Cerebral palsy (CP) is a general term for a number of neurological conditions that affect movement and co-ordination. It is estimated that one in 400 people in the UK is affected by CP. Specifically, CP is caused by a problem in the brain responsible for controlling muscles and the condition can occur if the brain develops abnormally or is damaged before, during or shortly after birth.
In some instances, cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage sustained during labour as a direct result of the unborn baby being deprived of oxygen (asphyxiation). Asphyxiation can sometimes occur during a difficult or complicated birth. Those complications may or may not have been caused or contributed to by the action of the medical team, the midwives and obstetric doctors managing the labour. Some, but not all, cases of birth trauma are negligently caused. A major research project carried out in the 1980s showed that asphyxia was only responsible for approximately one in 10 cases of CP. Most were due to problems with the baby’s brain which developed at some time, probably unknown, earlier in the pregnancy and before the mother went into labour.
When CP in a full-term baby is caused by brain damage due to asphyxiation during labour or delivery, the new-born will usually show evidence of severe pH abnormality in the cord blood and neurological abnormalities soon after birth. Frequently, there will have been signs of sudden oxygen deprivation on the fetal monitor (CTG) during labour; depressed APGAR scores at birth; and involvement of other organs such as the kidneys within a few days of birth.
With careful scrutiny of the events during labour and with the assistance of obstetric, paediatric neurology and paediatric neuroradiology experts, the quality of the obstetric and midwifery care during the labour and the likely timing of the asphyxiating event can be considered. It may then be possible to put together a claim on the child’s behalf. If you are concerned about the circumstances of your labour and your child’s birth, it is imperative that any potential clinical negligence claim is evaluated by a specialist solicitor experienced in handling birth injury claims.