Photograph by Shannon Gallagher
I think it was at Coraline’s two-month baby visit that her doctor mentioned she’d start rolling over around four months. By three months she seemed determined to make it happen. But then she just stopped. Four months came and went, and five months, too. Six months is only just a week away, but still my daughter just isn’t into rolling. I must admit, I’ve had my moments of concerned panic. It’s hard not to when everything is presented as such as schedule: “Baby will do X around this time, and Y around this time. They’ll eat this much at this time, and sleep this much at that time.” And since no one’s baby does it all by the book, I’ve decided it’s all a bunch of hooey. Babies do things in their own time. Save yourself the added stress.
Though physical milestones may be met on their own timeline, they do have a natural developmental progression, at least as nature intended. And as we’re all about the natural way here at Mama Greenest, I thought I’d share a little about what I’ve learned in the way of physical development and ways you can help usher baby through those milestones — when they’re ready to meet them.
Tummy Time While placing babies to sleep on their backs has reportedly helped decrease the incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by almost 50 percent, it has also been postulated as the reason why babies are crawling later, if at all. Spending time on their tummy is important for several reasons:
- It helps create tone on the front-side of the internal organs.
- It gives baby the opportunity to work their neck and upper body muscles as they begin pushing into their hands and lifting their head to look around.
- It offers them a chance to puzzle out locomotion (ie. crawling) from the appropriate position.
Most doctors and movement specialists recommend baby spend some time on their tummy every day, for as long as they’ll tolerate.
It’s worth noting that baby-wearing can provide a lot of the same physical benefits as tummy time. The upright position in the carrier will facilitate development of baby’s neck strength and gives them a chance to push with their arms against your chest as they crane around for a better view. It does not, however, provide opportunities for locomotion, so make sure baby is still spending time on the floor everyday, especially as they get older.
Give them some incentive Most experienced parents will tell you that it was a special something that got their baby to get up and go. One friend’s daughter took her first steps towards a TV that was broadcasting a Tina Turner concert. When baby is lying on their back surround them with toys to help get them looking in all directions. Rolling is usually initiated by a head turn that takes the shoulders that takes the ribcage that takes the pelvis…you get the idea. By encouraging baby to look in multiple directions, you’re providing windows of opportunity for new movement and muscle patterning.
Get down to their level When baby is playing on the floor, try getting down and mirroring their position. If they’re lying on their tummy, propped up on their forearms, do the same. This allows you to see the world from their limited perspective and may reveal some ways to inspire movement. And don’t be afraid to help them with your hands: If baby is pushing on their arms and trying to rock their pelvis back over their knees, hook your fingers underneath their hips and gently help them. If they are trying to roll over, you can help by gently cueing their head to rotate or guiding their shoulders or hips. By giving them the feeling, you are helping to make the neuromuscular connections they need.
Avoid overusing walkers, exersaucers, and jumpers Though baby may think they’re fun, and they may buy you a few free minutes, these pieces of equipment can actually undermine proper muscle development and gait. Walkers are even illegal in Canada for this reason. If you’ve ever seen a baby “walk” in a walker, you’ve probably noticed they are not actually fully upright and are mostly using their toes to propel themselves forward, not the heel to toe motion that is used for proper gait. This is creating a pattern, and once these babies are walking unassisted they will likely be doing so on their toes. Jumpers — in which baby pushes off their toes to bounce up and down — can encourage the same dysfunction. The healthiest seated position is one where the baby’s full tush and upper legs are supported, and practice walking should be saved for when baby is “cruising” (pulling themselves up using furniture to support them as they take steps).
Don’t compare your baby with the baby next door! This is hard to do but better for your sanity. Babies hit milestones in their own time, and prioritize things differently. Coraline was sitting up unassisted by four and a half months, but still has not rolled over. My friend’s daughter was rolling all over by three months, but at over six months is still not sitting up. If you’re concerned that your baby may be missing too many milestones, or is showing signs of impaired movement or physical distress, talk to your doctor.