Movement and play experiences with your baby can provide the foundation for the development of motor, sensory, perceptual, intellectual, language and social skills.
At birth, your baby moves spontaneously. He does not actively control his movements. As your baby develops, he will gain the ability to control his movements and to interact with you and the environment. Your baby will be experimenting with movement as he grows. He will work on different skills at different ages. You as a parent can do many different activities while playing with your baby to encourage movement experiences.
Exercising your baby can:
- Help to develop trust and confidence between you and your baby.
- Promote his muscular strength and suppleness.
- Enhance baby’s good posture and a wide range of versatile movements.
- Promote his self confidence through strength and flexibility.
Positions for baby
Lying on his back
In this position your baby has to move against gravity to be able to reach with his arms or to kick his legs, an important beginning for learning muscle coordination. As your baby moves his arms and legs, his body shifts from side to side. This helps to develop balance responses.
As your baby lifts his head, arms and legs, he begins to develop the muscles of the chest, tummy and the muscles in front of the hips. Movement skills learnt in this position help to lay the foundation for the development of more advanced movement skills.
Lying on his tummy
In this position your baby develops head control as he lifts and turns his head. Tummy lying also encourages control of the upper body, strengthens the neck and back muscles and prepares your baby for forward motion. As your baby learns to shift weight by leaning on one arm while reaching with the other, he learns to use one hand at a time.
Lying on his side
In this position, the force of gravity helps to bring your baby’s arms and legs together. Your baby learns to coordinate movement of the arms while reaching for a toy, holding his own hands, or bringing his hands to his mouth. When baby reaches to the side for a toy, his muscles react to the movement and he begins to learn to roll.
Side lying position also helps to develop the rib cage muscles and enhances breathing capacity. Make sure that your baby spends the same amount of time on his right side as on the left.
The following exercises are for babies from around 4 months to 8 months.
The legs are the body’s roots, and they have to be strong enough to support the body and flexible enough to allow movement. Good sitting, standing and moving posture comes from strong legs and flexible hip, knee and ankle joints.
Take baby’s legs and gently and playfully relax the hip joints with bicycle movements gently and fluently peddling with the legs. One bends as the other straightens.
Clap the soles of baby’s feet together, kiss them and blow on them.
Bending and straightening the legs makes the joints flexible and strengthens the muscles of the legs and lower back in preparation for upright postures and mobility.
Circling the hips
Bend the knee outwards and gently push the legs sideways to the floor, in big clockwise circles. Hold the opposite leg straight.
Rolling the hips makes the hip joint flexible and encourages muscle activity in the hip joint and the leg.
Let baby hold your thumbs. Alternatively bend and straighten the arms as if you are boxing. Start off slowly, gradually `boxing’ faster, using fluid movements. Bending and straightening the arms makes the joints flexible and stimulates muscle activity in the hand, elbow and shoulder.
Open chest and shoulders
Let baby hold your thumbs. Open his arms fully to the sides. Fold the arms across the chest, alternating the arm that is uppermost. (If your baby keeps his arms closed, don’t try to force them open, clap the hands together playfully, and little by little open the arms out.) opening chest and shoulders encourages chest expansion and deep breathing.
Lift those legs!
Lie baby on his back. Support his head on a small pillow or folded towel. Help baby to lift his legs by placing your hands under his bottom. Slowly lift his bottom up, encouraging baby to reach for his knees or feet. If baby needs more help, place a small folded towel under his bottom, then hold his thighs as you bring his knees towards his hands. Play `peek a boo` by hiding behind his feet, blow and kiss his feet. Lifting legs develops tummy muscles, encourages the hands to reach for and touch the legs and feet, and develops movement control of the legs.
Lay your baby on his back on a soft floor. Sit facing him. Gently lift baby by holding him around the lower chest, leaving his bottom in contact with the floor. Let him hold this position for a second or two, and then lay him down. Gradually, as your baby gets stronger, he will lift his whole trunk, coming to sitting. Lifting the head and shoulders stimulates head control and strengthens the tummy muscles.
Hold your baby around his hips and thighs, buttocks against you, with his hands supporting himself on a table. Move away from the table, raising baby a little in the air so that he must come to hold his straight back up. If he can hold himself in that position, move him from side to side and play `aeroplanes” – fly a circuit, veer to the left or right and come in to land! Lifting the back strengthens the back and buttock muscles.
Lying across your lap
Sit on the floor, supporting your back against the furniture. Lay baby face down across your lap. Bring his arms forward and place them on the floor. Place your hand on his bottom to keep him from rolling off your lap. Gently bounce or rock your legs to encourage your baby to lift his head or push up with his arms. Put a colorful picture on the floor for baby to look at, or sing a song as you rock your legs.
This position develops head control, develops the muscles in the arms and shoulders, and develops the back muscles.
Having a ball
Place baby on his tummy on a large beach ball. Hold him at the hips. Rock baby forwards and backwards and in circular motions. Sing to him as he rocks. This game helps to develop balance, to develop head control and the muscles of the back. It also encourages baby to accept being positioned on his tummy.
Woops a daisy!
Sit on a chair, with baby on your lap, facing away from you. Hold baby at the hips. Make sure that baby’s back is straight and upright, not leaning against you. Drop one knee and lift the other. This will tip your baby to one side and cause him to balance. Drop the other knee and let baby tip to the other side. Move slowly at first, to give your baby’s body time to adjust and balance. Balancing baby on your lap can help to develop head control, balance, and to develop muscles of the body, back and hips.
Easy exercise tips:
- Exercise time should be fun time. Stop if baby is not enjoying himself, and try again later.
- Never force movements. Overcome resistance gently and slowly.
- Do not exercise just after a feed.
- Exercise baby in the nude so that he has full range of movement. Make sure the room is warm enough.
- Exercise regularly!
Contributed by Liz Senior, Clamber Club CEO and Occupational Therapist