Prevention - Parents

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In some cases, Cerebral Palsy cannot be prevented. There are, however, some preventable situations that – if left unattended – increase the chances that a child could be born with Cerebral Palsy. On the part of expectant mothers and physicians, there are some measures that when implemented can reduce the likelihood that a child will be born with Cerebral Palsy.

The role of parents

Although there is no cure for Cerebral Palsy, many risk factors exist that can increase the likelihood of a child developing Cerebral Palsy. The focus of preventing Cerebral Palsy is in alleviating or minimizing risk. Expectant parents, medical practitioners, researchers and government policy makers play important roles in the quest to reduce the chances of a child developing Cerebral Palsy.

Planning a family, or learning of pregnancy, can be an exciting time. It is also a crucial time to begin providing for the safety of the child. Ultimately, a couple planning to start a family may wish to consult with their respective physicians for a pre-conception appointment. For those who are already expecting, there are measures that can be taken during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and immediately after birth that can decrease the likelihood of the child developing Cerebral Palsy. The best way to lessen the threat of risk factors is to be aware of them, and to know what actions should be taken if exposed.

There are certain risks that have been identified to come into play well before a child is born, and immediately before a child is born, that increase the chance that a child is born with Cerebral Palsy. Also, risks occur after a child is born that could lead to a child acquiring the condition. If these risks can be resolved or addressed, the likelihood that a child will be born, and remain, healthy increases.

The risk factors that parents should be mindful of while pregnant are summarized below. For more information on the topic, consult with a medical professional.

If a child is conceived through assisted reproductive technology, or IRT

  • A mother has chronic infections
  • A mother has an improperly treated sexually transmitted disease
  • A mother is Rh-negative
  • A mother has not received regular pre-natal care
  • An accident has taken place that has resulted in a physical injury

After a child is born, the risk factors include:

  • A child is injured, abused, or shaken
  • An infection is acquired that causes decreased blood flow to the brain
  • Stroke

I have a child with Cerebral Palsy. Does that mean my other children will have the condition, too?

No, the fact that a family already has a child with Cerebral Palsy does not automatically mean that a woman will have another child with Cerebral Palsy. This is especially true if she and her physicians address warning signs and detect genetic predispositions. A woman who is Rh-negative may not have complications in a first pregnancy, but subsequent pregnancies can be negatively affected by incompatibility. It’s important to remember that immunization can take place within 72 hours of a birth, or after a pregnancy terminates, which will prevent the issues related to blood incompatibility in subsequent pregnancies. Under circumstances where the mother has a sexually transmitted disease, a health condition that affects the placenta, history of high risk pregnancies or deliveries, or an infection, physicians should take extra precautions while monitoring the pregnancy and while delivering the baby.

How can parents prevent Cerebral Palsy?

Of all of the professionals a parent is likely to encounter during a pregnancy, two individuals that will have the largest impact on whether or not a child has Cerebral Palsy are the mother and her OBGYN. That’s not to say that if a child is born with Cerebral Palsy, it is a mother’s fault – it’s not because most cases are not preventable. But it is to say that a parent that is aware of the known risks are able to express concerns as they may arise or occur. Physicians are reliant on their patient’s health history, ongoing and regularly scheduled checkups, and a mother’s expressed concerns to best ascertain medical treatment options.

Some of the measures that parents – particularly mothers – can take to prevent Cerebral Palsy include:

Parents thinking of conceiving, should meet with their respective doctors and discuss their intentions

The doctors will then run the appropriate tests and ask the appropriate questions to best determine if there are any areas of concern that should be addressed prior to conception. Blood compatibility testing, for example can indicate risk. Parents with known drug or alcohol addictions, or a mother that has been exposed to radiation treatments cause concern.

Maintaining one’s own physical health during pregnancy

There is an established link between infections and risk that determine timing of treatment and effectiveness at managing the risk during labor and delivery. A c-section, for example, may be warranted. Additionally, an expectant mother with a thyroid condition warrants high-risk prenatal care.

