Q&A: 5 Month Old Won’t Put Weight on Arms

CME WebsitesChild Development, Infants 3 - 12 Months

I have a few concerns about my 5 1/2-month-old daughter. She has strong neck control and holds her head very steady. However, when on her stomach, she won’t push up hardly at all. She lifts her head, but never uses her arms to push up. She also really doesn’t try to roll at all. If you leave her on her belly long enough, she will just lay her arms back and lay down. Also, she won’t bear any weight on her legs when I put her feet against a hard surface (or my lap). I remember my older daughter doing all of these things by now. Can you tell me if I should be concerned?

Depending on where you look for a developmental milestone chart you will see varying age levels listed for the motor skills you mentioned. Most charts differ by a few months. Also, it’s always natural to compare when you have another child who may have completed these motor tasks at a different pace.

Having said that, as therapists we look for babies to be pushing up on extended forearms on their bellies by around 5-6 months, rolling smoothly with coordination in both directions within the 6-9 month old period (you may read that most babies are rolling in both directions by 5 months, but many babies still do this purely by accident and not purposely at this age), and fully bearing weight on feet and bouncing in a standing position by around 7-9 months (many babies are just starting to bear weight on their feet around 5 months of age). All babies develop at their own pace. I would encourage you to mention these concerns to your pediatrician at your next well baby visit so he can observe your daughter. Red flags would be if you feel your baby’s muscle tone feels too floppy or too stiff, or if she prefers one side of her body over her other (such as keeping her head turned to one side frequently or rolling to only one side). It is great that you are doing tummy time with her, since this is indeed the most important time for her to develop and practice the skills  you mentioned. It sounds like she has nice head control and neck strength, so maybe she needs to develop more trunk/core strength. You can encourage her to play with her feet when on her back, tucking a blanket roll under her hips to help her raise her feet and place rattle socks on her feet to entice her. You can encourage her to push up on extended forearms by rolling up a small blanket and placing it under her armpits so that her chest is now lifted and it makes it a bit easier for her to place her forearms/hands on the floor.

Lay on the floor in front of her and entice her to push upwards with mirrors and toys to reach toward. You can also place her on her tummy over the lower part of your leg, knees bent under her in a sort of kneeling position so her chest rests on your leg and encourage her to put her hands down on the floor to bear weight on them. You can facilitate rolling during play with her, gently guiding her at the hip and opposite shoulder or simply tip the blanket by lifting a corner to help her get the momentum to roll over. You can let her play in a side-lying position (left and right sides) and then practice rolling side to back or side to tummy. You can sit her on your lower leg, straddling your leg, and gently lift her up and down to encourage weight bearing on her feet. Also while in a sitting position with her feet touching the floor you can very gently apply pressure to her knees so that her feet feel the pressure of the floor beneath her. Since babies learn new skills almost daily during these early months you may want to give her another month to practice. However, if you are very concerned right now, or if your pediatrician has concerns or if you do not see anymore progress with these skills by 6-6.5 months I would call your local early intervention provider to have a free physical therapy evaluation completed to rule out any concerns.