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Risk Factors

Cerebral palsy risk factors are events, substances or circumstances that increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy. A risk factor does not ensure a child will develop cerebral palsy; it means chances are higher than if that risk factor was not present. The absence of risk factors does not ensure that a child will not develop cerebral palsy.

Common risk factors

The following are common risk factors for developing cerebral palsy. The presence of one or more risk factors does not ensure a child will develop cerebral palsy; it means chances are higher than if that risk factor was not present. Likewise, the absence of risk factors does not ensure that a child will not develop cerebral palsy. Risk factors merely identify possible cause for concern.

Avoiding risk factors will help prevent a child from developing cerebral palsy; any exposure to risk factors prior to conception and during pregnancy should be discussed with a doctor in order to effectively treat and manage risk. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive; other risk factors may contribute to the development of cerebral palsy, as well.

To learn about risk factors and how they differ from risk factor causal pathways, visit What is a risk factor? How does that differ from a risk factor causal pathway?

To review the Cerebral Palsy Risk Factor Checklist, visit the Cerebral Palsy Risk Factor Checklist.

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    Birth Asphyxia

    Asphyxia is a condition in which the body and, most importantly, the brain receives inadequate, or no, oxygen supply. Learn what events can lead to birth asphyxia and measures you can take to prevent.
    Birth Asphyxia »

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    Blood Type Incompatibility

    A-B-0 and Rh incompatibility happens when a mother’s blood type conflicts with that of her newborn child. Blood type incompatibility can be prevented, learn how.
    Blood Type Incompatibility »

  • newborn in NICU on oxygen

    Complications at Birth

    Complications that increase a child’s chance of developing cerebral palsy can arise during pregnancy or during labor and delivery. Newborns are assigned an Apgar score. Learn what your child’s score means.
    Complications at Birth »

  • pregnant woman during doctor exam


    Infection and fever in a fetus, newborn, or pregnant mother increases the likelihood that a child will develop cerebral palsy and other health risks. Certain infectious diseases are known to heighten the likelihood.
    Infection »

  • baby sleeping peacefully all wrapped up

    Intrauterine Growth Restriction

    Intrauterine growth restriction, IUGR, is defined as a fetus with a weight that falls below the 10th percentile and abdominal circumference below the 2.5th percentile when compared to others of the same gestational period. Learn how IUGR occurs.
    Intrauterine Growth Restriction »

  • twins laying in a bassinet sleeping

    Multiple Births and Infertility Drugs

    When more than one baby is born to a mother during a single delivery, infants have a higher chance of developing cerebral palsy than babies from single births. Use of infertility treatments can also cause higher risk.
    Multiple Births and Infertility Drugs »

  • a couple on a break from yoga

    Parental Health and Habits

    Many events in life can have an effect on the human body – both in the father and the mother – such as parental health, socio-economic conditions, age, medical history, social habits and toxins. Learn which ones can become risk factors for the development of cerebral palsy.
    Parental Health and Habits »

  • mother holding baby hand in NICU

    Placenta Complications

    Placenta complications can result in excessive bleeding, cause a lack of blood, oxygen, and nutrients reach to the fetus, and may stall fetal development. Learn the most common signs of placental complication and how they are diagnosed.
    Placenta Complications »

  • mother rubbing newborn's back in NICU

    Premature Birth

    All babies born preterm are at risk for serious health problems, but those born earliest are at greater risk of medical complications, long-term disabilities and in some severe cases, even death. Learn how medical advances have improved the chance for survival.
    Premature Birth »

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Steps to take to avoid and address
risk factors

Risk factors merit awareness before conception, during pregnancy and even following delivery. Many experts recommend visiting with a doctor before becoming pregnant to assess reproductive health. A complete assessment will include questions about social habits, medical history, and other factors that may influence pregnancy.

Likewise, a person who is already pregnant may want to become familiar with risk factors and inform her doctor of any exposure to prescription medications with your doctor, and make sure any health problems, such as diabetes, fevers, or infections are treated immediately.

