If your baby needs a little boost to start walking then take 5 minutes and read this!
Learning to walk independently is probably the most common milestone that parents get hung up on. It makes sense though. Learning to walk independently is a huge deal! Not only does it mean your baby has successfully integrated a TON of skills they’ve picked up along their developmental journey so far, but it also puts their brains into hyper-drive! Imagine how stimulated your baby must feel – the neurological processes taking place – as they start walking. It’s not just the coordination and strengthening taking place though. How about the fact that they are now experiencing directionality the same way we do as adults. Going straight, backwards, right, left, sideways. Your little one is now seeing, feeling and experiencing the world as intended – pretty cool stuff! But also the cause of significant worry by parents when it’s taking longer than anticipated. So let’s discuss some very simple, yet very effective strategies for giving your baby the little extra boost they need.
Optimize the Environment
Cruising – walking while using their arms to support themselves against a piece of furniture - is typically what comes before walking. Standing up on your own two feet and taking steps is a lot less intimidating when there’s something to hold onto / lean on. Odds are your baby is getting pretty comfortable with sliding side-to-side along the couch. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready for walking independently either. Find some middle ground, or as we call it, the “just right challenge”. To do this, set your baby up with 3 or 4 pieces of furniture that they can go between. Try using the couch, ottoman and a chair or two. Set up each piece so they are always an arm’s length away, so that your baby can reach for and touch two pieces of furniture with each hand. This requires them to become more comfortable with more dynamic movements than just sliding side to side. As they become more comfortable with this, try separating the furniture a few more inches, then a few more inches, and a few more until your baby needs to take the “leap of faith” where they can’t simultaneously be touching each piece of furniture.
*pro-tip – each piece of furniture needs an age appropriate toy for motivation.
Even though your baby isn’t walking yet, you can still expose them to challenges they don’t seem ready for. For example, just because your baby isn’t walking yet that doesn’t mean you can’t help them walk up a hill. Sure you’ll need to hold their hand, but unsteady, varying surfaces will give your baby’s muscles much different feedback than a hardwood floor. Think about it like this – what’s more challenging, running on a track, or running on the beach? Of course running on the beach because it challenges the stability of every muscle, ligament and tendon from the waist down. Your baby needs that challenge! Hold their hand to allow them to bravely navigate up the stairs, along the beach and across the lawn.
Falling is Part of the Process
No one likes to see their baby cry. No one likes to see any baby cry actually. But in order for a baby to learn and understand what’s required for upright mobility they need to experiment. With experimenting comes failure – falling. With falling comes tears. But here’s the beauty of it…with those tears, and the fear your brave little baby experienced when they fell, comes the recognition that something they did, as they were trying to walk by themselves…didn’t work. In doing so your baby is developing the ability to recognize a flaw in their plan to walk, or the actual execution required. To put it simply – they are learning from their mistakes, which is a major component of motor planning – a skill your child will continue to rely on well past their days as a baby.
Learning to walk independently is an exciting milestone, and it makes sense why parents often worry when their baby seems skeptic about giving up on crawling and cruising. Hopefully these tips will give your baby the little boost they often need and put you at ease, knowing you are doing everything you can to help.
Part of parenting is learning on the job. Rahoo Baby answers 5 common questions that parents often forget to ask before they leave the hospital.
1.) After my baby is born, is there anything I need to “do” right away to begin working on their development?
When your baby is born, the best thing you can do is simply be present and mindful. Establishing this new type of bond with your baby is an amazing experience. As a new mom there’s no class, book or blog that can fully prepare you for what it’s really like to hold your baby those first few weeks. Just know this – being mindful doesn't come easily. Even during a moment as precious as holding your newborn baby. It’s OK if your thoughts tend to race during the first month of your baby’s life! It’s natural. But here’s a few reminders on how you can practice mindfulness in order to strengthen the loving bond between you and your baby:
Simply hold baby in your arms
Talk and sing to them in a calm, soothing voice
explore each-other’s faces (8-12 inches apart for the first few weeks)
offer skin-to-skin contact (chest-to-chest it great for this)
Be mindful of the environment (which can often be overstimulating)
To learn more about being mindful and why it’s so important, check out our quick read on this post.
2.) What’s the deal with tummy-time? When should I start doing it?
