When you think about exercise, you probably don’t think much about exercising your baby, but infants can benefit from fun, simple exercises that help them develop the strength and skills they need to thrive.
There are three main benefits of baby exercises:
- Exercise builds muscular strength needed to hold up the head and to begin sitting, crawling and eventually walking.
- It develops gross and fine motor skills for activities like rolling over, sitting, picking up small objects and grasping eating utensils.
- It strengthens bonds between baby and family members. Moms and dads can exercise with baby for family fitness time.
Needless to say, babies don’t need a ton of exercise. Just a few minutes a couple of times a day as a natural part of playtime is enough to give your little one a head start. Exercising along with your baby also has its benefits. We all know how hard it can be hard to squeeze in time for an hour of Pilates as a new parent, but working with your baby’s active time, you can also enjoy the stress relieving benefits of exercise together!
Here are some of our favorite physical activities for infants 0-12 months old and yourself that you can share!
Infants spend a lot of time on their backs so tummy time can help develop underused muscles for even growth. When your baby is on her tummy, she will instinctively want to raise her head. This helps build strong muscles in the neck and shoulders that are necessary for sitting and standing upright. When you think of it from a design perspective, as adults our smaller, narrower necks must be quite strong from balancing such heavy and disproportionately large heads up all day!
Tummy time isn’t a marathon. Start with just a few minutes daily and gradually increase the time to at least 10 minutes per day as your baby’s strength grows. You should always supervise your infant during tummy exercises.
There are some great exercises and strength building poses that parents can do during baby’s tummy time, such as planking, cobra pose, or locust pose. The best thing about doing these exercises on the floor face to face with your baby is that they will see you modeling healthy behavior and as they grow, they’ll begin to mimic your poses and exercises to gain the benefits too!
Another good way to bond with your baby during this exercise is to place them on top of your legs. They get to enjoy their exercise while looking directly at mommy or daddy, and parents get a good lower leg strength workout!
This relaxing yoga pose comes naturally to your baby over time and it feels great for adults too. With baby on his back, gently help him grasp his toes. Bring baby’s knees towards his tummy. Accompany this with some gentle rocking. If your baby is too young to grasp his or her feet, you can gently hold the baby’s feet and help them in this pose.
Happy Baby helps with hip flexibility, relaxing the spine and can be helpful in relieving gas or indigestion, which may burst your zen moment, but baby will feel better! For parents with limited flexibility, this pose can be modified by using a stretch band or strip of fabric around the bottom of the feet. This is a calming pose that can help soothe the mind before sleep.
No one is saying your baby needs to do crunches, but some gentle sitting exercises will help your infant build core and upper body strength needed for sitting, crawling and walking later. This is a fun exercise all family members can participate in. Place the baby on a blanket, on their backs. Making sure the blanket is supporting your baby’s delicate neck, grasp both sides of the blanket and slowly lift your baby into a sitting position. Gently return them to a lying down position. Surprising baby with silly faces and baby talk is a surefire way to get lots of those wonderful baby gurgles and smiles! Mom, dad, grandparents and even supervised older siblings can use this exercise to bond and play with baby. If only our own sit-ups were that fun and easy!
Downward Facing Dog
This restorative pose is great for adults and babies, although you’ll need to wait until your baby is crawling, typically somewhere between 6-10 months. A stretching and strength pose, adults will want to hold this pose for 1-3 minutes. You can involve your baby by modeling this pose and turning it into a game. Your baby will love hanging out upside down with you, playing peek-a-boo or making faces at each other! Downward Facing Dog is good for digestion, strengthens the arms and legs and stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, feet and hands. Child’s Pose is a natural next step after this one, which is another simple stretching and resting pose that both parents and baby can enjoy.
Just remember to take it easy when exercising with your baby. Keep sessions short and stop when baby is unhappy or tired. Turning a little bit of your daily playtime with your baby into fun, healthy exercise will bring you both the benefits of strength, balance, coordination and improved mental health!