Cerebral palsy is a condition in which the ability to control muscles is reduced due to nervous system damage before, during or after birth. This nervous system damage affects body movement and posture. It often shows up as either floppy or stiff muscles, or involuntary muscle movements.
Cerebral palsy can affect movement, coordination, muscle tone and posture. It can also be associated with impaired vision, hearing, speech, eating and learning.
Children with cerebral palsy tend to miss developmental milestones such as crawling, walking and talking. Usually, a confirmed diagnosis of cerebral palsy is made by the time a child is 2.
If you think your child is showing some of the symptoms of cerebral palsy, or their development may be delayed, see your early childhood nurse or doctor.
Cerebral palsy occurs when there is damage to the developing brain in the area that controls muscle tone (the motor cortex). In some cases, the motor cortex fails to develop normally in the fetus.
Depending on the damage, cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and to different extents.
Risk factors for cerebral palsy can be:
- prematurity and low birth weight
- some pregnancy complications
- an infection caught by the mother during pregnancy
- prolonged loss of oxygen during pregnancy or childbirth, or severe jaundice after birth
- injury or bleeding in the baby's brain
- mutations in the genes that affect the brain's development
- being a twin, triplet or other multiple birth
The cause remains unknown for most babies with cerebral palsy. There is no single cause of cerebral palsy.
The damage to the brain does not worsen with age, but it's permanent. There is no cure. Life expectancy is normal, but the effects of cerebral palsy can cause stress to the body and premature ageing.
There are 4 main types of cerebral palsy:
- spastic, in which the muscles are weak and stiff
- dyskinetic, characterised by writhing or jerky movements
- ataxic, in which movement is affected by problems with balance and coordination
- mixed, with a range of the above characteristics
Last reviewed: November 2018