Tummy-time should be, and often is (without even knowing it), started as soon as your baby is born. As mentioned above, burrowing your baby into your chest & neck, as mothers often do in the delivery room, counts as tummy-time! It may not be the reason you’re doing it, but it’s proof that your baby isn’t as fragile as they seem. When you get home from the hospital, start doing tummy-time by laying baby on your chest. Don’t worry that they aren’t lifting their head. The real benefits at this stage are the skin-to-skin contact, and fact that it’s relieving pressure on the back of their head (which helps prevent flat-head syndrome). As your baby turns about one month old, start doing tummy-time on the floor, or use our newborn lounger/tummy time trainer to help them master tummy-time like a pro.
To learn more about tummy-time and flat-head syndrome check out a blog we wrote a few months back.
3.) Are there any tips for helping my little one breast or bottle feed?
Feeding is not only a baseline requirement for thriving during infancy; it’s also a developmentally rich routine that helps strengthen the mother-baby bond. If there’s one thing every new parent should hear before they leave the hospital to take their baby home, it’s this – feeding needs to be recognized as one of the most complex, challenging processes your baby is forced to master…right away. Why do I say this? Because too often parents are under-educated on what their baby is going through when they’re expected to conquer oral intake. It comes easy to some babies, but mastering oral feeds is a major milestone! During a feed parents need to empathize with their little one, recognizing them as the miniature human they are, and offer their full and undivided attention. As discussed above, this starts with being mindful - especially of the environment. Make sure to give your baby every possible advantage to get comfortable with feeding:
Turn off the TV
Dim the lights
Give your baby time to get comfy
Tell your family or guests to pipe down
Talk or sing to them softly
Find the motion (or stillness) they respond to (gentle rocking, patting, swaying, etc.)
Potential signs that your baby is overstimulated when you’re trying to feed them includes excessive sneezing, lack of eye contact, outstretching their limbs, splaying their fingers and/or a high-pitched cry (which could also just mean they're hungry in the first place).
With the strategies above your baby will be ready for a successful feed.
4.) How concerned should I be about developmental milestones? Is there a master-list I should be aware of?
Developmental milestones are a general guide. Infant development is a complex process. Overly simplifying milestones so they fit perfectly, step-by-step on an index card helps parents make sense of what skills they should look for. But don’t be fooled – no two newborns develop exactly the same way. Development is messy. The role of a parent is to make sure baby isn’t falling behind drastically in any one category. A month or two too early or too late is OK!
In terms of how you can help facilitate these milestones: Get on the floor with your baby! Surround them with age appropriate toys. Challenge them by placing them in various developmental positions. And as a reminder, our pediatric development experts offer free, month-by-month emails on how to facilitate your baby’s development from birth to one. Sign up at the bottom of our homepage!
5.) I’d like to become more involved in the mom-community but don’t know where to start. Are there any websites or organizations that would offer some guidance on this?
Absolutely, here’s a few to get your started:
Mommy Poppins – a national and local organization that promotes fun and healthy activities you can do with children.
MyGym – semi-structured play centers. Great for sensory-motor play experienes.
Your public libraries – music, motor, and educational classes often take place at local libraries…for free!
No parent is perfect. But if you took the time to read this article you’re already investing the time, energy and love it takes to be a stellar mom or dad - cheers to you!
Matt is a co-founder at Rahoo Baby and a pediatric occupational therapist who has spent his entire career in pediatrics. Following a clinical placement at New Orleans Children’s Hospital he went on to work at Boston Children’s Hospital and Thom Boston Metro Early Intervention. Sparked by his passion for infant development, he went on to co-found Rahoo Baby, and develop their flag ship product, The Learn & Lounge. The Learn & Lounge is the most versatile newborn lounger on the market and helps babies meet development milestones. It can be used as a newborn lounger, feeding support pillow and tummy-time trainer.
Keep your toddler's brain stimulated in all the right ways during these uncertain times.
These 5 activities will give your little the "just right challenge" both physically and mentally.
1. Stringing pasta onto pipe cleaner
You’ll need some rigatoni for this one. Odds are you have some in the cabinet at a time like this. If you have pipe cleaner, great. If not, roll up some tin foil so it acts like pipe cleaner. We recommend using pipe cleaner or tin foil instead of string is because the firmness is typically what allows your little one to find that “just right challenge”.
