Physical positioning techniques can help your child develop the muscles to reach developmental milestones with ease.
Infants grow at an astonishing rate, and without any obvious outside intervention. As a parent, it can feel like your baby goes from practically immobile in a crib to performing circus feats in the blink of an eye. One day they’re lying there, easy to care for, the next they’re trying to roll off the changing table. And then they’re up and off — pulling themselves up on unstable objects, tottering into unfamiliar territory, and climbing for every out-of-reach zone they can see.
Your child’s physical growth is an amazing, surprising, and inspiring part of parenthood. As with every other stage of development, you want to make sure your baby gets the best possible start in their new adventure called life. You are the tour guide, security guard, navigator, chef, chauffeur, life coach, and teacher on their journey; supporting their physical growth is as important as the rest of those roles.
Help your baby develop the physical strength and coordination to grow through physical milestones by learning about appropriate positioning.
Developing neck strength is one of the first — and most important — steps to physical growth. To look around and fully experience the world and its inhabitants, babies need to develop the muscles that lift their heads and hold them up independently.
At first, your baby’s head is precariously heavy to perch atop a floppy neck, and you must be careful to always support it. Help infants build upper body strength by positioning them close to your chest as you talk so they use those muscles to look up at you and track your voice.
When you lay your baby down in their crib to sleep, alternate the direction they’re facing. Babies must always sleep on their backs, but alternate positions so their feet are facing one end of the crib one day and the other the next. This encourages infants to turn their heads to see new sights.
Tummy time is another opportunity for physical development. Supervise babies as they play on the floor on their stomachs so they become accustomed to lifting and turning their heads, and eventually to pushing themselves up with their arms. Most babies can prop themselves up and control their head movements at around four months old.
On a roll
The importance of tummy time doesn’t diminish once babies have control over their heads and necks; it’s an essential exercise for developing the strength to roll over.
Now that babies sleep on their backs to help prevent SIDS, they often need additional encouragement to spend time on their bellies. Laying on their bellies helps babies learn coordination and muscle development. Place some interesting toys just out of reach so your infant will be motivated to stretch, wiggle, and eventually roll.
Children often begin to roll when you least expect it — so never leave babies unattended on a bed, couch, or changing table because they’ll inevitably decide to show off those new rolling skills in ways that fill you with parental guilt. Most babies can roll from their stomachs to their backs between four and seven months of age.
Take a seat
From a parenting perspective, life gets a little easier once the baby can sit unsupported. They can play with toys, look around, and just hang out happily without the need for special equipment.
Help your baby practice by positioning them so they’re sitting in front of you while you hold their hands as you would play a game of pat-a-cake. You can also prop your baby up with pillows and rolled-up towels to encourage short periods of unassisted sitting.
Babies begin to get a sense of balance by waving their arms and developing core strength as they wobble. Most babies are capable of unsupported sitting between six and eight months old.
Babies usually let you know they want to crawl by getting up on all fours and rocking back and forth or pushing back on their hands and landing on their rears. These actions help babies establish balance and learn how to coordinate their bodies for eventual movement.
When your child reaches this phase, it is time to babyproof your living space. Once the environment is secured, encourage your baby’s movement experiments. Roll a ball so they’ll want to follow it, or place a few tempting toys within scooting distance.
Not all crawls look the same (some are more of a wiggle, others resemble dragging), but all are important for developing independence, motor skills, and coordination. Most babies will master this skill between seven and 10 months old.
Walk this way
Between 12 and 18 months, you officially have a toddler who’ll begin to master the important milestone of baby’s first step. Encourage them to learn to stand and find their center of gravity by providing safe, stable surfaces to pull themselves up to. Eventually, they’ll use that support to take a few experimental steps and, in no time, they’ll be making awkward little stumbles in your direction.
Don’t act too upset when babies fall down; they are most likely fine but will learn how they should react to these setbacks by how you respond. Act enthusiastic and light-hearted as you help the baby up and on its way again.
Your baby’s growth is a natural – and inevitable – process. Pave the way for those first forays into the physical world by positioning your baby for success.
Lumiere Children's Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about the importance of positioning in our movement enrichment classes.