What we do as parents makes such a difference for the future health and well being of our children. We’ve posted quite a bit about the benefits of verbal interaction (sometimes called serve and return) between parents and babies for optimal language development, brain growth, bonding and enjoyment.
But what about physical development? What should and shouldn’t new parents be doing to support and enhance their baby’s physical development?
Friend of Leading Steps Paediatrics, Specialist Paediatric Physiotherapist Alana Gardini has released a book to help parents give their babies “the best and strongest start”.
We asked Alana what she recommends are the best ways we can impact on our babies development.
More Tummy time:
Movement is the key to learning and tummy time is the key to movement.
It really is as simple as that. If your baby is healthy, tummy-time is the number one thing you need to do with your baby to help them to hold their head up, crawl and even stand. They are born to move. You don’t need fancy gadgets or expensive classes. Just tummy time. That’s one thing they can’t do on their own.
Alana says tummy time can be challenging in the first few months and many parents give up on it.
That’s why she has dedicated a whole chapter in her book about ways to make tummy time easier for parents and babies. She says, “I can’t stress enough how important tummy time is and how important it is to start early to make everyone’s life easier.”
Less “container hopping”:
That means consider how much time your baby spends where normal movement is restricted. Does your baby spend more than 30 minutes in total per day in a baby seat, bouncer, Bumbo, activity centre, Jolly Jumper or any other equipment that restricts movement? If the answer is routinely more than 30 minutes a day it’s time for a rethink to ensure your baby isn’t missing out on vital steps in their development.
Some of these items (such as activity centres and Jolly Jumpers) are marketed as “a must have for baby development” but they are at best completely unnecessary and can potentially contribute to issues later such as toe walking or bottom shuffling.
Alana acknowledges that sometimes it is necessary to use these items to soothe an unsettled baby, or to give yourself time to shower, but wants you to remember that floor time is always a better option for your baby when it comes to nurturing their gross motor development.
When your baby starts to crawl encourage them to keep at it for as long as possible. Crawling is a very complex movement pattern and learning and practicing this skill makes their brain light up as neural pathways develop.
Crawling is different for every baby. Most will crawl on all fours, but some will commando crawl, some will bear crawl up on their hands and feet, and some will develop a funny combo-crawl. It’s all good, as long as baby is on the move and now able to explore their environment whilst weight-bearing through their arms.
Alana says, “No need to encourage standing and walking just yet, the crawling phase is a once in a lifetime opportunity with many benefits for coordination and brain growth.”
Let them feed themselves and get spaghetti through their hair. Create a safe space and let them tumble and fall (within reason). Don’t be scared Mama and Papa. Let them eat sand and play in puddles. Enjoy some gentle physical play like tossing them in the air or spinning them around in circles. And later on when they are big and brave, encourage them to climb trees. Healthy babies and children are generally very tough and resilient. Give them the opportunity to learn from their sensory experiences and discover their world and themselves.
Trust your instinct:
Finally, and most importantly, never ever be embarrassed to seek help if you are concerned about your baby's health or development. Most of the time all a parent needs is some reassurance from a qualified health professional. But you cannot beat a mother's instinct. You are all that your baby has. You are their number one protector. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the wellbeing of your baby.
Alana Gardini is a specialist paediatric physiotherapist on the Gold Coast and the Author of My Strong Little Body: a guide to nurturing your baby’s development.
The book and more information is available online at Mystronglittlebody.com.au