Pediatrician appointments can be a significant source of stress and anxiety especially for new parents. All too often, parents report feeling rushed or flustered during well check-ups leaving families with unanswered questions like, “I forgot to ask about my child not walking yet. Is this normal?”
Learning to identify red flags in movement development early, and understanding that there is support outside of the pediatrician’s office gives parents the tools to help reduce stress from unanswered questions.
Three Steps to Alleviate Stress
1. Identify Red Flags: Before your child’s appointment, become familiar with how your baby is moving. Observe how the child moves and plays in his/her natural environment. By identifying red flags early, you can help guide your healthcare provider to get the answers you need. Check for the following possible red flags:
Less than 6 months old:
- Delays bringing their hands to midline to hold a bottle
- Early hand dominance: using one hand more than the other
- Moving one side of the body more than the other including head, arms, or legs
- Slow movements including slow reactions to sounds, touch, or visual stimulation like poor reaching, head turning, or rolling
- Flattened part of head, usually with decreased hair growth
6 to 12 months old:
- “W” sitting or inability to sit without support
- Absent or slow movements to reach toys including absence of belly crawling or inability to transition from sitting to stomach
- Unable to push through legs when held in standing
12-16 months old:
- Difficulty or inability to pull up on furniture
- Not taking steps with help
- Unable to stand on own briefly (1-3 seconds)
Greater than 18 months
- Unable to step independently
2. Understand the Implications
As a baby learns basic skills like reaching for toys and bringing toys to the mouth, the brain is growing based on this information from the environment. When a baby is only moving one side or one hand more than the other, they are missing out on significant visual, neurological, and muscular-skeletal input from the other side of the body. This lack of development can lead to asymmetrical muscle and nerve growth. Similarly, slow movements like delays in reaching to obtain toys can also contribute to poor brain, muscle and nerve development
Potential complications from abnormal movement may include:
- Difficulty self-soothing or calming
- Muscle weakness on one side contributing to uneven rolling and reach and grasp skills, or delays in standing and walking
- Balance deficits leading to falls in sitting, crawling, and standing
- Coordination deficits delaying movement like crawling, pulling to stand, walking, and running
- Cognitive delays like learning, problem solving, and motor planning
3) Discover Help Beyond the Pediatrician Office
The good news is, you have support beyond the pediatrician’s office.
Physical therapists are highly trained and licensed healthcare professionals who are experts in the science of movement. This science includes identifying and treating movement problems in our most vulnerable population, our children.
Physical therapists who specialize in pediatrics are experts in identifying red flags in baby development. These healthcare providers are able to screen your child and work with your family on a specific plan to improve your child’s overall health, prevent developmental delays, and diminish long-term problems.
By realizing that there are skilled healthcare providers such as pediatric physical therapists outside of the pediatrician’s office, parents can start to breath a little easier.
Dr. Carolyn Zuiker, PT, DPT
Practicing since 2007, Carolyn has worked in a variety of pediatric settings including hospitals, clinics, and homes. She has treated pediatric patients with a variety of diagnoses including: congenital birth defects, prematurity, developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, torticollis, and orthopedic injury. She has participated in specialized patient care including standardized testing, gait training and analysis, wheelchair/walker evaluations, and Kinesio-taping.
Dr. Zuiker is an expert in identifying and teaching age-appropriate gross motor skill development in infants and children and has developed educational lectures as clinical representative for doctors, case managers, therapists, and parents. Since 2004, she has been an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and is a Pediatric Section Member. Learn more about her services at Boost Babies.