It’s not unusual for parents to have concerns about whether their child is developing at the expected rate in their formative years. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, there is no cause for concern, as all children progress at different speeds and they naturally develop at their own rate.

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.

Almost 80 per cent of all child disabilities are detected by their parents. They see their children every day and 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. Most importantly, it can secure the support you and your child need.

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.

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term that refers to a group of symptoms, disorders, types of disabilities, and complications. 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

Possible signs of cerebral palsy and symptoms at 2-4 months include:

  • 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

Symptoms of cerebral palsy for children aged between 4-6 months include:

  • 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

For babies between the age of 6-9 months, indicators of this condition include:

  • 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

Possible symptoms for this age bracket may be the following:

  • 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

At a year old, symptoms may present as the following:

  • 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

Possible signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy in children aged 2-3 years include:

  • 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 plenty of cerebral palsy support groups willing to offer help and emotional support every step of the way.

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.

1. 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.

Common illnesses like chickenpox and German measles have been linked to a heightened risk of cerebral palsy, along with maternal pelvic infections.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Low birth weight

Babies with a birth weight of less than 5 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

Kernicterus sometimes occurs because of an ABO or Rh blood type difference between mother and baby. This causes the infant’s red blood cells to break down too fast, causing severe jaundice.

10. 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.

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.

Sometimes, although maybe in only 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.

Unfortunately, the exact cause of a child’s cerebral palsy is not always discovered, and more often than not it is not due to any shortcomings in medical treatment. However, it can sometimes occur as a result of medical negligence or mistakes made during neonatal care.

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.

Final thoughts

There are many possible causes for cerebral palsy, but the injury often occurs as the result of medical negligence during or before birth. 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.

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.

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.

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