Risk of Cerebral Palsy in Premature Babies

child in wheelchair

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of neurological disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, and posture. It is caused by damage to the developing brain, which can occur before, during, or after birth. There are different types of cerebral palsy, and the severity of symptoms can vary widely. Some individuals with CP may have difficulty walking or controlling their movements, while others may experience seizures or intellectual disabilities.

Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy in Premature Babies

Premature birth is a significant risk factor for cerebral palsy. Babies born before 37 weeks of gestation are considered premature, and their underdeveloped brains are more susceptible to injury.

Other risk factors for CP include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Lack of oxygen during birth
  • Severe jaundice
  • Brain bleeding or damage

It's important to note that not all premature babies will develop cerebral palsy, and many children born at term can also be diagnosed with the condition. However, the risk is significantly higher in premature infants.

In the United States, it is estimated that about 1 in every 323 children is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This equates to approximately 10,000 babies born with CP each year. Among those diagnosed, about 40% are born prematurely.

Medical Malpractice: Its Link to Cerebral Palsy & Premature Birth

In some cases, medical malpractice can be linked to both cerebral palsy and premature birth. Medical professionals have a duty to provide a standard of care to their patients. When they fail to meet this standard and their negligence leads to injury, they may be held liable.

Medical malpractice may be linked to premature birth or cerebral palsy in the following ways:

  • Failure to diagnose or treat infections during pregnancy: Infections during pregnancy can pose a significant risk to both the mother and the baby. Some infections, such as chorioamnionitis (an infection of the placenta and amniotic fluid) or maternal fever, can lead to preterm labor or cause inflammation in the fetal brain, increasing the risk of cerebral palsy. Medical professionals should diligently screen for and manage infections in expectant mothers. When doctors or other healthcare providers fail to diagnose or adequately treat infections during pregnancy, their negligence may be considered medical malpractice.
  • Improper use of labor-inducing drugs: Labor-inducing drugs, such as Pitocin or Cervidil, are sometimes used to initiate or speed up labor for various medical reasons. However, if these drugs are administered incorrectly, they can cause complications such as uterine hyperstimulation, which may lead to fetal distress, oxygen deprivation, and increased risk of cerebral palsy. Medical professionals must carefully consider the appropriate dosage and timing when using labor-inducing drugs. Misuse of these medications can be deemed medical malpractice if it results in harm to the mother or baby.
  • Failure to monitor the baby's oxygen levels during delivery: Adequate oxygen supply during delivery is crucial for a baby's survival and brain development. Medical professionals should continuously monitor the baby's heart rate and oxygen levels throughout the labor and delivery process. If signs of fetal distress or oxygen deprivation are not detected and addressed promptly, it can lead to brain damage and an increased risk of cerebral palsy. Healthcare providers who fail to adequately monitor and respond to changes in the baby's oxygen levels may be held liable for medical malpractice.
  • Delayed delivery or failure to perform a necessary cesarean section: In certain situations, such as when the baby is in distress or there is a risk of oxygen deprivation, it may be necessary to expedite the delivery or perform a cesarean section (C-section) to ensure the baby's well-being. Delayed delivery or failure to perform a necessary C-section can result in prolonged oxygen deprivation, which can cause brain damage and increase the risk of cerebral palsy. Medical professionals who fail to recognize the need for an expedited delivery or C-section and whose negligence leads to harm to the baby may be held responsible for medical malpractice.

What You Can Do

If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and you believe medical negligence may be a contributing factor, it's essential to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The cost of care for cerebral palsy can be considerable, including both direct and indirect expenses that will vary depending on the severity of the condition and the specific needs of the child.

Direct costs include medical expenses, such as:

  • Doctor visits and specialist consultations
  • Physical, occupational, and speech therapy
  • Medications
  • Medical equipment (e.g., wheelchairs, braces, or communication devices)
  • Surgeries or other medical procedures
  • Long-term care or assisted living facilities (for adults with cerebral palsy)

Indirect costs encompass other expenses related to cerebral palsy, including:

  • Lost wages for parents or caregivers who need to take time off work or reduce working hours
  • Home modifications for accessibility (e.g., ramps, wider doorways, or modified bathrooms)
  • Special education services or additional tutoring
  • Transportation costs (e.g., specialized vehicles or adaptations for accessibility)
  • Respite care or caregiver support services

A study published by Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) in 2003 estimated the lifetime cost of care for an individual with cerebral palsy to be approximately $921,000 (in 2003 dollars), which included both direct and indirect costs. Adjusted for inflation, this figure would be significantly higher today (around $1.4 million).

Shouldn’t the party or parties responsible for cerebral palsy or premature birth be held accountable for these costs? Shouldn’t they bear the burden of ensuring the child has access to the treatment and ongoing care they need, for life?

At Handler, Henning & Rosenberg, we understand the emotional and financial toll that a birth injury like cerebral palsy can take on a family. Our team is here to help you seek justice and the compensation you deserve. If you believe your child's cerebral palsy or premature birth was caused by medical malpractice, contact us today for a free consultation. We are committed to helping families throughout Pennsylvania navigate these complex cases and find the support they need.

Call (888) 498-3023 to speak with a Pennsylvania birth injury attorney. You pay nothing unless we secure results for your family.

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