Show your little one how to slide the rigatoni onto the pipe cleaner – just don’t forget to tie off the end. Stringing beads (pasta) is a great activity for any toddler. Have fun with it, make a necklace or a bracelet. It works on important skills like manual dexterity, bilateral integration (using both arms/hands together), crossing midline, depth perception and even attention span.
I’ve had parents tell me this activity kept their little one busy and engaged for an entire flight from Boston to Chicago…think about all the learning that must have taken place!
2. Make slime
Making slime is sure to keep your toddler engaged. It’ll make a mess – the good kind of mess though. Part of becoming comfortable with the unpredictable environments your little one will soon be exposed to a pre-school and beyond is exposing them to a wide range on sensory experiences. The key though, is making it fun and letting your little one lead the way. Making slime is a great way to introduce tactile sensations like wetness, stickiness and gooeyness into your toddler’s sensory checklist.
When group finger painting comes around at day care or pre-school, your little guy or gal will think to them self “I got this!”.
Here’s an easy-to-follow list with the steps for trying this fun, DIY craft: https://www.dummies.com/crafts/make-slime-without-borax-glue/
3. Animal walks
How do you challenge a 2- or 3-year old’s motor and coordination skills when they’re stuck inside? Animal walks. Can’t tell them that though! Instead we tell them it’s a scavenger hunt…for bears!
Take 5-10 of your little one’s favorite stuffed animals and/or toys and hide them around the room. To find them though, they’ll need to bear walk.
This is a truly challenging activity (for adults too, so join in for a quick jolt of exercise!) so it may only last 20 minutes. But you’ll definitely feel good about your toddler receiving a terrific dose of gross motor and coordination practice.
4. Hockey…Kind of…
This is such a fantastic activity. So good it doesn’t even have a name...
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A children’s hockey stick, golf club, or anything of the sort
- Various balls (ex. tennis ball, soccer ball, basketball. Have a medicine ball? Perfect! Include it. Ideally you will want a few balls that are heavier than the others)
- 5 or 6 balloons
Here’s how to play:
Step 1 – set up a “goal” – (ex. net, bucket, the doorway, a line of tape, doesn’t matter)
Step 2 – spread out all of the balls AND balloons across the living room - as many as possible.
Step 3 – set the timer for one minute.
Your little one has one minute to use their stick to collect as many balls as possible into the goal. Why is this such an OT rich activity? Well, as your toddler tries to manipulate the different balls, he or she will be challenged to appropriately grade (adjust) the amount of force they use based on the weight of the ball they are hitting. As they rush around the room, they’ll soon realize that smacking a soccer ball may be effective, but hitting a balloon with all their might? Not so much. Quickly they will realize that in order to corral the balloons effectively they’ll need to use gentle taps, even though they’re rushing with the timer ticking away!
Understanding how much force to use is an important skill. How hard do I give a high-five? How firmly do I need to press down a crayon? How gentle do I throw a ball to hit a target only 5 feet away? Learning the “in-between” strength that our muscles are capable of is hugely important. This activity is a great way to help your kiddo master this skill, called force grading.
5. A good old fashion obstacle course
Break out the tunnel, stack up the pillows, pull out the hulahoop. Get creative. A 3 - 5 step obstacle course is packed with benefits. The best part is – it doesn’t take much. The real benefits of making an obstacle course aren’t physical, they’re mental. Completing an obstacle course - start to finish - in the correct order- will really challenge your kiddo. To do so effectively they’ll need utilize their ability to remember the steps, sequence the steps, DO the steps, and then…wait for it…wait for it…CELEBRATE completing the steps!
Each time your child successfully completes a task from start to finish, it’s so important we cheer them on/show them our love; it reinforces their confidence and encourages them to stick with it the next time – when completing the steps of a new, different task (outside of the house) is even more challenging.
