Developmental Delays in Babies – Signs, Causes and Types

8 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

Developmental Delays in Babies

It is an amazing feeling when your little one enlightens your home with their first presence. Over time, you see them grow in front of your eyes. In their childhood, babies grow significantly fast, both physically and mentally. But sometimes, you may be worried about the developmental milestones that your baby is achieving.  Whether they are growing properly as expected or not, is a matter of concern for parents. Developmental delays in babies can be a cause for worry.

Pediatricians sometimes observe certain types of developmental delays in babies. These delays may occur in physical, cognitive, communication, social, emotional, or behavioral aspects. Such kind of developmental delays can cause them to fall behind their same-age children. Some causes are identifiable, and some do not have a clear reason. This article will illuminate the different aspects of development delays, like what the symptoms are, what kind of delays are expected, how you can help your baby in such cases, and when to see a doctor.

In This Article

Signs of Developmental Delays in Babies

It is true that every child has their own pace of development, and you cannot compare it with any other. If your baby is suffering from delayed development, close observation can tell you much about it. Below are some activities you need to observe to understand the proper development of your baby.

  • Inability to reach or grasp objects.
  • Not smile at anybody.
  • Not show any gesture to identify parents.
  • Lack of any sign of affection towards parents and caregivers.
  • Inability to sit properly and often leaning while sitting.
  • Facing difficulties in climbing stairs.
  • Not understanding how to use pencils, spoons, toothbrushes etc.
  • Facing difficulties in responding to simple words.
  • No facial or behavioral expressions of emotional things like happiness, anger, joy, and frustration.

What Are the Chances of Your Baby Having Developmental Delay?

cause of Developmental Delay in babies

Several factors affect the timely development of your baby. Some are listed below.

1. Chromosomal Abnormalities

Chromosomal defects are one of the most common causes for developmental delays. These abnormalities show up in the form of conditions such as down syndrome and trisomy 21 are linked back to developmental delays.

2. Genetic Defects

If anyone of your family members or relatives has suffered from developmental delays, the babies can often inherit these conditions too.

3. Metabolic Disorders

Many metabolic diseases such as phenylketonuria (PKU), Krabbe disease, Sanfilippo disease and Hunter diseases can all result in delayed development in babies.

4. Trauma to the Head

Babies who experience traumatic injuries to the head can experience brain-related issues which ultimately can lead to developmental delays. Shaken baby syndrome is a typical example of trauma that can result in problems with proper development in babies.

5. Malnutrition

Lack of proper nutrition is another big reason that hampers the timely development of babies. For any baby it is vital to get all the essential macro and micronutrients for their expected growth. But the scarcity of such healthy diets hinders normal growth.

6. Premature Birth

Often, premature deliveries are also considered one of the major causes of delayed growth of babies. Such babies get exposed to the external environment prematurely and take time to adjust to the outer world.

7. Infections

If your baby gets infected before or after birth, this may also cause delayed growth.

8. Exposure to Toxins

Many times, exposure to a toxic environment, over pollution, and unhealthy and unhygienic conditions adversely impacts babies’ normal growth.

Top 5 Types of Developmental Delays in Babies You Can Expect

Babies learn to perform different activities like limb movement, crawling, eye movement, talking, etc. quickly. But it varies for every child. Some learn fast, and some take much more time. The developmental growth of babies depends on several factors, and there are various causes of such delays, such as

  • Premature birth
  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Malnutrition
  • Oxygen deficiency during delivery
  • Negligence or physical abuse
  • Consumption of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy

Some of the critical developmental delays that occur are

1. Vision Developmental Delay

Vision Developmental Delay

Until six months, babies do not have a clear vision. Everything they see is blurry to them. But if the situation remains the same after that age, it’s alarming.


Several warning signs inform you about the vision development delay in babies. Immediately contact your doctor in such cases.

  • Unclear vision after six months of age.
  • Baby unable to follow moving objects.
  • Poor coordination of eye muscles.
  • Crossing their eyes frequently.
  • After six months of age, turning their eyes in and out.
  • Frequent tearing up.
  • Unable to identify nearby or faraway objects, especially at one to six feet.

Probable Causes

There are some common reasons behind the delay in vision development. Such as

  • Lazy eye or amblyopia, which causes poor vision in one eye.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity which generally affects premature babies.
  • Cross eyes or strabismus.
  • Refractive errors like myopia or hyperopia


If you can identify and get your proper baby treatment, most vision development issues can be rectified. Some possible treatments are

  • Glasses or contact lenses
  • Special glasses
  • Surgery
  • An eye patch

[Read : Baby’s Vision Development – Timelines And What to Expect]

2. Language And Speech Developmental Delay

baby with down syndrome

This is one of the most common developmental delays in toddlers. Delay in speech or language development is a problem in uttering sensible words or sentences, including understanding the language.


