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Gross Motor Skills & Preemies

Every year almost half a million babies are born prematurely in the United States . If you have a preemie, her development may follow a fairly typical pattern or may be delayed, depending on when she was born. Deficits in gross motor abilities are typically more likely the earlier that the baby is born.

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Age and Abilities

Just because your preemie is 6 months old doesn't mean that he'll have the same gross motor functions as like-aged infants who were born on time. Instead of following the preemie's chronological age, motor development may occur on an adjusted schedule, according to registered occupational therapist Maureen Connors Lenke. For example, if your child was born two months early, his motor development at 6 months old is likely more along the lines of a 4-month-old's skills. Connors says that this age adjustment is typically made until the child reaches his chronological age of 2.

Limited Opportunities for Growth

Medical complications and a lengthy hospital stay after a premature birth may impose limitations on a baby's gross motor development. If your infant is immobilized because of health issues or a prolonged stay in the neonatal intensive care unit she may show gross motor skill delays such as lack of head or trunk muscle control, writes Connors. Even though lack of opportunities for gross motor development may affect the baby in the months after birth, this type of delay typically doesn't last past the first year.

Muscle Tone

A premature baby typically has less muscle tone than a full-term one does. The lack of muscle tone, in comparison to a baby who was born on time, may account for gross motor difficulties. A preemie may not have the ability to flex or bend his arms and legs as easily as a full-term baby. This may result in jerky or stiff body movements.

RELATED: Facts on Premature Births

Skill Building

Some premature babies may need early intervention services to help them to build gross motor skills. If your child is struggling to meet milestones as she grows — such as sitting up unassisted, crawling or walking — she may need to see a physical therapist, according to Illinois' North Shore Pediatric Therapy. You can also encourage gross motor development at home by carrying her in a way that doesn't allow her to arch her back, helping her to move her arms and hands to the middle of her body or encouraging her to keep her head facing forward.

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