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Muscle Tone Development of the Preterm Infant 

Preterm babies are not just smaller versions of full term babies. They are unique and have different needs in all developmental areas. Full term babies are born with strong muscle tone. They move smoothly and can curl into comfortable, flexed/bent positions on their own. Appropriate muscle tone is important because it can affect future motor development with a baby.

Because of their immaturity and because they had less time to develop in the womb, preterm babies are born with decreased muscle tone when compared to a full term baby. Preterm babies do not have the muscle tone to flex/bend their arms and legs independently, their movements are often "jerky," and they tend to keep their arms and legs straight or stiff. If, over time, a preterm baby maintains these positions, it can affect their muscle tone balance and overall motor development.

Proper positioning and holding techniques used while your baby is in the hospital can help to prevent some of the problems associated with decreased muscle tone and posture. Preterm babies like to have boundaries to help them keep their arms and legs close to their bodies. Using your hands to hold your baby's arms and legs close to their body or swaddling your baby with a blanket can help him/her feel secure and help with muscle tone as well. 

A therapist is available Monday-Friday from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm to answer any questions you may have about the development of your preterm infant. Please call the Rehabilitation Services Department at 608-258-6645 and ask to speak with a pediatric therapist.

St. Mary's Hospital     700 South Park Street     Madison, WI 53715-0450     (608) 251-6100
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