When parents think about developmental milestones it’s no surprise that walking is the first milestone that comes to mind. Independent, efficient mobility is an integral part of life. Not only that but if you’ve followed us on Instagram (@rahoobaby) you’ve learned that mobility and cognition are a related, each facilitating each other’s growth. As baby’s become more motivated to move and interact with their environment, we often see a predictable pattern on movement: rolling – crawling – cruising – walking. To be clear though, movement doesn’t always follow a linear trajectory. In fact, for many years it was thought that babies absolutely needed to accomplish each milestone before moving onto the next, to the point where some therapists would actually prevent developmental progress through milestones until “earlier” milestones were met. This line of thinking is no longer the case though. So, if your baby or another baby in your life skipped crawling and went right to walking, don’t sweat it. That being said though, discussing the benefits of crawling is always fun so let’s do so. This is an interesting topic and makes for an especially interesting blog post because not only will you get insight from the pediatric OT’s at Rahoo Baby, we also got insight from a pediatric PT on the subject as well.
Dr. Brita DeStefano PT, DPT, PCS is a Denver based pediatric physical therapist who had this to say when we spoke broadly about the benefits of crawling:
“From day 1 a baby’s motor development is motivated by their desire to become
upright and mobile. Through each stage they are developing the muscle strength,
coordination, motor planning and balance to take them to the next level of being
able to engage with their environment and eventually leads to becoming mobile.
Most babies’ first method of mobility is crawling, which usually emerges between
The benefits of crawling cover a wide spectrum from gross motor to fine motor to
sensory. The coordination they build will help with walking, riding a bike and
more. It utilizes both sides of the brain and encourages them to work together
and form more connections. Crawling also allows a baby to begin taking risks and
making decisions while discovering the world around them. This allows them to
discover their own potential and their limitations and build self-confidence.
Crawling is an important step in development, yet not a mandatory one. Some
children will learn to walk without first crawling. However, I always tell parents
that the effects of crawling are so beneficial for babies and young children that I
still recommend practicing the skill even if it occurs after the child is already
walking. And I always remind them that it all starts with tummy time!”
All true! Let’s dig a little bit deeper though by discussing crawling from the perspective of pediatric OT's at Rahoo Baby:
For starters, as Brita mentioned above, crawling is actually great for both gross and fine motor development. The gross motor piece is self-explanatory, right? Crawling involves the whole body. But what about fine motor development? How does crawling help with this you may be wondering? Well, first and foremost, in order to gain control of the smaller, more refined movement-muscles of the hands, we need adequate strength (stability) of the larger muscles of our upper extremities and core – so what could be better for that you’re your baby basically holding a plank position every time they want to move (crawl). Not only that, but what’s fascinating is how crawling actually helps sculpt the arches of your baby’s hands. Take a second and look at the inside of your hands. Appreciate the creases across your palms and fingers, the gentle arch of the palm caused by the muscle bulk on the thumb and pinky side, and even the rounding of the pads of your fingertips. Crawling plays a huge role in the development of these “anatomical landmarks”. Functionally though (because that’s what we should care about) this is important because these features of the hand allow for effective manipulation of objects of all shapes and sizes that your baby will undoubtedly develop an appreciation for soon – spoons, balls, crayons, blocks etc.
And in terms of coordination, the list goes on, with topics that will be broken down into greater detail in future blog posts:
- It helps baby with reflex integration
- It helps baby master weight shifting (stability of one part of the body and mobility of another)
- It helps baby with integration of their visual system with their motor system - especially with regards to depth-perception. Think about it, when a baby reaches forward with an outstretched hand, they need to predict where that little hand is going to land, first by making sure there’s nothing in their way of their next foot-step hand-step. Which explains why is also helps baby develop…
- Body awareness and body schema, which refers to our understanding of where our body is within space, and how that changes as we move.
As you can see, the discussion around why crawling is important is a lengthy one. This blog is only scratching the surface. But for those of you reading this who may be concerned that your baby didn’t crawl or isn’t going to, I’ll say this: I’ve probably worked with around 1,500 children during my time as a pediatric OT. Two of the most coordinated kiddos I know – both outstanding baseball players about to start middle school – skipped crawling entirely when they were babies. I only mention this because it’s just an excellent reminder that while it’s important to be familiar with developmental milestones and how to work towards them with your baby, no two baby’s follow the same developmental progression. Developmental milestones are just a clean, general reference for a messy, complex process.
Want to learn how you can teach your baby to crawl? By signing up on our homepage you can receive free monthly emails from our team of pediatric therapists that match your baby’s age in months. Each email is designed to educate parents on what to expect developmentally over the next month, and help them play an active role in facilitating their baby’s development.
