When To Start Baby Gymnastics
Baby gymnastics starts before birth! Babies are incredibly mobile in the womb and love to continue moving and wiggling around after being born. Putting babies in different positions strengthens and stretches their bodies, creating a foundation for a physically healthy child. The utilization of gymnastics toys can enhance the fun and learning of activities for babies.
Beginning baby gymnastics activities within days (or hours!) of being born can help them adjust to their new world. My babe that was born breech was pretty stiff in his hips. Our midwife recommended we take him to the pediatrician.
I gently rotated and stretched his legs periodically. When I did take him in, she actually did the same rotations I had done, determining the hip joint was fine and advised to continue as I had been.
Even without being breech, newborns are normally in a fairly flexed position. Their hips, knees, elbows, hands, and feet tend to curl in. By moving them around, without force at all, it helps acclimate them to their new world. It also stretches out those muscles that haven’t gotten to yet. Try some of the stretches below during diaper changes or while talking and singing to your little one.
There are several baby and toddler gymnastics activities you can do at home that are fun and beneficial for a squishy little body!
Most infants were upside down in the womb before being born, yet parents are often scared to put their newborns in the position. Helping babies into an upside-down position helps drain their sinuses. It is also recommended by chiropractors as an easy spinal adjustment!
For an infant, start with your baby laying in front of you on the floor. Their head should be close to, or touching your knees. Firmly grasp their thighs and lift them up slowly. Watch their face and try even bringing them up for a kiss! If they like that you can do the same with their ankles (yes – it is perfectly safe to hang them from their ankles!).
Another upside down variation is to start with their feet close to you instead of their head. Now when you lift them they will face away from you, giving them a fun perspective of their environment. It’s easier if you have a heavier or older babe!
Helping stretch a baby by gently moving body parts out of their normal range of motion can improve flexibility and comfort.
You can stretch your little one’s legs when they are laying on their back in front of you or on your lap. Keep their legs straight (grasp them at their knee) and bring their leg up to chest for a hamstring stretch. Do one at a time for the best stretch. Bring their legs apart into a straddle to get those inner thighs.
Rotating their legs around can help their hip joint, which has been flexed so long in the womb!
To stretch your baby’s upper body, lay them down or sit them in your lap. Bring their arms up, down, forward, and back, and rotate them by the shoulders. Doing the arms one at a time can help pinpoint any areas that may be stiff.
You can also rotate the baby’s upper torso for more stretching and spinal twisting.
Practicing fine and gross motor skills with babies are a fun way to interact while setting up a solid foundation for them to progress on their own. Baby exercises increase strength, awareness, and coordination to help them move through milestones.
Get down on the floor with your infant! Encourage them to reach for objects, or if they are scooting or crawling, play chase with them, or “race” to a toy. Play music or sing interactive songs and watch them move – they don’t need to be mobile to “dance”!
You can also carry your baby in dynamic ways to increase muscle tone. Hold them face-out with their feet on your hips or abdomen. Hold their hips and they will hold their entire upper body up for you. You can also carry them by your side, a la “sack of potatoes” with their face down. They will hold their heads and legs up, using their back strength.
Rotating different angles can really help an infant develop proprioception. Rotating helps the lymphatic system and can help clear sinus cavities. It’s also a lot of fun!
Do partner log rolls for horizontal rotation. You can hold them and spin (carefully!) for vertical rotation. Rotating over and upside down is another good rotating exercise. Hold baby facing out with your arm around his/her abdomen. Put your other hand on the back of baby’s head and slowly roll them over to their back.
I also like using my legs for rotating my kids, starting when they are sitting. Lay down on your back with shins in the air. Put baby on your shins facing up, gripping under their arms. Lift your shins so that your baby goes upside down and backward over your head to land, sitting, in back of you.
Newborns are born with a grip reflex that is lost just a few months after birth. Continuing to encourage babies to grasp items will keep the grip strength, helping them to hang safely, which is a fundamental skill for humans.
For an early grasping exercise, hold a smooth stick (musical sticks work well) in front of your baby laying on their backs. If they grab it, cover your hands gently over theirs and lift very slowly so their upper body comes off the ground. Stop if it feels their shoulders are not tight or their grip loosens. Eventually, they may be able to come all the way up to standing.
You can also practice with our little one on a bar. Hold them so the bar is in front of them to get their interest. Hold one hand under their arm and the other on their hip. You can play peek-a-boo taking them above and below the bar. If they are holding on to it you can slowly bring them down into a hang, still holding on.
Around walking age, children can handle more activities on their own, even performing gymnastics skills. Toddlers love to mimic you, especially in fun activities like jumping, running, and other gross motor activities. This is a great age to keep up with their natural flexibility from infancy and develop more strength and coordination to help them through all of their childhood adventures!
For more specific baby gymnastics and toddler gymnastics skills, check out my post on 3 Toddler gymnastics skills you can try at home!
Read more about gymnastics for kids if you have very a very mobile toddler.