Note: Always see a healthcare professional if you have concerns about your child’s health or development.
Finding ways to make sure our little ones grow strong and healthy can often seem like one of those endless tasks. Exercise is important, but how exactly does a baby get exercise? First of all, it’s important to remember that exercise for a baby looks quite different from how it looks for an adult. When it comes to babies and toddlers, exercise is not about fitness or any of those other reasons adults tend to engage in it. Instead, it’s more about developing the muscles they need for movement, building connections in their brain, and learning how to use their bodies. These, in turn, then assist with their sensory abilities – each aspect of a child’s development takes practice, and ‘exercise’ helps hugely with this. To make sure your little one gets the most out of these, take time, be gentle, and if you aren’t sure how best to go about things, ask your healthcare professional.
One of the first exercises a baby does might not seem like much, but it’s hugely important to their development – and that is tummy time. This particular exercise helps them develop the strength in their necks to be able to hold up and turn their heads, as well as strengthen their back and shoulder muscles – but that’s not all. Tummy time also helps them in their sensory development, including visual development. Of course, there are various ways to do tummy time; it doesn’t just have to mean putting them on the floor. Important to remember, though, is this – tummy time is only for when baby is awake and being actively supervised.
>Going the tummy-to-tummy route is an excellent way to introduce tummy time to your little one. This is particularly helpful in the first weeks when bubs is still very small. Lie back and hold them on your belly or chest, tummy down. It’s a great way to bond, and your baby can get used to practising moving and holding their head while still feeling snug and secure as you hold them, and you both get the chance to gaze at each other – it’s win/win! At first, they might only be able to last a minute or two at a time before they get tired or upset, but this time will gradually increase as they get stronger. They can do this 2-3 times a day (or more if they enjoy it).
After a couple of weeks, they can start being introduced to floor tummy time. The floor is best, rather than on a couch/sofa or bed, as it is too easy for a baby to roll off a raised surface. Don’t put them on a too-soft surface, such as a cushion or mattress, either, as there is a risk of suffocation. Begin by spreading a clean blanket on the floor to keep things warm and hygienic. Using different blankets with different textures each time is a quick and easy way to help with that sensory development we mentioned earlier, as can putting them directly on the carpet if you have any. They can learn to explore the feeling of the different materials they’re lying on and work on their coordination as they begin to gain control of what their hands are doing.
It’s not uncommon for babies to get a little upset or angry during tummy time–though, of course, there are also those who love it–but as in those early days, helping them get used to it can be a wonderful way to bond with them, too. Lying in front of them to smile or sing with them can make it that much more enjoyable for both of you. As they get stronger, you can start putting interesting toys in front for them to look at and maybe even start reaching for!
Tummy time isn’t the only baby exercise, though. Another useful exercise–even if, like others, it doesn’t immediately seem like an exercise–is leg bicycling. You may be already doing this, or at least have heard of it; it’s when you take your baby’s legs and very gently move them up and down as though they’re pedalling a bike. This can a good exercise for helping relieve gas, but it also improves bubs’ flexibility and range of movement in their joints. You only need to repeat the moves a few times each session (think 3-5), and only while they’re happy and relaxed enough to have you do it. Ask your midwife, nurse or doctor how best to do this exercise if you aren’t sure – and just remember to be gentle!
To help baby build their strength and coordination as they get older, you can sit them up in their highchair with a range of toys (make sure they’re age appropriate) and let them learn how to choose and pick them up! To begin, they may not be sure what to do. Demonstrate for them; babies love to imitate what you’re doing! If they’re teething, having a couple of different teether options is fantastic. They can choose which ones they like best, then work on the coordination needed to bring the teether to their own mouth. Making sure you’ve got something nice and soft while they’re working this out is key – why not have a look at Haakaa’s range of teethers? They’re made of soft silicone while nevertheless remaining firm enough to be incredibly effective teethers that won’t hurt your baby. You can do this with any of their toys, of course!
Once crawling, letting them get some exercise in becomes much easier. A fun game to play can be climbing – a safe version, that is! Putting some pillows on the floor and encouraging your little one to crawl over them is not just fun; it helps them further develop their coordination, and it helps them exercise their joints even more!
With all these exercises, it’s important to reiterate that it’s not the same as exercise for adults – this is more about supporting their growth and helping their development. As always, check with your midwife, nurse, or doctor for further information specific to your circumstances.
This blog does not constitute medical advice and should not be taken as such. If you have any concerns about your child’s health or development, please consult a medical professional.