Begin taking folic acid

Studies show that regular doses of folic acids reduce the risk of prematurity – a significant cause of Cerebral Palsy – by 70 percent. The importance of maintaining a prenatal vitamins regimen is advised.

Regularly attend pre-natal care appointments.

Scheduled ultrasounds and other checks on a child’s health leading up to birth helps physicians identify, and treat, accordingly.

Practice healthy habits

Eat right and exercise (to the extent advised by a physician). The healthier a mother is the greater the likelihood that a child will be born healthy. Some mother’s work with their physician to obtain a healthy weight and nutrition balance even before conception.

Avoid unhealthy social habits

Refrain from drinking or smoking during pregnancy. Stay away from second-hand smoke. Avoid exposure to known tetragens like kitty litter, cleaning products and lawn fertilizers that cause risk. Do not use herbal remedies or alternative medicines that are not approved by your doctor. Avoid massage during pregnancy.

Be tested for blood incompatibility

There is a greater likelihood that a child will be born with Cerebral Palsy if it is determined there is blood incompatibility with the father of the child, or with the fetus. Parents should be advised of the risks when the incompatibility can be determined.

Try to avoid caesarian birth.

Giving birth naturally versus by caesarian both come with risk. Some health conditions warrant a caesarian, while others indicate the risk is reduced with vaginal delivery. The drugs used to induce labor come with risk, become fully aware of the risks and procedures in order to help make informed decisions. Know, though, that inducing pregnancy in causes where the gestational period has been greatly surpassed may be less risky than conceiving a baby past full term.

Choose your doctors, physician network, and hospitals wisely.

Research your doctor’s credentials, look into their professional history, ascertain their history of problematic deliveries and cases of Cerebral Palsy or medical malpractice. Understand the doctor’s after hours availability and physician rotation schedule. Some offices place the doctors on rotation for after hours calls which could translate into a doctor delivering your baby that is different than the doctor you have come to know and trust. And, know the policies and practices of the hospital you are likely to deliver in, or go to for emergency care. Do they have a full-time OBGYN on staff? Are they an A, B, or C listed entity? How responsive and trained is the physician network that owns and operates the emergency care, versus the hospital administration. What is the doctor’s, the physician’s network and the hospital's history when it comes to medical malpractice or birth injury cases?

After a child is born, watch for jaundice.

Severe jaundice can be a sign of other health problems, especially meningitis, which can increase a child’s chances of acquiring Cerebral Palsy. Jaundice is easy to identify because a child’s skin will turn yellow.

Keep current on vaccinations.

Diseases such as meningitis and rubella (German measles) can lead to Cerebral Palsy, and yet, they’re completely preventable if a child has access to the recommended immunization schedule. Following a trusted pediatrician’s advice will minimize risk.

Take precautions to avoid potential injury and accidents.

Make sure children are safely secured in a vehicle car seat, high chair, stroller or bike. Head injuries that take place during vehicle accidents can cause Cerebral Palsy. To prevent this, secure your child in an approved safety seat when driving. Place your child’s care in worthy hands. Those that care for a child require patience, skill and general knowledge of a child’s needs and behavior. Stressors to a person who has no idea how to care for a crying child have been known to shake a child causing shaken baby syndrome and lifelong impairment, or death.

Ask questions of the doctor when medical treatment is advised.

Ask them about the risks associated with the procedure, ask about the alternative measures available, and ask how many times they have successfully or unsuccessfully performed the procedure. And, ask them about their qualifications and experience to perform the procedure. During prenatal visits, ask the doctor about their preferences during emergency conditions. Do they monitor fetal heart beat? When do they make a decision for c-sections? How do they handle long delivery periods? What procedures do they use if the baby gets stuck in the birth canal? Do they use forceps? What do they do if the baby goes into distress? What is their practice in using medications for inducing labor? What choices do they make if a fetus or mother’s health is in danger?

These measures will decrease the likelihood of unexpected complications or undue risk.