Prime your baby to move by toning things down (or up)
Every baby has their own feel about them. Have you noticed that when you pick up some babies they nuzzle right into you, melting into your arms in content? And others are full of beans - almost ricocheting out of your arms with the slightest touch?
These differences are in part explained by your baby’s underlying muscle tone. Muscle tone refers to the amount of tension or resistance in muscles when they are at rest. This tension is governed by the nervous system, and is essential for maintaining joint integrity and posture.
Having some resting tension in your muscles is an important aspect of being ready to move. But as Goldilocks discovered, it’s having the right amount of tension that is key. Too little and your baby will need to make a lot more effort to get moving. Too much and they will be too stiff to change positions readily. Although you can’t permanently change your baby’s resting muscle tone, you can prime them to be more ready to move.
If you’re baby is of the floppier, cuddlier, and often-but-not-always chubbier variety, then your job is to rev them up a little. These babies have more difficulty lifting themselves up against gravity to move, play and maintain their position. They can benefit from some help elevating their muscle tone to make moving easier. A bit like doing a warm-up at the gym, getting ready for what’s to come.
Give your baby a tickle, jiggle or bounce to kick-start your play time. Music and dance can be your friend in keeping things upbeat. Floppier babies can seem passive, and will like to lean into you and have toys brought to them. Try and counter this by giving them a little less support, e.g., when you hold them, position your hands further down their chest (eventually as low as their hips) so they can’t lean into you as much. Try not to make it too hard, or they'll simply lock their joints, complain, and give up! You may need to have your louder, positive voice ready for when their posture slumps or enthusiasm wavers.
And lastly, avoid long periods in well supported equipment such as highchairs and prams, that allow them little motivation to move.
In contrast, if your baby is already a bit of a live wire in terms of muscle tone, your job is to help them quieten their muscles down. A different soundtrack perhaps. These are usually the babies that feel stiffer to hold. They find tummy time easier - at least initially - because their muscles are more “on.” Parents often notice their baby wants to stand up all the time, or may have a hard time bending their legs to sit.
If this sounds like your baby, then take a softer approach. Definitely leave the bounce and jiggle for later in your play repertoire. Instead, begin play time with some tricks to help your baby’s muscles relax. You know those tent poles that are rigid yet rapidly unfold as you release the first section? A bit like that.
My personal favourite is using alternating movements, e.g. gentle bicycle movements of the legs, and a soothing song or chat. When you hold or position your baby for play, you can carry this idea through by keeping one leg bent up toward their chest to 'break' their tendency to re-pitch the tent. Rotational movements also work very well for stiffer babies, such as turning their body to reach. Generally you’ll just know when these tricks work; there is a feeling of softness and quietness that comes over your baby. What better time to play and explore together?
Please keep all of this information within the realm of common sense. Regardless of their underlying tone, all babies love being successful in their efforts to move - especially when given an achievable challenge! Generally, floppier babies have a tendency to get tired quickly, and stiffer babies may be more easily frustrated. Both need to build up the amount of active play time they can cope with gradually. Try and apply the principles you have learnt here in your day to day activities, especially around active play time, and see what works for you and your baby.
Because movement matters!