The Newborn Exercise Your Baby Really Needs…And Why He Isn’t Getting It

Last year I wrote a post on the Bumbo chair, but this time I feel it is time to write a post about the early days of baby positioning, before anyone would put a baby in a bouncing saucer.  I recently published an article locally on why tummy time is now fussy time.  This is news to most great-grandmothers, because their babies weren’t known for throwing fits when placed stomach-down.  Human development takes a very long time to change biologically, so what would cause babies to wail so frantically now?

Today’s babies are sleeping on their backs, which is the safe choice to prevent SIDS.  Pediatricians hardly ever mention that doing so means that parents and nannies will have to make early and intentional efforts to use “tummy time” to get their newborn to 3 month-old familiar with this position for head control and crawling.  I have even met parents that thought the prohibition on this position for sleep meant that it shouldn’t be used for newborns when awake.  Oops!

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a short instruction piece at the end of their very good “Back To Sleep” publication, and it even mentions the [eventually reversible] delays in motor development noted with babies that do not get tummy time.  They do not explain why car seat carriers and other passive positioning devices aren’t recommended for long periods.  And they do not mention the developmental benefits of well-fitting and well-monitored baby wearing for those first months.

Many American babies under 3 months will spend large parts of their day in a car seat/sling seat/vertical carrier.  They are designed to be so comfortable and so entertaining that babies and parents both like them.  Taking a peaceful baby out of a seat/carrier seems cruel.  But so is depriving them of the opportunity to develop neck, shoulder and eye muscle control.  Spending the short periods of time they are awake in a seat prevents the opportunity to move, look and balance.  A baby cannot turn his head freely or sometimes at all in a sling seat.  He can’t use his emerging vision fully when lying on his back at an angle.  Most of the action is not near the ceiling.  He cannot build a sense of balance because he is in one position until an adult moves him.   When these babies get the chance to try tummy time, they fuss a bit.  Or a lot.  A parent who is wondering if tummy time while awake is safe, or who cannot distinguish between complaining while developing a skill and being in pain, might scoop up a baby before he really got the hang of it.  Imagine if you lifted a weight at the gym and groaned, and someone took it away from you?  It would take you a very long time to get stronger.

Just like at the gym, having good company, something fun to watch, and taking breaks can really make a difference.  And cross-training by being carried on someone’s shoulder, playing tummy down on an adult’s chest or lap, etc. is great.  Safely done baby-wearing can be very stimulating and handy for a parent on the go.  The biggest issue is getting to “the gym”.   A baby can’t drive there.  We have to bring the gym to them.

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