Newborns with Abnormal Development

Even before your baby is born, your doctor is monitoring his development through your prenatal checkups and ultrasounds. Upon birth, pediatricians assess your newborn to see if she has any developmental issues. Babies with conditions that cause abnormal development, such as Down Syndrome, are monitored even more closely to see what strategies are needed to help reach developmental milestones 1. But parents may wonder exactly what constitutes normal development for a newborn.

Sensory Development

Your newborn may not appear to notice what's going on around him, but watch what happens when a loud noise occurs. He'll become startled, cringe and may even start to cry. When the lights suddenly come on, he should blink and possibly even cry. Within the first month, he should turn toward familiar voices and people. He also is probably happier around sweet smells and gentle touches than around sharp smells and rough materials. Newborns with abnormal development may not react to these stimuli or may not react in an expected way. Make sure to talk to your pediatrician if you notice that this is the case.


Typically developing newborns have a number of reflexes, some of which turn into voluntary behavior and some of which disappear in the coming months. The rooting reflex occurs when the baby turns his head to the side when you stroke his cheek or mouth, which helps with nursing. As the baby gets older, he voluntarily turns his head toward the bottle or breast. Another reflex that eventually becomes voluntary is sucking, which not only helps the baby eat but can soothe him as well. The grasping reflex -- when your newborn holds onto your finger after you stroke his palm -- also becomes voluntary in the next few months. If you notice that your newborn doesn't have these reflexes, this can indicate that he isn't developing typically 2.

Other Signs

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you talk to your pediatrician if your newborn does any of the following during his first month: sucks poorly, feeds slowly, doesn't blink around a bright light, doesn't respond to loud noises, seems too stiff or too floppy, doesn't follow an object from side to side or has a lower jaw that trembles, even when he is not crying or excited.

Risk Factors

Newborns who are born before 37 weeks, also known as preterm, are at a higher risk for experiencing abnormal development. So are babies born at a low birth weight, which is considered under 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Children with birth defects may show signs of abnormal development as well 4. About 1 in 150 newborns born in the United States has a chromosomal abnormality, which often causes a birth defect, according to the March of Dimes 4.

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