Cerebral palsy may be attributed to birth injury

Every expectant parent hopes for a healthy child. When a birth injury makes that hope impossible to fulfill, parents must adapt as best they can. Caring for a special-needs child will alter their lives. One condition that can arise from a birth injury is cerebral palsy, a disorder that has no cure.

About cerebral palsy

People with cerebral palsy have diminished ability to move their bodies, keep their balance and maintain posture. Damage to a newborn child's brain can affect the ability to control muscles, leading to a variety of symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy can be any of these types, or a combination of types:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
  • Ataxia

The first is the most common, occurring in about eight out of 10 people with cerebral palsy. A person with spastic cerebral palsy has stiff muscles due to increased muscle tone. Depending on severity, a person with this disorder may be able to walk, but with limited mobility and assistance. Those who have the greatest degree of stiffness throughout the body usually cannot walk and may have cognitive or speech impairment as well.

In dyskinetic cerebral palsy, the affected person experiences uncontrolled muscle movements. Sometimes movements are rapid and jittery, and at other times they may be slow with a writhing quality. If the facial area is affected, speaking, eating and drinking could be difficult.

Ataxia causes impaired balance and coordination, leading to unsteady walking and trouble with tasks like writing that require extensive muscle control.

Diagnosing cerebral palsy

Fundamentally, damage to the brain causes cerebral palsy. Some cases may result when a baby's brain is deprived of oxygen during birth. Other incidents may cause brain damage and cerebral palsy in newborns. After a difficult birth parents may be cautioned by health care providers to watch for signs of cerebral palsy.

It may not be immediately apparent that a newborn has experienced a birth injury, and diagnosis might not be achieved until a child is three years old or more if the disorder is mild.

Newborns with cerebral palsy may seem either stiff or limp. A baby's head might lag behind when the baby is picked up, or the baby's legs could stiffen and cross. In older babies, symptoms could include being unable to roll over, clap hands or move hands toward the mouth. Babies might crawl, but asymmetrically, dragging one arm and leg and using the other side of the body to push and pull. None of these symptoms in themselves or in combination is enough for a definitive diagnosis of cerebral palsy, and concerned parents need to take their baby to a doctor for a thorough evaluation.

Coping with cerebral palsy

Early diagnosis will mean a child can receive intervention sooner and may function better as a result. A team of professionals treats the child with a variety of therapies, possibly doing surgery or using medications. Properly fitted braces can be very helpful to maximize mobility.

If an injury at birth caused cerebral palsy, parents may have a medical malpractice claim. Not only doctors who attend a birth can be held responsible, but also other hospital staff and the hospital itself. Sometimes liability extends to a drug manufacturer that provided a medication that caused harm during pregnancy or labor.

A consultation with an attorney will be very helpful for parents who learn their baby has cerebral palsy due to a birth injury. An attorney with experience in medical malpractice and birth injury cases understands the potential extent of liability and can pursue a lawsuit to recover the costs of the child's initial treatments and ongoing therapy.