Cerebral palsy is the term used to indicate medical conditions that involve muscle contractions and involuntary reflexive movements in part or all of the body. The condition usually appears within the first few years of life, and it typically doesn’t worsen over time. Cerebral palsy can affect the coordination, posture, and balance, and symptoms vary widely, from mild muscle twitches or movements to seizures, hearing and vision problems, and intellectual disabilities. It is associated with brain injury or development before, during, or after delivery. Brain damage that causes cerebral palsy can happen due to trauma to the baby’s head during childbirth or when there is a deprivation of oxygen during labor, delivery, or soon after being born.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disorder that requires ongoing medical care and treatment. It affects entire families because individuals with cerebral palsy often cannot care for themselves physically or financially, leaving the caretaking and financial expenses up to their immediate family. While there are times that cerebral palsy cannot be prevented, some cases of the condition happen due to medical negligence and could have been prevented with the proper care.
What is Considered Premature Birth?
The typical gestation for babies is 40 weeks. When a baby is born at less than 37 weeks of gestation, it is considered premature. Babies that are not carried until at least 37 weeks are at a higher risk for brain damage and cerebral palsy because:
- They are not fully developed. In premature babies, some body systems are not fully developed, and the kidneys, liver, and blood vessels are more delicate. This makes it more likely that the baby will have infection, higher bilirubin levels, oxygen deprivation, or trauma – all of which can cause cerebral palsy.
- They are at a higher risk of birth trauma. Babies who are delivered prior to 37 weeks have a higher likelihood of suffering trauma during childbirth because the deliveries are often considered emergencies. When the proper care isn’t provided during emergency childbirth, it can lead to brain damage and cerebral palsy.
For the above reasons, it is critical that doctors and other medical professionals always adhere to the standards of care that are applicable to babies delivered early, and that they prevent or promptly diagnose and treat conditions that are associated with preterm birth. Failure to follow standards of care and to act competently and quickly with diagnosis and treatment can be considered negligence. If this negligence causes the baby to have cerebral palsy, it is a case of medical malpractice.
Premature Birth and Cerebral Palsy
While 37 weeks of gestational age is considered premature and can have complications, there are far worse medical consequences when babies are born even earlier. Babies who are born at less than 26 weeks are not as likely to survive, as the lungs are not mature until somewhere close to 34 weeks. Typically, any birth that occurs prior to 32 weeks is very fragile because of immature lungs and the potential lack of oxygen to the brain following delivery. Those babies will likely need the help of a ventilator to breathe.
The following preterm birth complications can lead to cerebral palsy:
- Over ventilation – When premature babies are put on ventilators, they can be over-ventilated. When that occurs, the baby will get rid of too much carbon dioxide, which can cause a reduced flow of oxygenated blood to the brain. The oxygen deprivation can cause cerebral palsy.
- Neonatal hypoglycemia – Premature babies have a higher risk of having hypoglycemia, a condition in which blood sugar levels fall to unsafe amounts. Brain cells need glucose (blood sugar) to live. Without sufficient glucose, brain cells begin to die, and brain damage and cerebral palsy can result.
- Jaundice – Jaundice, or the yellowing of skin and eyes, is one of the most common medical problems for premature babies. It occurs when there is a high level of bilirubin (a byproduct of red blood cell breakdown) and the baby’s system isn’t able to metabolize it due to being underdeveloped. This can lead to brain damage and cerebral palsy.
- Low blood pressure – It’s crucial that premature babies maintain good blood pressure. When the blood pressure is too low, blood flow to the brain is reduced and it may not receive enough oxygen. Lack of or insufficient oxygen to the brain can result in brain damage and cerebral palsy.
When Medical Malpractice Causes Preterm Birth and Cerebral Palsy
Many of the complications that cause premature birth are preventable. Unfortunately, babies are born prematurely every day, and they may develop cerebral palsy as a result. Premature infants must be monitored closely during their first weeks or months after being born. If they are not properly monitored, and the standards of care are breached, it may be considered medical negligence. Additionally, when that negligence results in injuries, it is medical malpractice.
If you or a loved one has a child who was born before 37 weeks and suffers from cerebral palsy, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering. Let the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Ross Feller Casey help you with your case. Our staff includes medical doctors who are knowledgeable about birth injuries and cerebral palsy, and they are available to review medical records and provide expert opinions and testimony.
Ross Feller Casey is among the nation’s top law firms handling serious birth injury and cerebral palsy lawsuits. Contact the firm today for a free evaluation of your case. The consultation is free, and you will not be charged any fees until your case is won.