Low Muscle Tone in Babies

infant playing with mom

Do your baby’s muscles seem floppier than other babies’? Does it prevent him or her from sitting up or crawling? These symptoms go hand-in-hand with hypotonia, or low muscle tone.

What Is Low Muscle Tone?

The amount of tension in a muscle is what makes it possible for a child to achieve milestones when developing motor skills. However, that tension and the muscle’s strength are significantly reduced when the child has low muscle tone. This lack of muscle strength makes it more difficult to do gross motor activities like sitting up or crawling, or maintain physical balance. There is no specific cause for hypotonia, but it can be associated with brain damage, muscular dystrophy and genetic or chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome.

What Are the Symptoms?

Low muscle tone can be easier to notice at a younger age, when muscles are still developing. Arms and legs will be looser than other babies’ and it may seem like the limbs are giving up under your child when he or she tries to stand or move around. Your child could also have hypotonia if he or she has trouble with the following:

  • Picking up arms
  • Kicking legs out into the air
  • Keeping head straight or raising it up
  • Balance
  • Rolling on stomach
  • Bad posture
  • Poor reflexes

The chances a baby with low muscle tone can dislocate their hip or neck is increased because their body cannot properly support itself. Hypotonia doesn’t affect your child’s intelligence, but it can delay how he or she learns, communicates and interacts with others.

Can I Help My Child with Low Muscle Tone?

All babies develop their muscles at a different pace, and those who have low muscle tone will probably do so more slowly. While low muscle tone at birth could be the result of a congenital ailment, if your child shows signs of muscle weakness after he or she turns one year old, chances are the muscles will get stronger with time and treatment. Here are some of the exercises you can practice with your child to encourage muscle development:

  • Help your baby to play on his or her belly, which will work the neck and arm muscles to help with crawling. Your baby will have to reach for toys, thereby using his or her muscles.
  • To help with neck control, lay your baby on his or her back; carefully have them sit up, then lower their back to floor. This should be done when the baby is about four months old.
  • Get your child to roll over by starting on his or her back and placing yourself where he or she has to turn to see you. A noisy toy can also create interest in turning around.
  • Create an obstacle course with pillows, once your baby can crawl, to help him or her work on balance and coordination. Toys can be a good incentive for your baby in this case too.

No matter the activity, be sure to encourage your child.  Your support, along with early intervention, can give the confidence and motivation needed to move forward.

Physical therapy is also important to help your child reach his or her full potential in developing body strength. In Toronto, VHA Home HealthCare offers a weekly program for caregivers and their children aged 7 to 15 months with low muscle tone. This rehab therapy group will be starting September 26, 2013 and will offer the assistance of VHA registered occupational therapists in the journey to building your child’s muscles. You will also get the chance to learn more exercises you can do at home and share experiences with other parents. Contact Leila Amin to discuss if your child qualifies at 416-489-2500, ext. 2069.



Adesman, Andrew. What is “low muscle tone” and what does it mean. BabyCentre. Retrieved from http://www.babycenter.com/404_what-is-low-muscle-tone-and-what-does-it-mean_12189.bc

Dray, Sarah. Symptoms of Low Muscle Tone. LIVESTRONG. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/548360-symptoms-of-low-muscle-tone/

Hughes, Candice. Exercises for Babies with Low Muscle Tone. LIVESTRONG. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/487570-exercises-for-babies-with-low-muscle-tone/

Sessoms, Gail. Importance of Physical Therapy for a Child with Hypotonia. LIVESTRONG. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/533566-importance-of-physical-therapy-for-a-child-with-hypotonia/

Image retrieved from: http://gymbobuzz.gymboreeclasses.com/blog/gymboree-play-and-music-family-and-friends/love-teachers


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