My daughter has always dealt with relatively minor delays in her gross motor development. I first found out when I took her to the doctor at 6 months old, because I'd noticed she felt "floppy" compared to her same-age peers -- although family members and friends falsely assured me that she was completely normal. She was late to crawl and late to walk, and couldn't jump until nearly her fourth birthday. Although neurological evaluations have determined that there is no underlying problem, her motor skills certainly aren't where they're expected to be. Interestingly, though, most people would never guess that my daughter has a gross motor delay, and I only found out because I noticed a red flag for gross motor delays.
Babies all develop at different rates, and gross motor delays often aren't cause for concern. However, you should contact your pediatrician if you notice any of the following red flags for delays in gross motor development.
1. Your baby is 'floppy' or has low muscle tone.My daughter was diagnosed with very mild hypotonia when I had her evaluated at 6 months of age. Hypotonia is the clinical term for low muscle tone, and it is sometimes a symptom of a serious disease like muscular dystrophy. Babies with hypotonia don't feel as firm or stiff as their peers. Because their muscles are weaker, they will usually have delays in their development of gross motor skills like crawling, walking and running. When no cause can be found, the best treatment is exercise.
2. Your baby is stiff and rigid.Opposite symptoms can also be red flags for gross motor delays. Some babies' limbs feel unusually stiff and immobile. This symptom, known as hypertonia, indicates that your baby's muscles are constantly contracted. It is often a symptom of spastic cerebral palsy, which is a serious condition that causes gross motor delays.
3. Your baby is very late walking.Many parents worry unnecessarily about late walking in babies, because it is such a well-known red flag for developmental delays. The good news is that it's normal for a baby to walk any time before 16 months of age, and some healthy babies do not walk until 18 months or later. However, it's important to schedule a visit with your pediatrician if your baby is 16 months old and still unable to walk. The doctor can evaluate your baby for other signs of gross motor delay.
4. Your baby seems to strongly favor one half of his body.After your baby's first or second birthday, it's normal for him to begin favoring one hand. The vast majority of people are either right-handed or left-handed, and this tendency develops during toddlerhood. However, if your baby is less than a year old and tends to use one hand much more often than the other, it could be a sign that he has hemiplegia, a disorder that causes gross motor delays and affects only one half of the body.
5. Your baby is losing skills she has had in the past. If your baby was once able to sit up, crawl, or walk, and has stopped, it is a red flag sign that she urgently needs medical evaluation for gross motor delays. Serious conditions, including cancer, brain tumors and encephalitis, can cause these regressions in skill. Get in touch with an expert promptly if you notice this ominous symptom.
It's important to bear in mind that not all gross motor delays are caused by serious conditions. My own daughter has some delays in her motor development, but is ultimately very functional, bright, and healthy. However, parents should be on the lookout for symptoms of gross motor delays in babies, since they can sometimes be symptoms of serious diseases and may necessitate physical therapy. Always defer to a professional opinion when you are concerned about your baby's health.
Related Work by Juniper Russo