Matthew Breen is a pediatric occupational therapist who has only worked in pediatrics. Following his clinical placement as New Orleans Children’s Hospital he went on to work at Boston Children’s Hospital as well as Thom Boston Metro Early Intervention. Sparked by his passion for infant development, he went on to co-found Rahoo Baby, and develop their flag ship product – a newborn lounger – The Learn & Lounge. The Learn & Lounge, is the most versatile newborn lounger on the market and helps babies meet development milestones. It can be used as a newborn lounger, feeding support pillow and tummy-time trainer. Like all Rahoo Baby product being developed, The newborn lounger, Learn & Lounge is designed to prioritize safety and have a lasting impact on infant development.
Dr. Brita DeStefano PT, DPT, PCS is a Denver based pediatric physical therapist.Through her concierge mobile practice, Progress Through Play, she provides both in-home and virtual services for children ages birth to 5 years old. She is passionate about prevention and developmental wellness which includes demystifying development and educating families on their child’s milestones. Through 10 years of experience as an expert pediatric PT and mom of 2, she has learned first-hand that simplifying the process and making it fun will eliminate confusion and foster connection so that parents can keep their kids on track through early childhood and beyond.
As pediatric occupational therapists working with infants, a core component of our job is making recommendations to parents about how they can help their baby developmentally. For example, suggesting what type of baby products can help their developing baby; this is after all what lead us to create the Learn & Lounge. It’s always nice being able to recommend products, environmental and/or positional strategies or exercises to parents; we’re giving them something - it feels nice. What’s more challenging though, is when the advice we give is around something that the parent is doing…well…wrong. OK to be fair, when I say wrong I only mean that through our clinical lens it’s not in the best interest of their baby’s development, but not that what they’re doing is causing any actual harm.
So with that being said, it would be nice to provide you with 3 of the most common errors we see parents, from our perspective, make during the first year of their baby’s life regarding developmental milestones.
Over-swaddling – Let's face it - babies are super cute when they’re swaddled up and fast asleep. It’s functional too, as it prevents them from producing the startle reflex, and instead keeps them asleep. Not only that, it’s also a great way to help them soothe when they’re fussy. So naturally a baby is going to spend plenty of time swaddled up during the first 2 months, as they should. But at that point it’s time to transition away from the swaddle, especially when they’re awake. During the first several months of a little one’s life, they are not only growing, but also expanding. After a baby is born they’re still going to be in that scrunched up position after spending all those months in such a tight space. Part of their development process is to become more comfortable and relaxed being in a more extended position; a swaddle won’t allow that happen. More obviously though, a baby needs time to move around against gravity, to spread their limbs, to start forming an internal sense of their own body, and a swaddle won’t allow that to happen either. The bottom line is this: Swaddling is important, functional, cute, convenient etc. – but everything in moderation – try weaning away from the swaddle around the 8-week mark.
The baby jumper – A mom and dad’s best friend, and a therapist’s worst enemy. What do I mean? Let me explain:
Baby jumpers do serve a purpose. They keep your baby quiet and give them visual stimuli to look at and reach for. Beyond that though, there isn’t much going on. Parents tend to fall in love with the idea that the jumper has their baby upright – like they're standing! Except they aren’t. In fact, not only are they not standing up on their own, the jumper is actually promoting the use of inefficient motor patterns, and then rewarding them for it. Think of it like this – when a baby is first standing in a jumper, their feet are typically dangling towards the ground, but not firmly planted. This in turn causes the baby to straighten both legs and push off (jump) as hard as they can – and boy is it fun for them! Except fully extending their ankles, knees, hips and core in order to jump is only reinforcing the wrong idea of how to move, without even having to worry about falling down. To put it simply, actual movement (getting from point A to point B) is about the delicate balance between flexor muscles and extensor muscles to produce efficient mobility. So, while the jumper is most definitely worth using for ten minutes at a time, especially as a means to keep your baby happy, don’t keep them in their much longer than that, more than twice per day.
Too much talking – This one is a little counterintuitive, and I’m not a speech therapist so I’ll keep this brief. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents talk with their baby (as they should be!) the whole time their baby is awake, but never actually give their baby a chance to respond. Of course, that’s not to say that a baby is even listening to, never mind understanding what mom is telling them. But before a baby is talking, they’re already beginning to pick up on the nature of communication - conversing back and forth – another form of cause and effect. In other words, babies need to learn that “when I talk, mom listens” - “when I say “BA!” Mom says “BA!” back to me and smiles – we are communicating!” The point is this – once your baby is cooing, it means they’re already working on language. So give your baby a chance to process what you’ve just said to them, produce a sound, and then enjoy the effect it has on you as you smile and repeat it back to them.
