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Gross motor red flags in the first 3 months of baby's life

What your baby should be doing at three months, and yellow flags to look out for and discuss with your pediatrician.

Dr. Alyssa Whitfield, Pediatric Physical Therapist
Date Posted
February 11, 2022

As a new mom we worry about absolutely everything, or at least I did. We want  to ease some of those fears and arm you with the knowledge to take action if you need to. 

If you find yourself worrying about your child’s development, don’t keep it to yourself and worry in silence. When it comes to gross motor development, the “wait and see” approach is not the best. If you notice anything that gives you pause mention your concern to your child’s pediatrician. As you learn more keep asking questions and don’t be afraid to ask for second opinions or get referrals. Go with your gut because you are the expert on your child! 

Another reason you shouldn’t worry in silence is because there are state programs out there to help if you think your baby might need it. It almost feels like a well-kept secret that pediatric therapists are available for free through each state’s Early Intervention program. Through this program, your baby can be evaluated by a physical therapist, occupational therapist and/or speech therapist and treated from birth through three years of age for free (or for a low cost, depending on your location). This is an important resource to know about and take advantage of because this is the prime age for our littles to acquire new skills and in most cases the sooner they receive therapies, the less therapy they will need overall to achieve their individualized goals.

The main thing to remember about milestones, whether gross motor or others, is that every milestone has a range of normal. So when you are looking at these lists it’s best to think about your baby and not compare your baby to others (I KNOW, NOT EASY when everything is plastered all over social media). 

Use this information to start creating a baseline of what’s normal for your baby. Then you can look back to see their individualized progress as they age, instead of comparing to your cousin or friend's baby who you’ve never actually met (because let’s be real, they’ve posted the highlight reel). 

Key things you should be seeing baby do 0-3 months: 

  • Lift and hold head up while on belly
  • Open and close hands
  • Move arms and legs off surface while on back 
  • Holds head 45 degrees off floor 
  • Lifts head and looks either direction  while on stomach 
  • May begin to bear weight on forearms
  • Brings hands to mouth
  • Tracks a toy or caregiver with their eyes

Remember, you’re really just creating a baseline of normal for YOUR baby. So you should think of the items listed below as yellow flags rather than red. Take note of them and bring them up to a pediatrician. They may give you a PT referral to get expert eyes on your baby!

Baby looking at toys in play gym while playing with eet

Yellow flags (take action and talk to your pediatrician, possibly ask for PT referral):

  • Stiff arms or legs
  • Hands stay fisted
  • Baby doesn’t move arms and legs off surface while on back (“floppy” extremities)
  • Baby demonstrates side preference with extremities (one side appears weaker)
  • Baby demonstrates side preference with head 
  • Periods of complete stillness
  • Does not track a toy or caregiver with their eyes
  • Head flattening 

As mommas we often feel like we need to know EVERYTHING and that’s just simply not feasible. But it’s okay to have questions you don’t know the answers to. So, let’s normalize getting evaluations for our babes. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or hide because what is the harm in getting expert insight on your child's development? At the very least it will help calm your fears and if services are necessary then you’ve gotten your kiddo the help they need early! KUDOS to you any way you slice it! 

About the expert: Dr. Alyssa Whitfield is a Pediatric Physical Therapist and entrepreneur. She is the creator and owner of Move to Learn PT; a practice with the intention of promoting gross motor skills from birth to improve and facilitate learning. If you’re looking for more personalized assistance to promote gross motor development through play, Virtual Milestone Consultations are available. www.movetolearnpt.com

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