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Infant development is very important to monitor and keep track of, especially in the first years of life. Thanks to many studies and research work, the normal development path in infants is now well known. The age and timeline of infant development is important in catching early development problems and dealing with them. When a baby is born, you will realize that you constantly have to support their head and neck because the neck muscles are yet to develop. When you lift the baby’s shoulder you will notice their head lagging behind, as the baby grows you will notice this head lag disappearing until the baby can maintain their head head upright around the ages of 6 months. There are some babies that present with a continuous head lag past the age of 6 months, this can be a sign of some development problems, most noticeably Autism.
A head lag is the baby posture that occurs when you lift your baby up from a sleeping position and the head lags behind the body trunk. This happened because the neck muscles are weak and the baby is yet to learn how to control them. Once it learns how to control these muscles the head lag disappears.
At each doctor’s visit the head leg is measured to verify if the baby is developing correctly. To measure the head lag, the baby is placed on their back on the examination table, the arms of the baby are kept in the flexion position and the baby is slowly pulled into the sitting position. The amount of head lag is measured by how far the head remains behind the shoulders and trunk when he or she is pulled into position.
There is a development timeline that infants are expected to follow. These are guidelines that most babies adhere to and can vary from one baby to another. The motor development in infants is variable depending on many factors, but starting at around 3 months of age, a baby should start to have stronger motor movement and manipulation. By the ages of 4 to 6 months most babies should have developed total control of the neck muscles, meaning head lag should have disappeared.
Some babies may take a bit longer to reach this milestone and this can be very worry some to parents. The majority of the babies that take longer to reach the head lag disappearance milestone tend to be the babies born of premature birth. Another common cause of this delay is credited to autism, research is still underway to confirm this but early results show that in babies with a family history of autism and neurological development disorders, the delay in the disappearance of head lag can be an early sign of autism.
However, the mention of autism should not get you worrying and stressing as this is usually a very unlikely cause. Delays in the disappearance of head lag should be reported to a doctor who will examine the baby and compare with other development milestones to come up with a professional opinion on what might be causing delay.
The first thing you should do when your baby is presenting with persistent head lag is to report it to a doctor and have them look at the baby. There are other ways though to help your baby gain more control of their neck muscles. Placing the baby on certain positions can help them have better control of their neck muscles. Positions like placing them on their tummy, their back and in a sitting position are very helpful in having the baby gain better control of their neck muscles. You can also attract the baby with some toys to get them to turn their head more often.
Early physical therapy is also useful in addressing any problems related to motor development problems in babies.