As always, feel free to subscribe on our homepage for monthly emails that contain age-specific recommendations for your baby's developing brain. Or head over and check out The Learn & Lounge™ under the SHOP tab up above - we've sold through half our inventory already!
“Wow, your baby has great muscle tone!”. Anyone ever heard that? It’s meant as a compliment. But does that mean that a baby can have…bad muscle tone? Let’s dig a little bit deeper and lay out exactly what parents really need to know about this muscle tone thing…
To put it scientifically (feel free to skip to next paragraph) – someone’s muscle tone is determined by what’s called their Golgi tendon organ (GTO). It’s a type of sensory receptor in our body that gives us information on what our muscles are doing. The GTO is who you can thank for your leg kicking out when your knee gets tapped at the doctor’s office – they’re checking for the Golgi tendon reflex (GTR). The presence of the GTR assures us that the GTO is functioning properly – that your muscle is in fact receiving important sensory input, relaying it to your spinal cord and back out to your muscle with a message that say’s “Yup, I felt that!”. Well, what it would really say is something like “I just felt a change in the resting tension of my quad muscle, but I’ll go ahead and put it back the way it was thank you very much”. The GTO responds to change in tension, i.e. stretch, placed on a muscle, and so it’s also called the stretch reflex. This is what lies at the heart of why people have different muscle tone.
To put it simply – someone’s muscle tone is determined by their sensitivity to a muscle’s change in length, which is known as their stretch reflex. The stretch reflex is why we don’t need to think about the fact we’re sitting up straight. Think about it – you may have poor posture, like me, but does sitting up at all require any actual mental effort? Do you ever need to remind yourself of sitting up because otherwise you might fall right out of your chair? How about keeping your head centered while you walk - ever cross your mind? Of course not! That’s because the stretch reflex has you covered. Without it our heads would be flopping all over the place, and when sitting down we’d look like one of those inflatable tubes creatures at car dealerships. As a matter of fact, the stretch reflex is pretty darn underrated!
So now we have established that we’re all born with the stretch reflex, and the presence of this reflex, more sensitive in some of us than others, determines our muscle tone. Some people get their knee tapped with a mini-hammer, there’s a little pause, they give a little kick. Others, perhaps with higher muscle tone, get their knee tapped and their leg kicks out almost simultaneously; one can imagine that this induvial is the more likely of the two to sit with better posture – they have a more excitable stretch reflex – and so when sitting at their desk their core muscles are responding more rapidly to every slouch (change in muscle position) gravity is causing. This kicks on the stretch reflex and they’re sitting up straight. Does this mean they’re stronger? Absolutely not! Do you see where this is going?
Babies are no different. Well actually they are different. They’re different in the sense that they haven’t mastered how to make use of their muscle tone yet. The baby who gets placed in tummy-time, but they’re arms, and legs go rigid and they look like superman…high muscle tone. The baby who gets picked up and their arms and legs stay limp, and they and conform to your shoulder like memory foam…low muscle tone. Most babies are somewhere in between. In any case though, the point is that whether your baby has higher or lower muscle tone, our job is to give them opportunities to feel and understand their own muscle tone, so they can integrate it with purposeful movement, and become efficient movers; because moving is learning! So how do we do that?
Well, let’s say your baby is on the high muscle tone end of the spectrum. When you put your baby in tummy time, they appear rigid. When you try and put them on their back, they scrunch up into a ball – it looks like they can’t relax. Gravity is putting a stretch on their muscles, and their stretch reflex is doing its job, and then some. For this baby, we need to position them in a manner that gradually introduces them to what their own stretch reflex feels like. We need to put them in positions for play and provide interaction that puts them at an advantage.
For the baby on the low muscle tone end of the spectrum – the one who gives the extra good snuggles – the one you can plop down on the floor and they go full starfish - for this baby we need to do what we can to activate that stretch reflex, illicit a solid muscle contraction and get your baby using those muscles so that muscle recruitment becomes more natural. In short, this baby needs every opportunity to weight-bear through their arms and legs, while also stimulating their core muscles and posterior chain.
