When you think about exercise, you wouldn’t tell babies to drop and give you 20. But the Society of Health and Physical Educatorsrecommends all children up to age 5 do some kind of physical activity every day. And yes, that means babies too. Baby exercises are an important part of infant development. Infant exercise can help strengthen baby’s neck, help develop hand-eye coordination, and help baby learn to walk. So where do you start? From strengthening to baby yoga exercises, it’s time to get baby pumped to move with these baby exercises.
Baby Yoga Exercises
If you’ve ever done yoga, you know how good a little Namaste can feel. And according to the experts, baby can benefit big time from some yoga too! Claire Koepke, registered yoga teacher in prenatal, postnatal and therapeutic yoga, says "yoga poses can help relieve baby constipation, colic and gas. These simple yet efficient movements can also improve your baby's sleep, in turn improving your sleep." Everyone’s on board with that! Here are three simple baby exercises to teach your little yogi that can have lasting benefits well into toddlerhood.
Happy Baby. This pose is something baby may already do and not realize it’s actually a baby yoga exercise. Have baby lie on his back and put his legs in the air. Next have baby hold his feet and sway back and forth. If baby doesn’t grab his feet on his own, don’t worry. Koepke advises to “gently hold onto his feet, with knees bent and open wide to facilitate the stretch for him.” This is an excellent baby exercise to open hip muscles and stimulate digestion. Plus, it’s just a fun pose in general!
Downward Facing Dog. This is a simple pose, but keep in mind that baby won’t have the strength to do this pose until at least 6-10 months old when baby begins to crawl. Have baby put both hands on the floor and his butt in the air. “The best way to encourage babe to practice this inversion is by demonstrating it to them and making it feel like a variation of peekaboo, looking at them upside down and then rightside up again,” says Koepke. “This playful pose helps with flexibility, motor skills and general crankiness.”
Butterfly Twist. In this exercise, start by placing baby on his back and adjust the soles of baby’s feet so they are touching in the air, making a butterfly shape. While gently pressing baby's feet toward his stomach, encourage baby’s arms to open to the sides. Continuing to hold baby’s feet in the butterfly shape, gently twist his legs side to side. If baby's arms are still active, Koepke advises to encourage him into calmness by placing your other hand softly on baby’s chest and speaking in soothing tones. Some yogis, including Koepke, say poses like these with a rocking back-and-forth motion, can help baby relax and find deeper sleep.
Baby Neck Strengthening Exercises & Tummy Exercises
When it comes to baby exercises, neck strengthening and tummy timeare key. Sarah Johnson, PT, DPT pediatric physical therapist at Riley Children’s Health says, “Babies spend so much time on their backs early in life that spending time on their belly is important to build strength in different positions. Developing the back, core and neck strength creates the building blocks babies will need to progress in their development of gross motor skills such as crawling, sitting up and eventually walking.” These allow baby to start supporting himself and explore the world around him. During tummy exercises and any baby exercises, also be sure to supervise at all times. When it comes to baby tummy exercises, don’t force baby. Start with just three to five minutes a day and gradually increase from there.
Tummy Time. This activity is always in the top 10 list of baby exercises because it helps to strengthen head and neck muscles as well as improve motor skills. “This position also is essential in preventing positional plagiocephaly (flattened head shape),” advises Johnson. Put a blanket or play mat on the floor and lie baby on his belly. If you start this at around 2months old, you’ll note that baby struggles to raise his head. But even this small movement is helping to strengthen neck muscles. This is a skill baby can use in so many other baby exercises. Turn tummy time into a mom and baby exercise by having baby lie on his back in front of you. Do a cobra stretch over him and watch him gaze up at you and try to lean up for a kiss!
Football Hold. Hold baby’s body facing floor-ward under your arm. Make sure your arm is fully supporting baby’s belly and chest. As baby looks downward and all around, he’s strengthening his neck muscles.
Peanut Ball Exercises. Since not all babies are going to want to jump on the tummy time train, it’s important to make baby exercises fun. What’s more fun than a peanut ball? A peanut ball is just that…an exercise ball shaped like a peanut. Some women in labor use them too. For baby exercises, hold baby on top of the peanut ball, belly down. Next roll baby gently backward and forward while holding them. This will help them get used to holding their necks and heads up.
