PARENTALK: Exercises For Infants
My mother-in-law randomly asked me what I was writing about today and when I told her the topic was “exercise for infants”, she was aghast. “Now you’d put children also on treadmills?” she asked. While she asked that as a joke, it genuinely surprised her that people actually look for exercises for infants. She said that kids are already quite active. Why would someone give special efforts to increase their activity levels? I did some reading and stumbled upon this research that concludes that the activity levels of parents influence the activity levels of children. It is no secret that parents’ activity levels are not too high owing to the nature of work and availability of means of comfort.
Exercise for infants doesn’t mean putting them on the treadmill, but AAP recommends infants should be active several times a day. It advises parents to facilitate interactive floor-based play. Exercising regularly can help strengthen your infant’s back and neck and also help to develop their hand-eye coordination.
Here are some simple exercises that you can help your infant to do:
Yoga poses for babies: Yoga is known to rejuvenate and strengthen. Baby yoga also offers a wide range of benefits, including the development of motor and sensory skills, muscle strengthening, better sleep, and better digestion. Infant yoga is also helpful with constipation and colic. Here are some yoga poses you can teach your baby:
- Anand Balasana or happy baby yoga pose:
- Adho Mukha Shvanasana or Downward facing dog:
Do not be intimidated by the long name. It is a very simple pose that many babies keep doing after they begin to stand. You can encourage them by demonstrating the pose. All they need to do is touch their hands and feet on the floor and raise their hips in the air. You can play with them by looking from between the legs. This is a great pose that helps to increase flexibility. It also improves their motor skills.
- Butterfly Twist yoga pose:
To achieve this pose, you need to place the baby on their back and join their soles in the air. This is known as the butterfly pose. Now gently push the baby’s feet towards their tummy while their hands are on their side. Maintain the butterfly pose and gently move the legs from one side to another. If the child seems very active, calm them down by gently placing your palm on their chest and speaking softly. This pose with oscillating motion is very calming for the baby and helps to achieve deep sleep.
Tummy time: Everyone you ask will advocate for tummy time for the baby. This is because, in the early days, the baby spends a lot of time lying down on the back. Giving them tummy time helps to build head and neck strength. The AAP recommends 30 mins of tummy time spread across 24 hours to ensure optimum growth and development in infants. Tummy time helps to strengthen the back, neck, and core and this further helps in developing skills like crawling, sitting, and walking. However, if the baby seems to be uncomfortable, do not force them. Start with 2-3 mins and increase gradually.
Tummy time also helps to avoid the flat head condition in babies. All you need to do is spread a mat on the floor and place the baby on their tummy. The child will seem like struggling to raise their head; they will actually be strengthening their muscles in this process. If the child hates tummy time completely, you can place them on your chest with their tummy downwards. As they raise their head to look at you, the neck muscles will be strengthened. Later, as they get used to it, using a colorful mat can keep them interested.
Football hold: This is another exercise that will help to strengthen neck muscles in infants. Hold the baby under your arms with the baby facing the floor. Make sure that you support their tummy and chest. Every time they look around, they will be strengthening their neck muscles.
Bicycling: You may have heard from elders in the family about bicycling with the child’s legs after you give them a massage. This is a great way to help them with flatulence. Apart from releasing the gas, this motion also helps to strengthen the legs, hips, knees, and abs and increases flexibility. To do this, lay the baby flat on their back and move their legs in pedaling motion. Take a break after doing it 2-3 times and repeat.
Lifting weights: No, you do not have to give them dumbbells, but picking up objects helps to open their palm that prepares them for crawling. It also develops strength in their shoulder and arm muscles and improves their hand and eye coordination. Lightweight rattles or cloth books are the best weights for babies. You can put the child in a high chair or on the floor and give different rattles or small objects for them to pick up and put back. You can demonstrate the right way of doing it the first few times and they will soon get the idea.
Sit-ups: Sit-ups involve gently holding your baby’s hands when they are lying down and pulling them in a sitting position. This exercise strengthens their shoulders, core, and arms. On being pulled, the child will try to move abdominal muscles to maintain the alignment of the head with the body. This will improve muscle strength and balance. Support the neck and head with your hands if the child doesn’t hold up the neck yet. Children love this exercise because they are coming closer to you.
Play-gym time: The baby play gym is a great piece of baby gear that helps them to improve hand-eye coordination and muscle strength. When you place the child on the play may with toys hanging above, they will try to reach for the toys and thus work on their hand-eye coordination as well as muscle strength.
Infant exercises are not about achieving milestones early or uncovering extraordinary physical abilities. They simply strengthen the child’s muscles and help them get ready for important life skills. Stay clear of baby equipment like walkers that promise early walking and spend some time with your child doing these exercises. All children will achieve milestones in their time, strong muscles will just make it easier for them.
Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.