alleged that an obstetrician failed to give appropriate advice in late pregnancy. The child was born with cerebral palsy and is set for a possible £20m in damages.
In another case a £14m damages settlement was approved for a boy left brain damaged after midwives failed to properly monitor his heart-rate during birth and therefore didn’t realise he was starved of oxygen.
We offer free legal advice to families affected by cerebral palsy so that they can find out the truth about what happened, understand more about the symptoms, and secure support for life-long effects. Get in touch today using our online claim form for a no-obligation chat about your circumstances.