What Activities Help My Baby Develop Each Month? Is Tummy Time Really A Thing?
Taking care of a growing baby can be confusing. As a parent, it’s easy to wonder: What am I supposed to be DOING with this baby anyway to help them develop?
We asked for your questions on infant development and brought them to Dairian Roberts, an occupational therapist and international board-certified lactation consultant. As part of LAist text service Hey bb, which answers parents’ questions starting in pregnancy, Roberts answered questions in a live video Q&A session. (You can watch the recording.)
The following are a few highlights from the conversation. And of course, please consult your health care provider for any kind of medical advice.
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What activities should I do with my baby?
Olivia Vallejo in South L.A. asks: What are the best activities to do with babies each month for their development?
Roberts says it’s important to start by looking at the the many domains of infant development, including:
- Linguistic; and
- Physical development, including gross motor skills (big movements) and fine motor skills (smaller movements).
Overall, she says it’s important to make sure babies have lots of opportunities to develop in a wide range of areas, since that's how they start to develop and demonstrate new skills month by month.
“A lot of the time, we see like they're in the same kind of space,” Roberts says. “Like, this is where we go to do tummy time, on this same mat, and then he plays with these same toys in the same position.”
Roberts says it’s important to consider some questions, like, “How can I change the baby's play position? If they're always on their back, try side-lying and then on their tummy — because all positions are important.”
Changing the environment can also help babies develop these new skills. “So if they're playing with a visual toy," Roberts says, "can we use an auditory toy? Can we use a sensory, tactile toy?”
She recommends Pathways.org as one resource for parents to look up developmental milestones by your baby’s age and activities for development.
Is tummy time really a thing?
Ali Sivak in Pico-Robertson asks: “I've heard about tummy time helping out with flat head syndrome, but I'm also wondering if the risk is overblown? Do parents really need to be spending a fortune on helmets or do most flat heads resolve themselves with time?”
It turns out that tummy time has only been around since 1994, when the “Back to Sleep” campaign began. While encouraging babies to sleep on their backs reduced the numbers of babies dying from SIDS, it also meant that babies had less opportunities to be in other positions.
“Tummy time is a thing because babies are spending a lot more time on their backs,” says Roberts. And it’s not just when they’re asleep. “[When they’re awake] we put the baby in the swing or in a chair. Or if you live in L.A. and you put the baby in a car seat and it takes you 45 minutes to get someone, to get there and back — it’s a lot of time that they have consistent pressure on the back of their head.”
That pressure is what can lead to flat spots on the back of the baby’s head. Roberts says that flattening on the back of the head can cause the frontal bone to bulge, which, if severe, could impact vision. If your pediatrician catches it soon enough, however, they will typically refer you to occupational or physical therapy. She says it’s possible to reshape the baby’s head before four months.
About helmets, she says insurance will usually cover the first one.
Many babies get grumpy doing tummy time. Trying is what counts and Roberts previously shared with LAist some tips about how to do tummy time, using her own daughter as a model.
If it’s not working, don’t sweat it, because the important thing is variety. “Yes, continue to do the tummy time,” she says, “but I like to not hyper-focus on tummy time because babies need to spend time in all positions.”
When should I worry about developmental milestones?
Spotting any delays early can help with early correction or support. And also, go easy on yourself.
“The dates on the milestones can be kind of anxiety-provoking sometimes,” says Roberts. She suggests instead stepping back, reading through the milestones to get a general sense of what they are, and then evaluating where your baby is over time. Developmental milestones are averages, and each baby is unique.
Roberts says one example of a sign of an early developmental delay might be something like torticollis, which is a muscular issue that causes a baby’s head to tilt to one side. This can make things more challenging for other movements for the baby that involve balance, like rolling or sitting. Other milestones to look out for can include the baby reaching for objects, being able to use both hands, and extending the arches of hands.
“It doesn't have to be exactly on the timeframe that is suggested,” Roberts says. “Just take a full kind of picture of what should be happening and see: Is your baby still progressing? Or have they stalled?”
Your child’s pediatrician should also be evaluating these developmental milestones in your baby’s regular checkups. If you’re ever curious about something your baby is doing, you can also always reach out to your pediatrician and ask.
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