Infant Limpness or Weak Movement

While you’re pregnant, you often worry about the movement of the baby. In fact, it’s common for the baby to be extremely active from about 22-28 weeks and then to drop off to less extreme movement. When the baby is born alive and well, there’s less of a focus on the activity of your child –your expectation is to simply monitor executive functions. But what if your child starts acting with more limpness? Or what happens if your child’s movements appear weaker? Is this is a developmental milestone, or is this symptomatic of something else?

Group B Strep Infection

If you weren’t testing for group strep B infection during pregnancy, there is a chance that you could have passed it onto your baby without even knowing it. In many instances, babies may appear weak and limp as a result of the body attempting to fight off the infection.

However, limpness and weak movements alone are generally not indicative of group strep B infection without other symptoms present.

 Other symptoms may may include fever, breathing problems, grunting sounds, bluish skin, seizures, stiffness, heart rate and blood pressure abnormalities, poor feeding, and fussiness.

For more detailed information on group B strep, refer to our article Group B Strep Infection.

Perinatal Asphyxia

Perinatal asphyxia occurs when an infant is deprived of an adequate amount of oxygen, typically during a difficult, stressful childbirth.

When a baby experiences a decrease in oxygen intake, limpness and/or weak movements may follow, in addition to a bluish tint to the skin, rapid breathing, low heart rate, and amniotic fluid that’s stained with meconium.

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Did you experience a difficult labor? During stressful labor and deliveries, an infant may defecate while still in utero (called meconium), and breathe in a mixture of the fetal matter and amniotic fluid.

Although it’s considered a rare condition, meconium aspiration syndrome is a serious, life-threatening issue, marked by limp and/or weak movements, slow heart rate, low Apgar score, and more.

Spina Bifida

In extreme case of spina bifida, the nerves may be so severely damaged that the child has weak movements in the affected areas of the body. Spina bifida occurs when the vertebrae does not enclose the spinal column entirely, leaving raw, exposed nerves to external harm.

Sometimes spina bifida can worsen if an infant has been exposed to meningitis (an infection that manifests in the layer around the spinal column) or if the child has group B strep infection (which leads to meningitis).

Vacuum Extractor Injuries

Physicians use certain tools to help aid in a healthy delivery, however these tools are occasionally misused and end up causing birth injuries in children. Your child’s weak movement may be a result of a vacuum extractor injury, as the vacuum extractor needs to be placed on a certain part of the baby’s skull, and misplacement can lead to brain damage or nerve damage, thus altering your baby’s normal muscle movement.

Cerebral Palsy

Because cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects the muscle groups in the child’s body, one of the more common symptoms is weak muscles that may go from limp to rigid.

 If children can’t move his or her muscles properly as in the case of weakness or limpness, this could be an indication of neurological damage as the proper electrical signals are not being communicated from the brain to the muscle groups.

Erb’s Palsy

The brachial plexus nerves between the shoulder, neck, and collarbone are nerves that can be torn, moved, displaced, or even broken when the baby is pulled unnecessarily out of the mother’s body, or when during delivery the baby’s shoulder snagged on the mother’s pubic bone. If your child has Erb’s palsy, it’s likely that he or she may have limpness or weak muscle movement in the one affected arm.

Keep in mind, however, that it’s typically only the affected arm that has weakness or limpness, not the entire body.


Hypotonia is a medical condition marked by weak and/or limp movements, and is often referred to as “floppy infant” syndrome. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants can develop hypotonia in a number of ways, including:

  • Birth injuries and trauma
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Acute and/or chronic illnesses
  • Abnormalities in the nervous system
  • Genetic disorders