  • Non-responsive to loud noise (by three to four months).
  • Unable to babble (by three to four months).
  • Non-responsive to any sound or noise (by seven months).
  • Not uttering any single word like mama, papa (by one year of age).
  • Unable to understand signs like “ta-ta,” and “no” (by one year of age).
  • Do not understand simple instructions, identify body parts by their names (by two years of age).
  • Cannot utter a minimum of 15 words (by two years of age).
  • Do not use sentences to communicate (by two years of age).

Probable Causes

  • Do not have a speaking environment. Hence, nowhere to learn to speak.
  • Prematurity
  • Intellectual and genetic Disability like Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.
  • Any brain injury, trauma.
  • Autism
  • Problem in muscle controlling speech – dysarthria.


  • Your pediatrician will be able to guide you through the next steps once delayed language and speech development is diagnosed.
  • Talk a lot with your baby, even if they do not respond. It will help them to understand and mimic.
  • Respond to your baby’s coos.
  • Tell stories to them.
  • Use gestures while speaking with them.
  • Interact and communicate through singing, talking and encourage them to speak.
  • Once your baby gets a little older, you can put them in therapy classes where professional therapists will work with them to improve their skills.

[Read : Speech And Language Developmental Milestones]

3. Motor Skill Developmental Delay

Motor Skill Developmental Delay

Motor skills are related to limbs’ movement, which includes gross motor skills like crawling, walking, finger movements, grabbing any object, etc.


  • Unable to grab objects on their own.
  • Unable to support their head.
  • Difficulty in bringing objects to their mouth.
  • Do not search for things actively.
  • Unable to stand on their legs for a long time.

Probable Causes

  • Premature delivery
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Brain injury
  • Problem in muscle coordination, also known as Ataxia
  • Myopathy is a muscle disease


The treatment of motor skill development issues is long-term and needs expert advice. Below are some general treatments to overcome such issues.

  • Regular physiotherapy
  • Exercise
  • Developing gross motor skills through occupational therapy

4. Social And Emotional Developmental Delay

Social And Emotional Developmental Delay

Such developmental delays can affect your child’s social balance. They are often unable to perform normal interactions at social events and perceive the situations normally.


  • Unable to keep proper eye contact.
  • Do not mingle with other children.
  • No interest in communication and speaking.
  • Face difficulties in expressing thoughts in speech.
  • Unable to understand other’s talk.
  • Do not show emotional expressions to others or in situations.

Probable Causes

  • Brain injury
  • Trauma or child abuse
  • Learning disabilities
  • Hearing loss due to hereditary problem or any other issue
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders


In this case, you need to consult an expert. Majorly speaking with your child, interacting with them, involving them in social activities from childhood, and medication can help resolve this problem.

5. Cognitive Developmental Delay

Cognitive Developmental Delay in babies

Cognitive developmental delays are linked with slowed learning abilities, thinking capabilities, imagination, and academic activities.


  • Unable to draw basic shapes and figures.
  • Unable to grasp simple instructions.
  • Not interested to see pictures and other interesting objects.
  • Do not mimic words or gestures.
  • Unable to concentrate on any activity for more than five minutes (by five years of age).

Probable Causes

  • Different types of learning disabilities
  • Consumption of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy
  • Lead poisoning
  • Genetic disorders like down syndrome
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Medical complications to newborn


Like most newborn developmental delays, early treatment can help resolve these issues. Expert advice and regular treatment are the best way to take your baby back to normal life.

  • Occupational therapy and behavioral treatment
  • Special education
  • Prescribed medication

[Read : Motor and Cognitive Skills Development Of A Baby 0-12 Months]

What Are the Risk Factors For Developmental Delays in Babies?

As the name says, developmental delays will not stay forever; only there is a delay in learning abilities. You need to understand your child very well and help him to adjust to his peers. There are some risks of lagging in the academic areas or other aspects. But with time, all will be alright. Remember, you need to consult experts on any mentioned issues to help your child.

How Can You Help Your Baby With Developmental Delay?

You are the only person who can help the child best. Talk to them, listen to their words, play with them, sing, dance and do all the activities to keep your child engaged. In most cases, social and emotional development, cognitive abilities, language, and speech-related growth depend on how you nurture your child.

When Should You Call the Doctor?

You can consult your doctor anytime you observe the symptoms mentioned in your baby. When you see your baby is facing problems in understanding languages, moving limbs, not speaking a word till 1.5 years of age, or not being able to express his feelings in words, rush to your doctor.

Developmental delays in babies are the cases where they take more than usual time to learn certain skills, reach milestones and perform normal activities like the movement of limbs, crawling, talking, etc. In most cases, these are temporary and can be remedied through expert advice and special care.


1. What is The Difference Between Developmental Delays And Development Disabilities?

Development delay is a delay in learning the skills, and it is a temporary problem. Whereas developmental disability is a permanent issue, you need to take different steps to handle it.

2. How to Help a Child Facing Language Developmental Delay?

Talk to the child a lot, sing, dance, tell stories and ask him to mimic your words. In severe cases, check your doctor.

3. Can Development Delays be Cured Permanently?

In most cases, developmental delays are not permanent and can be cured.

Read Also: Squint and Amblyopia in Babies

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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