In summary, to provide your baby with opportunities to become more in-sync with their own muscle tone you need to set them in positions that provide the “just-right” challenge, and simultaneously offer them developmentally appropriate play opportunities; easier said than done. To learn how you can achieve this with each passing month as your baby continues to change, sign up for our monthly email subscription. It’s completely free and provides parents with expert insight on how to get the most out of every month from birth to one, and empowers you with strategies that will have a lasting impact on your baby’s development.
Tummy-time...It’s always interesting to see and hear how parents react to that phrase. Having spent the last 6 years working with babies, I’ve heard it all. As one mother of two elementary school children put it – ‘don’t say tummy-time around me! I still get anxiety when I hear that word!’. Now in fairness, that’s coming from a mom who has 2 daughters who both developed a flat head during infancy, which was in part due to their serious lack of tolerance for tummy-time. And I get it – after a couple months of trying, it’s easier to say forget it and give up altogether. But before you do, allow me to outline in the simplest terms possible not only why tummy-time is important, but how we can make it easier on babies and parents alike.
The most obvious reason for engaging in tummy-time is that yes – it means your baby isn’t on their back, which means there isn’t pressure on the back of their head, which means it’s going to help prevent them from getting flat head-syndrome, also known as plagiocephaly – all true.
Here’s how I look at it though: yes, doing tummy-time gives the back of your baby’s head a break, but it’s the gross motor strengthening that tummy-time facilitates that will help prevent flatness in the long run. Actually, it’s sort of like the old “teach a man to fish” saying; what I mean here is that repositioning your baby to relieve the pressure on their head “gives them the fish”, but really, helping them learn to move independently “teaches them how to fish”, so that they can learn to reposition themselves independently with practice. As you keep up with tummy-time and your baby gets stronger, you’re getting them one step closer to rolling over independently. And when they learn to roll over independently, believe me - they’ll enjoy it. And guess what that means – they’ll be doing more tummy-time on their own, and will be a lot less likely to develop a flat head.
All that being said, it doesn’t change the fact that most babies (I’ve seen reports as high as 78%) don’t like tummy-time. So here are the early steps you can take to make tummy-time more successful, and avoid unnecessary stress, starting the day your little one comes home from the hospital:
- Chest-to-chest: This is pretty straight forward, so I won’t go into much detail here. But basically, doing chest-to-chest with your baby can (and should if possible) start as early as possible. To go one step further, skin-to-skin contact during chest-to-chest offers additional benefits, for which we won’t discuss in this article. But in a nut-shell, chest-to-chest is extremely valuable, especially during the first month of your baby’s life.
- Shoulder level tummy-time: Think about how much time you spend holding your baby during the first 2 months when they’re not much more than a little blob. Well, instead of holding the baby high up so that their head and neck flops down over your shoulder, hold them so their eyes are level with the top of your shoulder. Keeping their body and the back of their head supported with your arms and hands, don’t be afraid to lean them back, away from your body ever so slightly. And instead of keeping your hand directly behind their head, try moving your hand down a little, to where their neck meets the base of their head. Can they keep their head at neutral for a few seconds? How about if you start singing – can they turn to look at your face? This is one of the best ways early on to ease into tummy-time, and is part of the process of helping your baby develop excellent neck strength. Try this move for the first month or two.
- Superman: By the time your baby is 2 months old, their neck strength will have come a long way. With that, try holding your baby so that they face away from you, keeping one arm through their legs and your hand supporting the front of their body. Can your baby keep their head at neutral, or are they a little bit wobbly still? If they’re looking nice and sturdy then go ahead and lean them forward, holding them as they rest over your forearm. They don’t need to be horizontal with the ground necessarily, but how about a 45-degree angle? Does your baby try and extend their neck against gravity to look up? That’s the idea! Once you get comfortable with this, it’s easy to mix in just about anywhere you go!
So while tummy-time is often thought of as something that some babies just simply tolerate better than others, I would argue that with the proactive strategies outlined above, you can increase the odds of your baby mastering tummy-time, thereby helping them learn to reposition themselves independently. And when a baby masters tummy-time and learns how to get off their back all on their own, you can all but check plagiocephaly off of the “things to worry about” list that comes with being a new parent.