Floppy Baby Syndrome

Illustration showing normal movement of baby and baby with floppy baby syndromeThe floppy baby syndrome is a partial widespread muscular paralysis in an infant. A generalised lack of muscle tone in a newborn infant is not a common problem, but may be a sign of serious illness.

If the baby is floppy, and not moving arms and legs spontaneously a serious viral or bacterial infection caught before birth from the mother, or in the first few days of life, may be responsible.

Malnutrition in the mother causing poor nutrition of the baby, or poor nutrition of the baby after birth (often due to failure of breastfeeding), is another cause.

Other less common causes of a floppy baby include cerebral palsy (spasticity), Down syndrome (mongolism), Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, myasthenia syndromes, muscular dystrophy (failure of muscle development), Werdnig-Hoffmann disease (inherited progressive muscle wasting), Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other disorders that affect the nerve control of muscles.

Babies fed honey contaminated with dust containing Clostridium botulinum are affected by the toxin produced by these bacteria, which results in muscle weakness. A test on faeces for the infecting bacteria is used to make the diagnosis.

Abnormalities of body chemical control may also cause weak muscles or poor muscle tone. Examples include rickets (lack of vitamin D), glycogen storage disease (inability to use sugar effectively for energy) and aminoaciduria (protein chemistry disorder).

No specific treatment available, but the condition usually settles spontaneously with time and is rarely fatal.

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