Hair dye, kitty litter, cleaning solutions and lawn and garden products are just a few of the potentially harmful household products. A physician will also need to know about any use of dietary supplements, homeopathic treatments or prescription drugs.

Blood tests should be administered to prevent any ABO or RH blood incompatibilities. An expectant mother should avoid exposure to known toxins – such as pesticides and poisons, cigarette smoke, alcohol and other recreational drugs.

Likewise, events that cause any sort of asphyxia, such as respiratory distress syndrome or medical negligence, are significant risk factors. Seizures, infections (like meningitis and malaria), hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, and strokes can increase the chance of a child developing cerebral palsy.

Brain injury can occur at any time during the life of a child or adult, and therefore there are known risk factors to be aware of even after the brain is fully developed. Trauma is the leading cause of brain injury after birth.

To learn about risk factors and how they differ from risk factor causal pathways, visit What is a risk factor? How does that differ from a risk factor causal pathway?.


A risk factor is not a symptom or sign of cerebral palsy

Risk factors are not symptoms. Risk factors increase the likelihood that a child may develop cerebral palsy. However, symptoms are possible evidence that a child may have cerebral palsy.

One early sign of cerebral palsy is a developmental delay. Developmental delay indicates a child has not met the growth milestone established by the medical community and relevant to a his or her age and weight. This delay could be a symptom of cerebral palsy, another condition, or merely attributable to the child developing at a different rate than most other children.

Any signs should be addressed with the child’s doctor. Delayed development does not increase the chances of cerebral palsy, rather it is a sign that, when combined with other signs, causes concern that the child may have cerebral palsy.

A risk factor is not a cause of cerebral palsy

Risk factors are not causes. While risk increases the chance of a child being born with Cerebral Palsy, cause is the action that resulted in development of cerebral palsy.

The cause of cerebral palsy is brain injury or brain malformation, which can usually be detected in MRIs or CT scans during the diagnostic process. Although the actual brain injury or malformation that led to cerebral palsy is identified, it is not always possible to determine a specific event that caused the injury or malformation.

For example, premature birth (before 37 weeks) is a significant risk factor, yet prematurity is not considered a cause of the brain damage that results in cerebral palsy. In fact, many babies are born premature and do not develop any differently than babies born at term. Premature birth does not cause cerebral palsy. However, parents and doctors should be aware that the likelihood of developing cerebral palsy increases when a child is born prematurely.

Risk factors increase the odds of cerebral palsy occurring. Symptoms are possible signs that a condition exists, and causes are the reason a child develops cerebral palsy.

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Preventing Cerebral Palsy

mother holding her pregnant belly

How to prevent cerebral palsy

When a child is born with cerebral palsy, the reasons are too often because of preventable events that occur prior to birth, during the delivery process, or immediately after birth. Many work diligently towards preventing cerebral palsy by identifying risks, developing prevention measures, and implementing educational campaigns.
Prevention »

The CP Journey

baby's hand holding parent's finger

Awaiting diagnosis

A parent may be concerned about developmental delays or a doctor may observe a sign outside of growth norms. There is no definitive test for cerebral palsy, causing doctors to diagnose over time. For parents that suspect a child may have cerebral palsy, the long wait between that initial suspicion and an official diagnosis can be an emotional one. But, what is often a time of anxiety evolves into an empowering experience that leads to acceptance and unconditional love.
Awaiting Diagnosis »


Nate working hard at his intensive suit therapy session

Intensive suit therapy helps boy improve stability

Nate's story

When Jennifer Scheuer and her husband David learned that their son Nate has cerebral palsy, the young couple vowed that they would pursue any treatment or therapy that would help give their second-born son a shot at improved mobility. Nate, a 4-year-old from Long Island, undergoes suit therapy to improve his mobility and his confidence.
Nate's Story »

Early Diagnosis

child being examined by a health care professional

American Academy of Pediatrics issues clinical report urging early diagnosis of cerebral palsy

For decades, physicians have been overly cautious in diagnosing cerebral palsy and other motor delays. But recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics stressed the importance of early diagnosis in a clinical report.
AAP Urges Doctors for Early Diagnosis »

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