Baby Bodybuilding Part 2: How to Help Your Baby Develop Muscles

Earlier this week we discussed the development of your baby’s gross motor skills and the importance of strong muscles to achieve these milestones.  Now that you have an understanding of how your baby’s muscles emerge, we’re moving on to some practical skills training for how to help your baby develop muscles.

First, we like to call it “baby bodybuilding” because it reminds us that we’re strengthening our babies and getting them ready to physically explore the world around them.  Lifting the head, moving the eyes, scooting around, bringing things to the mouth and all of the other amazing things your baby is learning to do helps her discover her surroundings and make deeper brain connections.  Much like adult bodybuilding, it’s actually pretty hard work for your little buddle of joy.  She may let you know that with a grunt or cry once in awhile.  Be sure to give lots of encouragement and love along the way.  Extra praise and cuddles are most definitely in order during strength building activities.  And certainly that fantastic breast milk of yours will give her the nutrients needed for her “workouts.”

Here are some of the best activities for how to help your baby develop muscles:

Freedom:  Beware of trapping and strapping your baby down too often.  Babies need the opportunity to explore and move about as they choose.  This freedom from strollers, cribs, swings and bouncy chairs will be your baby’s first gym floor.  Even if she cannot move very much or very far yet, she’ll feel the freedom and encouragement to do so when she’s ready.

Baby Bodybuilding Part 2:  How to Help Your Baby Develop MusclesTummy Time:  Babies now sleep on their backs (the safest way for babies to sleep) and spend less time on their stomachs where they have to learn to lift their head to view their environment.  Therefore, it’s your job as a parent to carve out tummy time where your little one can build neck, abdominal and back strength.  This is how she will learn to hold up her head on her own and eventually roll over.  Tummy time can be done in a variety of ways including on a play mat, yoga mat, your bed, a pillow or on your chest.  You can stimulate your baby by getting on the floor with her and enticing her with exciting toys of vibrant colors, textures and sounds.  Tummy time also helps your baby avoid having a flat head.

Baby Workout:  Take time each day, or several times a day, to move your baby’s body around for her.  Help her kick her legs up, open and in a bicycle motion.  Stretch her arms above her head and to the side.  Crunch her little body up for some mini sit-ups.  Clap her hands and feet together.  Make up a dance with multiple movements.  Bounce her on your legs.  This fun routine will help strengthen her muscles and you’ll probably get a few giggles too.  Try getting in a “workout” on the changing table each time you change a diaper.

Help Her Try New Things:  Some babies dive in to new adventures head first – literally!  Others are a little more cautious.  Hold your baby’s hand or give her a push when she’s trying a new activity to show her that she can indeed do it.  Sometimes this boost is all the confidence she needs to try it on her own.

Baby Massage:  Just like every good athlete, a soothing massage is in order after a workout.  Babies love massages and it can trigger some strong muscle development too.  Additionally, massages are comforting and relaxing to babies and make them feel warm and loved, which of course they are.  Try a baby massage before bedtime to get your baby in a calm state for sleep.

Tasting the World:  It may make germaphobic parents across the globe cringe but babies explore with their mouths.  And the act of bringing something to the mouth is great for their gross motor skills.  Scooting, crawling or walking to find something to put in their mouths is even better yet.  Ensure your baby has plenty of safe and sanitary items to put in her mouth and that she doesn’t miss the opportunity by always sucking on a pacifier.

Be Physically Active:  Kids need to be active.  Encouraging physical activity from a young age is one of the best ways to keep kids healthy and to avoid the epidemic of obesity.  Health professionals recommend at least one hour of physical activity per day for children.  Start the habit now for your baby’s strong and healthy future.

Baby Bodybuilding Part 1: The Development of Gross Motor Skills

You probably love the tender, softness of your marshmellowy baby.  She’s undeniably hard to resist.  However, muscle development is an essential part of reaching physical milestones.  Babies are born with no muscle strength or control but they develop these vital skills over time.  The major muscle coordinating activities are known as gross motor skills and your pediatrician will be looking out for them at each checkup during your baby’s first few years.  Today we’re discussing the importance of helping your baby develop muscles to perform gross motor skills.

Baby Bodybuilding Part 1:  The Development of Gross Motor SkillsAt birth, babies can only rely on reflexes, like that of suckling and swallowing during breastfeeding.  During the first few months of life, babies are strong enough to hold up their own heads using neck strength, and follow objects with their eyes, which require optical muscle coordination.  From there, babies start to gain more control over their arms and legs that were once flailing without rhyme or reason.  They can reach for objects, begin putting food (and other objects) in their mouth and kick things intentionally with their feet.  They begin to roll over from their stomach to their back and eventually from their back to their stomach again.

Around the midpoint of the first year, babies begin working on advanced skills such as sitting upright, slithering, crawling, baring weight on their legs and pulling up on objects.  Usually around the first year – although sometimes earlier and sometimes later – babies’ muscles are strong enough to start walking.  Most start off teetering or toddling, hence the name toddler.  But in no time, your budding walker will surely be sprinting around faster than you can keep up with her.

While these gross motor skills develop differently for each child, there are developmental milestones set forth as guidelines to ensure your baby is on target.  If your baby is not meeting milestones, you should talk to your pediatrician.  You may just have a late bloomer or these may be signs of developmental problems.

A somewhat common issue is hypotonia, which is simply low muscle tone.  Babies with hypotonia may feel limp or floppy, sort of like a rag doll.  This type of muscle weakness can cause delayed gross motor skills and lack of coordination.  Usually children grow out of hypotonia however they may always lag behind in physical activities.  Some parents opt for physical therapy to help babies and young children strengthen their muscles.  This still may not make them a star athlete but it can help them gain some skills to keep up with their peers.  More severe, long-term hypotonia may be related to serious conditions such as muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs, cerebral palsy, Prader-Willi syndrome or other genetic disorders.  Major concerns should be addressed with your pediatrician immediately.

The best thing you can do to help strengthen your baby’s muscles is to give her every opportunity to use them in ways that are age appropriate.  Later this week we’ll be sharing some activities and baby “bodybuilding exercises” you can do with your baby.  Don’t worry, your baby won’t break a sweat or need a protein shake afterwards…well, except for maybe that great protein-packed breast milk you provide.

Stay tuned for more on how to help your baby develop those much-needed muscles and gross motor skills.