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Workout for a Healthy, Strong Baby

It may seem like baby is living a sweet sedentary life, with all the eating, sleeping and being waited on hand and foot, but it turns out being a baby is quite the rigorous workout. Her adorable squirming and wiggling, for example, are actually examples of your little one at work building the strength, flexibility and coordination needed to reach physical milestones that mark her evolution from idle infant to on-the-go toddler.

But just like grown-ups, babies become bored when their workout routine becomes, well, routine. Threading in elements from today's popular adult workouts helps to mix things up and keep motivation high. Each of the following moves is backed by expert advice on how to cultivate baby's development both safely and age-appropriately, prompting your tot to reach her developmental milestones with ease.

The Workout: Pilates

baby version: tummy time

A strong core (neck, back and stomach muscles) is key to overall fitness. Baby's Buddha-like belly may seem anything but fit and firm, but underneath those soft rolls of doughy flesh, he is cultivating enviable abdominals thanks to time spent on his tummy. Similar to Pilates' "Swan" and "Swim" poses, tummy time is just the thing to stretch and strengthen baby's "powerhouse" (core muscles). This motion not only helps prepare baby to push up at around 3 months as a precursor to sitting up and crawling, it also helps keep baby safe. "We want babies to develop their core and upper-body strength, so that if they are in an unsafe situation face down (e.g., face in blankets), they can stretch their heads up and roll over to get themselves out of it," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., co-author of Heading Home With Your Newborn.

Babies become bored when the workout routine becomes, well, routine.

what to do In the first few weeks, the best way to start tummy time is chest to chest. "It's a cozy position for both baby and parent," says Dr. Shu. "[It encourages] bonding as well as muscle development." After a few weeks, give baby a soft surface to lie on, such as a blanket or play mat on the floor. Start with 30 seconds to two minutes, two to three times per day, slowly working up to 10-minute intervals each session.

make it fun Place a rolled-up towel or Boppy pillow under baby's armpits to prop him up slightly and alleviate his face-plant frustration. Then simply lie down on the floor and keep him company. While you're there, chat him up. Sing songs. Give him your best "you can do it" pep talk. (Hey, this might be a good time to do some Pilates moves of your own.)

The Workout: Kickboxing

baby version: kicking and swatting

Though swaddling helps baby feel calm and cozy for the first few weeks after birth, it's important to unwrap those tiny legs occasionally and let them fly free. Kicking enables your little one to gain flexibility, enhance muscle control and develop leg strength to support crawling and cruising, which usually happen between 7 and 10 months. As with kickboxing, a little target practice helps improve coordination. "When you give babies something to kick, you help them learn cause and effect and the impact they have on their environment," says Dr. Shu. "The goal is to help them make their kicks less random."

As for baby's Tae Bo-style punches and jabs-they may not pack much of a wallop, but they improve arm strength, refine motor skills and hone eye-hand coordination. "Baby is learning how to reach and grasp," says Dan Brennan, M.D., a pediatrician and father of three in Santa Barbara, California. "He is learning about spatial relationships."

what to do Once or twice each day, let your little kick-boxer try out moves on you. Use your hands, arm or back to give baby resistance. Tickle and touch those limbs to stimulate baby's sensory perception as she hones her aim, builds strength and increases her range of motion. You can also try dangling safe, interesting objects for baby to reach and grab.

Babies' happy disposition and natural flexibility make them seem like ideal yogis. There's even a pose in yoga called Happy Baby!

make it fun Like resistance, sound can be a wonderful tool to help baby kick with purpose. A play mat piano or a play gym moved down near her feet provides baby with targets that reward her with stimulating music, rattles and squeaks when hit successfully. You can also hold baby in front of a shatterproof plastic mirror and watch her reach out to touch her own adorable mug.

The Workout: Strength Training

baby version: lifting objects

Building baby biceps happens much the same way as building grownup biceps-it requires lifting weights and plenty of reps. Of course, baby rattles are the dumbbells of choice for little arms. "Baby is strengthening muscles and learning about the relationship between hands, arms, shoulders and back, which all work together to help him push up and eventually pull up by 7 months," says Dr. Brennan. Little muscles fatigue easily, so be sure to help him lift-or change activities altogether-if your little guy becomes tired or frustrated.

what to do Each day give baby a sturdy bin filled with new objects of varying size, shape, weight and texture (being mindful of age appropriateness and safety compliance). Since the bin can't tip over, baby will have to use his muscles to lift each object out of the bin, building arm, neck, back and core strength. A constant rotation of new objects will keep this activity fresh and interesting.

make it fun Give those budding biceps (and baby's budding confidence) a boost. Place a small assortment of safe, easy-to-grip objects in front of your little guy. One by one, move an object right in front of him and ask, "Can you lift this?" As he successfully picks up each object, cheer, "Hooray!" If an object proves too tricky, put on a silly show of picking it up yourself. Big muscles and big grins are sure to develop.

The Workout: Yoga

baby version: twisting and bending

While muscle strength is important, so are flexibility and coordination. Both provide the dexterity and stability required for smooth, precise movement. Baby's happy disposition and natural flexibility make her seem like an ideal yogi (There's even a yoga pose called Happy Baby!), but those pretzel-like postures are still hard work. Setting the tone now has benefits down the road. "Gentle stretching and yoga in the younger years sets a great foundation for making relaxation exercises easier later," says Dr. Shu.

what to do Around 4 months, baby is ready to roll from front to back and in the opposite direction a month later. To help the movement along, catch her attention with a fun toy during tummy time. Hold the object just out of her reach, and as she stretches for it, slowly move the toy sideways until it's near the side of her head. Eventually, she will twist her body as she reaches, and if she twists far enough, over she goes!

make it fun Yoga improves balance for grownups as well as babies, so try a little mommy-and-me yoga to help you both feel Zen. Check out itsybitsyyoga.com for a range of DVDs you and baby can try together at home. Once you're finished getting your Down Dog on, count on Savasana ("Final Resting Pose") to settle you both down for a much-needed post-workout nap. Om!

 

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