How to Help Prevent Developmental Delay with Your Newborn Baby

CME WebsitesChild Development, Newborns 0 - 3 Months

Most parents have the best intentions when they bring home a new baby and obviously every family has a unique home situation. First time parents may hold their baby all the time. Some families are on the go, so the baby has frequent rides in the car seat.  Some parents may keep their baby in a bouncy seat, a hammock seat or a car seat to keep them safe from being trampled on by siblings. Possibly, this is the only way the baby will sleep due to reflux or colic. It is important to remember that these practices, although sometimes necessary, need to be monitored closely. Typically developing babies may develop delays due to too much time in any of these positions. I personally know as a mother of 2 young children it can be an easy cycle to get wrapped up in. Babies are missing out on the opportunity to move at very critical times in their development. In my opinion there are two critical mistakes that even the most well intentioned and loving families can make in the early weeks of their new baby’s life:

Tummy Time

Lack of tummy time: Even in the first days of life, lack of time on baby’s tummy may effect overall development. A lot of first time parents are afraid of this position for a few reasons. First, according to the “Back to Sleep Campaign.” you are told to place your baby to sleep on his back to reduce the incidence of SIDS. This should not be ignored, however, during the day you can certainly supervise your baby for increasing periods of time on his belly. You can lie on your back or reclined with your baby on your chest facing you, or place a small towel roll under the baby’s chest to help him lift his head off the ground. Typically developing babies have the ability to turn their head side to side to ensure breathing in this position. This helps them to develop neck strength against gravity in order to lift and turn their heads. It also provides the opportunity to develop upper body strength for rolling and crawling. Missing those first few weeks of tummy time may leave you with a baby that is very uncomfortable and fussy on his belly.  New recommendations suggest that parents place their baby on his belly for at least 15 minutes two times a day while supervised.

Holding or Restricting an Infant

Holding baby too much or keeping them restricted in an infant seat or bouncer: Especially second time moms know that it may be necessary to place your baby in a car seat for errands with the other kids, or even for their protection.  Placing a baby in a restricted position for long periods of time can cause a number of developmental delays. Torticollis, which is a shortening of one side of the neck muscles can occur as a baby sits in a restricted position.  The baby does not get the opportunity to move and turn his head therefore, tightness and weakness of neck muscles can develop. Also, one sided visual and motor neglect can occur when the baby’s head stays toward one side for long periods in a car seat, or bouncer. Eventually, flattening of the baby’s head in specific areas can occur in which some cases the use of a pressure helmet is needed to even out the baby’s head shape.

Safety and Development

All in all babies need to be safe. Parents sometimes need to do what they need to do to get sleep, however, it is important to make sure that babies get bouts of supervised floor time on their stomachs throughout the day. If you have concerns that your baby is uncomfortable on his belly, or is not paying attention to both sides equally, either visually or not turning his head from side to side, talk to your pediatrician right away.  The doctor should be able to assist you in finding an Early Intervention Physical Therapist. The earlier you intervene the better the outcome. A PT can give you positional instructions and activity suggestions to use while playing with your baby at home.

By Tara Reighard, PT