Q&A: 3 Month Old Baby with Stiff Legs

CME WebsitesChild Development, Infants 3 - 12 Months

blockquote_bgMy daughter was born 3 months ago via c-section (she was breech). Since birth, she has been very rigid and stiff. Her legs would constantly lock tight and she could even stand on her feet with straight legs (being held of course) within the first month or so. I’m just concerned because I’ve been reading stuff about cerebral palsy and I was wondering if there would be other causes for stiff baby legs? She isn’t constantly stiff but definitely straightens her legs out all the time. Everyone always comments on how “strong, stiff, and rigid” she is so it has me concerned!!

You didn’t mention if your daughter was full term or premature, but we do often see tightness and stiff muscles (hypertonia) in babies who were born prematurely. There is also a bit of physiologic hypertonia in all babies in the first 3 months of life as well. If tightness and stiffness in muscles persist when a baby reaches the 6-9 month period or primitive reflexes persist and normal gross motor developmental milestones are delayed or are not being met, then a concern of cerebral palsy may arise. If you are concerned about cerebral palsy, I would definitely discuss this with your pediatrician, since cerebral palsy would need to be diagnosed by a physician. Cerebral Palsy is caused by an injury to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth.

In the meantime, I would recommend that you seek out a physical therapy evaluation for your daughter from your local early intervention provider to rule out any immediate concerns or delays and make sure that her stiffness is not impeding her development of typical motor milestones, such as rolling, sitting and crawling.

You can review motor milestones for 0-3 months and 3-6 months. Also be sure to give your baby plenty of supervised tummy time during waking hours, which is the most important position for developing her later motor milestones. You can read about the importance of tummy time at this link.