From the time your baby is born up until she’s ready to strike out on her own, all grown up, all of her “firsts” will amaze and delight you. Those first steps! Those first words! That first day of school! It’s all wonderful to watch her achieve those milestones, but do you know that there’s a lot you can do to help her along?
Many parents are mindful of the role they play in their baby’s development, but are unsure of what to do to give their little one the best start. Parents’ desires to help their new arrival have spurred a whole host of child development aids marketed to families: videos, television programs, special toys. Yet although these special helps may have their place, a lot can be done with the tools we’ve had for generations. A recent post looked at ways of helping speech development; let’s now look at how to help babies get moving.
Early Infancy: Muscle Talk
Infants’ motor development—learning to use muscles effectively—progresses from the head and neck on downward. Thus, early on, focus on activities that will get your baby to literally “use his head.” Since it’s now apparent that babies can actually see quite well from just a few days after birth, use visual cues to help motor development. Newborns respond well to moving objects, bright colors, patterns, and—above all—human faces. So use that moving mobile! Don’t be afraid to use bright colors and striped objects to decorate the nursery! And frequent face-to-face contact with your baby is so important.
Once your baby reaches a few weeks of age, she’ll have better head control. At that point you can start her on some “tummy time”: put her on her belly on a clean warm surface. This will allow her to pick her head up and look around. If she resists by fussing, don’t push it; you can try again in a week or so. Tummy time will not only help her motor development. It’ll also allow her to learn by attending to sights and sounds. Finally, it may help prevent something known as positional plagiocephaly, a flattening of the head thought to be related to babies being on their back full time.
Sitting Up and Taking Notice
Once your baby can sit with support—around five months or so—it’s time to give him opportunities to do just that. By now, he’ll have better head control and can fully enjoy the outside world.
There are many different ways of sitting your baby up. Your little one’s car seat is always available and a great start. Some parents are able to find a box that’s about the right size: enough support for the back, with room for the head to poke out.
And…They’re Off! Older Infancy
Once your little one begins to sit, can crawling be far behind? Babies generally crawl by about eight months of age and are walking without holding on by thirteen months of age. It’s at this age that you can encourage that increased mobility in fun ways. Provide your newly mobile infant with toys out of reach that he can work to get. He’ll enjoy playing ball at this age. Some families will even give a baby a special drawer or box with such items as rags or those lids to pots and pans that no longer seem to have mates. Safety first, always, but have fun with your new mover and shaker!
Some Final Do’s and Don’ts
DO be mindful of safety at all times. This means not leaving the baby unattended during play time. A young infant can wriggle off a table before she can roll over. Also, although there is no question that tummy time is beneficial for a young infant, it’s essential that babies sleep on their back (i.e. facing upward). There’s just no denying the affect that one measure has on reducing sudden infant death syndrome.
DON’T use a baby walker. There is NO safe or desirable age at which an infant should be in a walker. While the major concern is injury (and so many injuries occur in families where the parents were sure that there was no way that their infant, in their home, in that walker, could be injured), there is some thinking that walkers might impede motor development. If you’re given a walker at a baby shower, think of some other uses for it—rack for drying laundry? Caddy to move often-used items from room to room? Planter? And if you feel that you must use that walker, watch your baby even more closely than if you had just put her on the floor. And do take her out of it often.
DO talk to your pediatric provider if you have any concerns about your baby’s development. Babies do achieve milestones at different rates, but your provider will look for problems at every routine examination during those early years. And there are specialists available that can evaluate your little one further. This additional evaluation is at no charge, thanks to federal law.