Exercises and Activities to Help Development and Achievement of Milestones

By: Kylie Smillie

We all know that physical activity is good for both the mind and body, and no time is more important than during infancy! Infants and toddlers who develop a strong foundation of motor skills have been shown to mature into more physically active adults. A link has also been established between improving motor skills and increased participation in social activity, something that in turn can lead to cognitive, perceptual and social development. 

Key exercises and activities can be encouraged during infancy to aid achievement of motor control and strength, in turn supporting achievement of developmental milestones. As soon as baby can hold their head up independently, introduce some tummy time! On a soft surface roll baby onto their stomach, providing them with the chance to utilize head and neck muscles to maintain their head upright. This position helps prevent flat spots on the back of baby’s head by alleviating pressure, whilst also developing shoulder stability and strength which will be beneficial when the time comes for crawling! It has been suggested that lack of prone (tummy) time can result in motor delays, so with that in mind try stretching out in front of baby on your belly, and encourage them to strengthen those muscles as they gaze up at you!

When the day comes for baby to get mobile and start crawling (typically around 6-10 months), a little assistance and facilitation of the correct position can speed up the learning curve. One technique utilizes a peanut ball (oblong shaped exercise ball) placing baby belly down so that hands and knees are in contact with the floor and the ball supports underneath the belly. Gently roll baby backwards and forwards. Not only does this position allow for head and neck strengthening to keep their head lifted, it also shifts weight into arms and back into legs to get them ready for the sensation of supporting and shifting their body weight. If, like me, you don’t want to go out and buy any specific equipment, try using a rolled up towel underneath baby’s belly. By holding both ends you can support baby in the crawling position, plus, this allows for more individualization depending on how much support they need. Gradually loosen your grip and reduce the support provided, as baby gets more stable and confident. 

My final tip is to start practicing when baby is almost ready to take on walking (typically between 9-18 months). Using a stool (be sure to supervise for safety), have baby sit on the stool and encourage them to stand up and reach for toys, sitting back down in between. With baby’s feet on the floor they can practice weight bearing and standing balance for short bouts of time, as well as the important transition from seated to standing. You can also increase standing time by encouraging them to hold onto furniture or a stable surface in front to allow the ability to start ‘cruising’. 

They say practice makes perfect and the same is true for our little ones. Infants learn through repetition so make sure to provide plenty of opportunities for practice and try these activities a couple times each day. And when it comes to walking, ditch the shoes indoors as research has suggested that babies learn to walk easier barefoot so they can get lots of feedback through their feet!

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About Our Guest Blogger: 

Kylie Smillie is a qualified Physical Therapist originally from the UK who now resides in Tucson, AZ. She has been practicing for the last 5 years working predominantly in the rehabilitation setting. Kylie has a particular interest in pediatrics and child development and has worked for nanny agencies in both Canada and America, as well as spending 2 winters in Whistler, BC teaching 3-5 year olds how to ski. When not working you will find Kylie outdoors enjoying nature or in the gym completing her next Crossfit workout. Her goals for this year are to compete in her first triathlon and to attend the annual APTA Pediatrics conference for the first time.

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