Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy

Infants at the highest risk for developing cerebral palsy exhibit one or more of these factors:

  • Premature (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
  • Low birth weight (< 5 lb 7 1/2 oz)
  • Do not cry within 5 minutes of delivery
  • Sustained on a ventilator longer than 4 weeks
  • Brain hemorrhage

Other risk factors include the following:

  • Complications in pregnant mother (e.g., vaginal bleeding after 6th month, proteinuria, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, Rh incompatibility, mental retardation, seizures)
  • Breech birth (born feet or buttocks first)
  • Labor and delivery complications (vascular or respiratory problems; may indicate brain damage or abnormal brain development)
  • Multiple births (e.g., twins, triplets; CP may be due to prematurity or intrauterine growth retardation)
  • Birth defects (e.g., malformation of spinal bones, hernia in groin area, abnormally small jawbone, microcephaly)
  • Newborn seizures
  • Low Apgar score—Infant heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes, and skin color are each scored as 0 (low), 1 (intermediate), or 2 (normal) after delivery. A total score of 7–10 at 5 minutes is considered normal; 4–6, intermediate; and 0–3, low. Scores that remain low 10–20 minutes after delivery indicate increased risk for CP.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015