Fletcher Allen, a Vermont university hospital and medical center, serves all of
Vermont and the northern New York region. Located in Burlington, Fletcher Allen is a regional, academic healthcare center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont.
Exercises to Move Your Baby in the Right Direction
Exercises to Move
Your Baby in the Right Direction
Parents have been exercising their right to ask me lots of questions about whether it’s important to exercise their babies and what exercises I would recommend.
Believe it or not, physical activity is important in allowing a baby to achieve developmental motor milestones – sitting, crawling and walking – sooner than later by fostering the development of strong muscles and good coordination. Physical activity also channels your infant’s energy in the right direction, allowing them to explore the world and foster their curiosity and intellect.
The National Association of Sports and Physical Education recommends that infants and toddlers get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. So how can babies exercise when they really cannot move? Babies naturally will start to exercise as they practice lifting their heads in the first month or two of life while on their tummies or as they begin reaching and grabbing objects as they get a bit older. Trying to roll over, sitting on their own or learning to crawl are all great opportunities for your baby to get those 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
Tummy time for playing with your baby is a great way for infants to stretch and reach for things, strengthening muscles that will be needed to sitting and crawling. A play mat with toys overhead allows an infant to lie on their back and kick, and again reach for objects and increase muscle strength. Holding your baby up to stand or pulling them up to sit with your hands around theirs and your thumb being grasped for traction are all helpful exercises. Another nice exercise to burn off energy is to move baby’s legs in a bicycle motion while on their back, perhaps when you are done changing a diaper, or waving baby’s arms gently from side-to-side and up and down. “Flying your baby” with hands supporting the belly strengthens stomach or abdominal muscles that are pushing against your hands.
What you don’t want to do is put baby in an infant seat or swing or bouncer for extended periods because this utilizes almost no energy whatsoever. The same goes for walkers and jumping seats. It’s also a good idea to not expose babies or toddlers to TV. Watching television is simply a sedentary activity and prior to age two (when the American Academy of Pediatrics begins to recommend no more than 1-2 hours a day of television exposure) not only leads to no physical exercise but does not adequately exercise the brain either. Even educational shows in infancy do not substitute for active playtime where baby can engage in motor and language play with parents as things are described, touched and grasped during the course of active play rather than passive watching of a program on a screen.
Hopefully, tips like this will not be a stretch goal when it comes to making sure your baby gets plenty of stretching and exercise on a daily basis.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.