Put Baby on Your Chest. Place baby on your chest as you lie down. Baby will lift his head to look at you! This helps strengthen those neck muscles. Eventually, transition to the floor and have toys nearby to keep baby’s attention while he’s on his tummy. If you want to make this a mom and baby exercise, lift your head and shoulders off the ground while baby is on your belly.
Exercises to Help Baby Crawl
Once baby’s neck is strong enough to self-support, it’s time to drop and give mommy or daddy four…all fours that is. Babies are usually ready to crawl at anywhere between 6 and 10 months old. These baby exercises will help get them on the move.
Hand Exercises. Before baby can crawl, she needs to get used to having her palm open. Get her comfortable with the concept by having her stretch out her hands and fingers while reaching for objects. You can also massage baby’s hands with a washcloth in the tub. While you may not think this falls under your typical baby exercises, open hands are essential to crawling. Johnson says, “In order to be successful and increase desire to crawl, babies need to have an open hand. A fisted hand makes the exploration that is so crucial to early development tough to achieve.”
Assisted Crawling. In this exercise, take a towel and fold it over a few times lengthwise. Have baby lay on top it. With both hands, lift either side of the towel so that baby’s chest is resting on top of it but is off the ground, lifting baby’s chest and belly upward as her arms and legs dangle toward the ground. This should help baby get used to the motions of crawling as you move side by side with her as she moves. As baby gets better at it, you can loosen your grip until she’s moving on her own!
Baby Walking Exercises
Once baby is crawling you know what comes next…walking. Typically babies can start walking anywhere from 9 to 18 months. Don’t get discouraged if your baby isn’t off and running right away. Walking is a major milestone and can take time. It’s about developing strength and balance, so once baby has mastered these skills, he’ll be on the move. Baby exercises that help with walking skills are a good way to start.
Sitting on a Stool. Since balance is a big part of walking, babies can practice balance by sitting on a stool. Make sure baby’s feet can touch the floor and that an adult is nearby for safety. Have baby stand up and pick up a toy off the floor and then sit back down. This exercise forces baby to stand, practice balance and get used to having weight on his feet.
Bounce Baby. While the sitting on a stool exercise works on balance, the bouncing baby exercise will improve strength. Have baby stand up on your lap. Next have baby start bouncing with their feet on your legs. You’ll be holding baby’s hands so you can start moving her arms up and down to get baby bouncing if she’s not into it right away.
Cruising. Have baby hold on to furniture and feel his way along as he moves his legs. Have him hold one of your hands while he keeps his hand on the furniture. Eventually baby will gain the confidence to let go and do it all on his own.
As baby is learning to walk, avoid baby walkers. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not advise parents to use them because they can lead to serious injuries. Stick to baby exercises to get baby standing on his own two feet.
Baby Hand-Eye Coordination Exercises
When you think about baby exercises, hand-eye coordination may not immediately come to mind. But it is the cornerstone for many baby activities like crawling and eating. “Babies start exploring their world, and learning, by use of their hands and their mouths. By grasping objects and bringing them to their mouth they are developing proprioception [sense of self] and the building blocks for smooth eye-hand coordination. Activities to promote this can begin as soon as 3-4 months of age,” says Johnson. You can try these baby hand-eye coordination exercises to help hone those skills.
Catch the Toy. Tie a small soft toy to a brightly colored ribbon. Dangle it in front of baby and make it move. Baby will want to reach out and grab it. This will help boost those hand-eye coordination skills while also helping with balance as baby leans in to grab. This is a two-for-one when it comes to baby exercises!
Bubble Gaze. Have you ever seen a baby look at bubbles? Babies are mesmerized by them. Sit baby in a bouncy chair and blow bubbles. Watch baby follow the bubbles with his eyes. He may even raise his hand to try to pop one! This helps tune motor skills and hand-eye coordination making it one of the simplest, yet effective baby exercises.
While baby exercises are not meant to get babies into the tiny Olympics, they are an excellent way for them to get stronger and learn important skills. If you have specific questions about baby exercises always consult your pediatrician.
Experts: Claire Koepke, RYT specializing in prenatal, postnatal, and therapeutic yoga, www.happybabyyoga.com ; Sarah Johnson, PT, DPT, Riley Children’s Health