Contrary to long-held beliefs, new research suggests that delivering babies by cesarean section does not lower their risk for cerebral palsy.

In the largest study to date, researchers reviewed findings from published studies looking at more than 3,800 children with cerebral palsy and nearly 1.7 million typically-developing kids.

They found that children delivered by cesarean section — either elective or in emergency situations — were no less likely than those delivered naturally to develop cerebral palsy.

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“For over a century it was assumed, without good evidence, that most cases of cerebral palsy were due to low oxygen levels or trauma at birth,” said Alastair MacLennan of the University of Adelaide in Australia who led the review being published in the December issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“This systematic review of the literature clearly shows that the causes of cerebral palsy have little to do with mode of delivery. Therefore, the actual causes of cerebral palsy must lie elsewhere,” MacLennan said.

The researchers said their findings suggest that genetic vulnerabilities or environmental triggers like infection may be responsible for the developmental disability, and indicated that further study is needed to pinpoint causes.

What’s more, the findings could have implications for litigation, MacLennan said, since medical malpractice claims surrounding the birth of children with cerebral palsy often suggest that earlier cesarean delivery could have prevented the condition.