Recent figures suggest that the annual number of babies born with cerebral palsy, which has been relatively steady for the last fifty years or so, may be falling.
In developed countries, the rate of cerebral palsy is about 2 to 2.5 per 1,000 live births. The United Cerebral Palsy Foundation estimates that nearly 800 000 children and adults in the United States are living with the condition, and about 10 000 babies are born with it each year. The condition is significantly more common among infants born weighing less than 3.3lb (1.5kg).
A study carried out at Liverpool University, UK (by Dr Mary Jane Platt, The Lancet, January 2007) looked at changes in cerebral palsy rates recorded at sixteen European cerebral palsy centres from 1980 to 1996.
The study found that the rate of cerebral palsy in very low birth-weight infants and those born at less than 32 weeks dropped from 6 per cent of live births in 1980 to 4 per cent in 1996, despite an increase in the number of very low birth-weight babies.
The study noted that this decline was caused by a drop in the incidence of the most severe type of cerebral palsy and was probably due to improved care at and around the time of birth.
Commenting on the Liverpool University study, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, said the findings are consistent with their research on low birth-weight infants, adding that despite the encouraging decrease in the prevalence of cerebral palsy, there is no cause for complacency as the condition is still associated with major disabilities.
Other research teams in the UK, Denmark and Sweden have also found evidence that the cerebral palsy rate among low birth-weight infants has begun to fall, but other studies from centres in Australia and Emory University, Atlanta (Sarah Winter MD, et al, Pediatrics, December 2002), have not shown a fall.
The study carried out in Atlanta from 1975 to 1991 found a modest increase from 1.7 to 2 per 1,000 babies who survived for at least a year. Of most concern is that this trend was primarily attributable to a slight increase in cerebral palsy in infants of normal birth weight, although no change was seen in low birth-weight and very low birth-weight infants.
After investigating possible links to foetal heart-rate monitoring and caesarean deliveries, Dr Steven L. Clark MD of the University of Utah (American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, March 2003) concludes, ‘Except in rare instances, cerebral palsy is a developmental event that is unpreventable given our current state of technology.’ (Source: https://www.psychcentral.com)
Given the circumstances surrounding my birth and the fact that my mum said it was a difficult birth, more could have been done to prevent my problem, had she not had to wait so long between my twin’s birth and mine. Being born one hour later than my twin, meant there was a high likelihood my mum would get into difficulty. The length of time between the births first and second twin should be within fifteen minutes and no more than thirty minutes. (Source: https://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov)
Although in the 1960s, when I was born, technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today, human error is a significant factor. My case has proved the risks could have been minimised.
It is not enough we put cerebral palsy down to a birth problem. There are cases of premature birth, difficulty around the birth, and something going wrong at the time of birth, or in the womb. The prevalence of cerebral palsy births in the UK is about 2 per 1000 live births. This figure has not changed significantly in the past 40 years. (Source: https://www.nice.org.uk)