The way you position your baby when cuddling, carrying, and playing with him can help him to develop his muscles and to learn motor and social skills.
Back to Sleep and Belly to Play
Tummy time is a very beneficial activity for babies, but it can be scary for parents to do with their newborn. You can do tummy time from day one, but modify it to support your baby and to make it a comfortable activity for everyone. As your baby gets older and grows bigger, you can change the way tummy time is done, which will help with further development. Remember to always put the baby down to sleep on his or her back. Tummy time is for periods when your baby is awake and is being closely watched by you.
Tummy time does not need to occur flat on the floor, especially in the beginning. Recline back on a chair or couch or place your newborn on her belly or your chest when first introducing tummy time. If she is awake and alert, tuck her forearms in under her chest to prop her up a little. Talk to her and look down at her. She may not look up at you at first, but she will hear your voice and will eventually want to push up to see your face. Familiar faces are more interesting than toys for young babies so this will be very motivating for them.
Start in a semi-upright position then gradually lower yourself to be in a flatter position as your baby gets stronger and starts lifting her head. If she is sleepy you can open her arms and lay her head on your chest. Alternate which direction her head is turned to each time you do this.
For tummy time on the floor, place your baby on his belly just as you would on your chest. Again, tuck his forearms in to prop him up. A small blanket/towel roll can be placed under his chest to help prop him up until he is stronger. If you have a “U” shaped pillow (like a Boppy pillow), place your baby so his arms are resting on the pillow. This inclines the baby and makes it a little easier to push up than lying flat. Use your face, play mirrors, or toys to pique your baby’s interest so he will try to push up.
Baby Carriers/Harness and Slings
Some parents choose to use different types of baby carriers with their infants. This is a personal choice, but there are some developmental considerations when using carriers. When choosing a carrier, be sure that your baby can be positioned so that her legs are spread apart with hips and knees bent. This is sometimes called a straddle or frog position. Avoid carriers that allow the baby’s legs to hang with thighs close together. If a fabric sling is being used, the same positioning should be kept in mind. Instead of your baby lying on her back cradled in a hanging sling, position your baby upright, legs open with hips and knees bent. The sling can be configured to keep your baby in this position. This straddle position helps with healthy hip development and the prevention of hip dysplasia (dislocation).
Keeping Baby’s Head Round
New parents are well educated about the risk of SIDS and this is, of course, an anxiety inducing thought. Always put your baby down to sleep on his back, but don’t forget that having your baby in different positions for play, while awake, is very important. Keeping your baby lying on his back all day or only facing one direction can cause a flattening of his head. This can also lead to a turning preference and tightness in the muscles in his neck. To avoid the flattening and to help keep your baby’s head beautifully round, give him opportunities to play in different positions. In addition to tummy time, lay your baby on his side with a blanket roll behind him to keep him in position. Put toys in front of him to reach for and to entertain him. Side lying is not only helpful for head shape, but it is an easier position for reaching and a great place to introduce this skill. Remember to alternate which side your baby is laying on each time he plays. For all play positions, present faces, toys, and things such as crib aquariums or mirrors to either side of your baby. Alternate which end of the crib and changing table his head is facing to give him opportunities to turn his head in both directions.
Swings and bouncy seats are comfortable places for your baby to rest. Position the baby to keep his head in midline or alternate which direction his head is turned. While these have soft surfaces, it is still pressure on your baby’s head, so remember to give your baby time to play on his belly or in other positions. He should not lie in swings and seats all day.
There is so much equipment out there for babies….exersaucers, jumpers, walkers, etc. There can be a place and time for each of these items, but this time should always be in moderation. Babies should never spend a long time in any piece of equipment. Limit time to no more than 30 minutes at a time, only a few times per day at the most. Anything that involves weight bearing in standing should be put aside until the baby is at least 6 months old. The child should have good head and trunk control before using those items as well. Too much supported standing too soon can cause the child’s legs to bow as their bones are not ready to have their full weight on them for long periods of time.
If you enjoy doing different activities throughout your day, remember that your baby will also enjoy this. It will be fun for both of you while promoting your child’s development!
By: Jaime Ruffing, PT