My Baby Is Stiff When Held: What Can This Mean?

baby staying stiff while held

Your baby feels stiff when being held. Your immediate reaction is to freak out.

What's causing your baby to be so stiff? There are many different reasons why your baby feels stiff to the touch.

If your baby feels stiff, you've got to do something about it.

Sure, every baby feels stiff from time to time. However, if it's something that doesn't go away, there's a bigger issue that needs to be dealt with.

Stiffness is somewhat normal if a baby has been sitting or lying for an extended period.

If your baby feels stiff even if they've exerted themselves physically, there could be a problem.

As with anything that involves the health of a baby, you must react quickly if you want to prevent further damage.

There Are Two Things You Must Be Aware of If Your Baby Is Stiff While Held

None of this is meant to scare you, but you need to be aware that when you pick up your baby and hold them and they become stiff,  could be a sign that something isn't right.

Sometimes you've got to look reality straight in the face and see it for what it is. If your baby is always feeling stiff when you hold them, something is up, and it's probably not good.

The four medical conditions that may be causing your baby's stiffness.

The Four Reasons Why Your Baby is Stiff Could Be:

  • Hypertonia
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Erb's Palsy and Shoulder Dystocia
  • Kernicterus

Let's briefly talk about what all four of these medical conditions are.


Hypertonia means your baby has an abnormally high muscle tone. It's an umbrella term that tends to cover several different conditions.

The good news is that many babies with hypertonia can be treated with physical therapy.

Hypertonia is a birth defect, but depending on the cause, isn't as bad as it sounds. A little physical therapy is all it takes to loosen up the muscles and get your baby progressing the way it should.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is the most common reason why your baby feels so stiff. Cerebral palsy is the result of brain damage during birth.

A large number of Cerebral palsy cases are the result of medical malpractice.

Sometimes accidents happen, but there are also times when doctors and nurses aren't capable of doing their job right.

If your baby has Cerebral palsy, you need to study the history of the doctors and nurses. It's best to talk to a lawyer in these situations.

If the doctor has a history of delivering babies with Cerebral palsy, you need to do something to stop it. A lawsuit in this situation is a must to prevent future babies from suffering for the rest of their lives.

Erb's Palsy and Shoulder Dystocia

Erb's palsy is a condition that revolves around your baby's nerves. Without being too complicated, Erb's Palsy is the result of the nerves being damaged during the birthing process.

Shoulder Dystocia is another condition that occurs during birthing. Shoulder Dystocia happens when a baby's shoulder gets stuck while giving birth.


Kernicterus is completely preventable and is the result of your baby having untreated jaundice.

The sad thing about Kernicterus is, jaundice is something that can be spotted right away. No baby needs to suffer from Kernicterus, and jaundice can be easily treated.

Kernicterus can lead to brain damage, and that's what makes this cause of your baby's stiffness so frustrating. Any baby with Kernicterus could've had their jaundice treated right away and not gotten this medical condition.

What Should You Do if Your Baby is Experiencing Stiffness?

The first thing you need to ask yourself is, how long has your baby been stiff? Also, is it only happening when your baby is being held?

If you've just recently noticed the stiffness, there's probably nothing to worry about.

Stiffness from birth on is a whole different story. If your baby has been stiff since coming home from the hospital, something is wrong.

You first need to calm yourself down. Any time your baby experiences any sort of medical condition, the parents freak out.

It's normal that you would have a ton of emotions flooding through your mind right now. Take a few moments and get yourself together.

The next thing you need to do is to call a doctor.

The Best Case Scenario is Your Child Needs Physical Therapy

A little physical therapy might be all that your baby needs. If that's the case, then you should consider yourselves lucky.

Physical therapy might be expensive, but it's better than having to deal with the long term effects of a birth defect that won't go away. The reality is for many parents that their baby will never get better and will need lifelong medical care to address the birth defect.

The Emotional Toll of Having a Child with a Birth Defect is Real

The biggest mistake you'll make as a parent of a baby with a birth defect is, you'll do your best to deny how difficult it is emotionally. Allow your emotions to run free and get it out of your system.

It's okay to cry and be mad at the world. If you felt any differently, you wouldn't be a good parent.

Every parent of a child with birth defects goes through periods of grief and anger. You aren't a superhero, and the world you live in is your new reality.

It's All About Finding the Right Doctor and Coming Up With the Proper Plan for Action

Allow yourself a little breathing room after you've figured out what's going on. It's going to take some time, but it's not as difficult as you think it is right now.

Rely on online support groups to get you through these difficult times. It will take a little time for you to get down a rhythm and to know what's going on.

The time it takes to get yourself on track is different from person to person. However, the one thing that is consistent is that everyone needs to go at it at their own pace.

If you rush things too much, you will hurt yourself emotionally and your child's healthcare will suffer.

And make sure you continue to hold your baby even if they continue to be stiff.

The best thing you can do is to get all your ducks in a row and then take a breather. Take care of yourself along the way and realize that none of this is your fault, and you'll get through it with the help of others.