It’s an unfortunate reality that even if a mother does everything right during her pregnancy, unexpected complications can still arise during labor. One common complication is cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to control movement and posture. It is the most common motor disability in childhood, and is estimated to affect three out of every 1,000 children.

While the exact causes of cerebral palsy remain unknown, the medical community has identified risk factors that may increase the child’s odds of developing the condition. The risks include:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.)
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Genetic contributors

In general, cerebral palsy develops due to multiple factors that impact the brain’s growth and development during pregnancy. More often, damage to the brain that causes cerebral palsy occurs shortly before, during, or after delivery.

Preterm labor puts infants at higher risk

While several factors may contribute to cerebral palsy, research has shown prematurity poses a significant risk for developing the condition. While premature birth doesn’t always mean a child will develop cerebral palsy or other health concerns, nearly half of all children with cerebral palsy were born prematurely.

According to the CDC, infants born before the 37th week of pregnancy – especially before the 32nd week – have a higher chance of having cerebral palsy. Infants who weigh under three pounds, five ounces at birth, are also at higher risk of having the disorder.

Reducing your risk of premature birth

Premature birth isn’t always avoidable. It could be the result of complications or medical conditions that were impossible to foresee. However, there are actions women can take to help reduce their risk of premature birth. These actions include:

  • Getting adequate health care during and after pregnancy.
  • Staying up to date on all vaccines.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising during pregnancy.
  • Managing chronic conditions like diabetes with your doctor.
  • Waiting at least 18 months between pregnancies.
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Keeping stress under control and resting

While there is no known cure for cerebral palsy, the diagnosis does not diminish a child’s quality of life or happiness. Today there are many treatments and therapies available that can help those living with cerebral palsy manage their symptoms and lead successful and fulfilling lives.