Problems before birth
Cerebral palsy is usually caused by a problem that affects the development of a baby's brain while it's growing in the womb.
- damage to part of the brain called white matter, possibly as a result of a reduced blood or oxygen supply – this is known as periventricular leukomalacia (PVL)
- an infection caught by the mother – such as cytomegalovirus, rubella, chickenpox or toxoplasmosis
- a stroke – where there's bleeding in the baby's brain or the blood supply to their brain is cut off
- an injury to the unborn baby's head
Problems during or after birth
Cerebral palsy can also sometimes be caused by damage to a baby's brain during or shortly after birth.
For example, it can be due to:
Some things can increase a baby's risk of being born with cerebral palsy including:
- being born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy) – babies born at 32 weeks or earlier are at a particularly high risk
- having a low birthweight
- being part of a multiple birth, such as a twin or triplet
- the mother smoking, drinking a lot of alcohol, or taking drugs such as cocaine, during pregnancy
Your doctor may recommend your baby has regular check-ups to look for symptoms of cerebral palsy during the first 2 years of their life if they have an increased risk of developing the condition.