Baby Bodybuilding Part 1: The Development of Gross Motor Skills

You probably love the tender, softness of your marshmellowy baby.  She’s undeniably hard to resist.  However, muscle development is an essential part of reaching physical milestones.  Babies are born with no muscle strength or control but they develop these vital skills over time.  The major muscle coordinating activities are known as gross motor skills and your pediatrician will be looking out for them at each checkup during your baby’s first few years.  Today we’re discussing the importance of helping your baby develop muscles to perform gross motor skills.

Baby Bodybuilding Part 1:  The Development of Gross Motor SkillsAt birth, babies can only rely on reflexes, like that of suckling and swallowing during breastfeeding.  During the first few months of life, babies are strong enough to hold up their own heads using neck strength, and follow objects with their eyes, which require optical muscle coordination.  From there, babies start to gain more control over their arms and legs that were once flailing without rhyme or reason.  They can reach for objects, begin putting food (and other objects) in their mouth and kick things intentionally with their feet.  They begin to roll over from their stomach to their back and eventually from their back to their stomach again.

Around the midpoint of the first year, babies begin working on advanced skills such as sitting upright, slithering, crawling, baring weight on their legs and pulling up on objects.  Usually around the first year – although sometimes earlier and sometimes later – babies’ muscles are strong enough to start walking.  Most start off teetering or toddling, hence the name toddler.  But in no time, your budding walker will surely be sprinting around faster than you can keep up with her.

While these gross motor skills develop differently for each child, there are developmental milestones set forth as guidelines to ensure your baby is on target.  If your baby is not meeting milestones, you should talk to your pediatrician.  You may just have a late bloomer or these may be signs of developmental problems.

A somewhat common issue is hypotonia, which is simply low muscle tone.  Babies with hypotonia may feel limp or floppy, sort of like a rag doll.  This type of muscle weakness can cause delayed gross motor skills and lack of coordination.  Usually children grow out of hypotonia however they may always lag behind in physical activities.  Some parents opt for physical therapy to help babies and young children strengthen their muscles.  This still may not make them a star athlete but it can help them gain some skills to keep up with their peers.  More severe, long-term hypotonia may be related to serious conditions such as muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs, cerebral palsy, Prader-Willi syndrome or other genetic disorders.  Major concerns should be addressed with your pediatrician immediately.

The best thing you can do to help strengthen your baby’s muscles is to give her every opportunity to use them in ways that are age appropriate.  Later this week we’ll be sharing some activities and baby “bodybuilding exercises” you can do with your baby.  Don’t worry, your baby won’t break a sweat or need a protein shake afterwards…well, except for maybe that great protein-packed breast milk you provide.

Stay tuned for more on how to help your baby develop those much-needed muscles and gross motor skills.