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From one mom to another: Early Intervention tips

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

Having a newborn baby can be just as equally thrilling as it can be equally exhausting. Adjusting back to home life can be overwhelming at times as you are healing and beginning to learn all about your new bundle of joy. Understanding that all newborn babies are very different from each other, here are five tips that I found helpful as both a new mom and pediatric occupational therapist:

  1. First and foremost remember to breathe and smile. This time of your life is both wonderful and stressful. Deep breathing has been proven to be very beneficial. The many benefits include a reduction in stress and blood pressure. Deep breathing releases natural “free-good” hormones in our body. Learning a few techniques and tuning into your body for just a few moments can help. If you can force a smile on your face. A smile can be enough sometimes to turn any situation into something to find humor within.

    will2
    Try calming breaths while giving your infant a massage.
  2. Use your tribe and forget as much as possible about modesty. Your tribe, or your support team, doesn’t care what you look like or that you haven’t showered in several days. They love you for who you are and not anything else. Those first weeks can be challenging, especially if you have a children with medical needs. Let them help so you can a little rest to keep yourself going strong.
  3. Talk to yourself. It might feel funny at first but it can help. It doesn’t matter what you say. I often find myself talking about anything and everything- the plan for the day, what is happening right now, about my son’s family, etc. The added benefit of talking to yourself is your child also gets to hear your voice.
  4. Try to develop routines early. It’s really hard the first weeks adjusting and even thinking about routines. I’m not even sure most newborns have routines aside from eat, sleep, and diaper changes; however, if you can try to establish some routines it will help your sanity and also help your newborn develop. For my little one, we try to follow a little routine of eat, quiet alert/play if he stays awake, and sleep. I try to use similar songs and even sing the same song over and over when he is trying to sleep. You can even plan to take a stroller walk around the block the same time every day. Having routines help signal to our bodies a sense of calmness and can provide a little bit of organization when things are crazy.
  5. baby sleeping on white cotton
    Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

    Sensory strategies can be your best friend. Some ideas include the use of auditory input such as white noise, talking softly, or singing, movement and swings, and deep pressure or swaddling. It was crazy what a little bit of white noise did for my son. It was enough to calm and quiet him. Now I use it at bedtime to help him get back into a deeper sleep. I use one with a timer so it doesn’t run continuously. I also talk a lot to my son. It was amazing how fast he learned to recognize my voice and respond to a calm voice, if he wasn’t too upset. I was never someone who spoke aloud but now I found myself telling him all kinds of things. I think the soft melody of my voice must have some calming property for him. Also deep pressure and movement can help a newborn in those early months. When a newborn enters this world they are in a position called physiological flexion which they slowly work out of over the next month or two. Swaddling provides physical boundaries much like the womb which allows your child to feel secure. When they wiggle within the swaddle believe it or not they are learning very early about where their body is in relation to this great big world they entered. Along with swaddling you can also try massage. Infant massage has shown to be a wonderful bonding time for newborns are their parents. Movement is the next sensory strategy. I was very lucky my son loved his swing from the very beginning. I don’t know if this had anything to do with how much I moved around on my job, but back and forth movement is one of the best ways to help calm a child. Rocking chairs and swings can be your best friend.

If you find this newborn phase to be very difficult or think you child may not be reaching his/her milestones, talk with your pediatrician and schedule an evaluation. Many parents find physical, speech, occupational or nutritional therapy for short or long periods provide much needed support and growth for their infants. Learn more at eastersealsdfvr.org. 

 

 

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Yes!  We Want Your Baby to Crawl! 

By: Bridget Hobbs, PT, DPT

During a physical therapy evaluation when I ask parents about their child’s milestones, I sometimes hear a response like “my child didn’t like their tummy so they went straight to walking.” Parents are often so thrilled that their child skipped the crawling milestone (Less babyproofing!  Cleaner hands!)   However, as a pediatric physical therapist I see on a daily basis what an impact crawling and creeping  has on developmental skills later in life. Crawling is also known as army crawling, when tummy is on the ground. Creeping, in the world of development, is when babies’ abdomen is off the ground and they are going places on hands and knees. Crawling and creeping are such important developmental milestones so I want to shed some light on the big benefits of crawling and how you can encourage your little one to do so

Because of the back to sleep program, which started in the early 1990’s, babies are not on their tummies as much. The back to sleep program has done an excellent job at reducing SIDS, but unfortunately, many children get plagiocephaly (flat heads) and torticollis (tight necks) from not spending enough play time on their tummy.  Without enough tummy time early on, another consequence is that babies can also sometimes go straight to walking without spending time exploring their environment on their hands and knees.

Babies who crawl and creep tend to have improved coordination, improved ability to read and write, improved muscle strength and better speech production when compared to their non-crawling peers. Crawling and creeping puts weight through the hands, arms and shoulders, which provides important strengthening. This position helps with grasp and stability and even strengthens the little muscles in the hand, which assists with fine motor tasks such as handwriting, using scissors and buttoning later in life.

Photo from Take Three Photography
Photo from Take Three Photography

Crawling is also a great core strengthener, which helps with balance and provides stability for speech production.  Crawling and creeping provides babies with trunk rotation and repetitive crossing midline, which helps with tasks of using both sides of their bodies that they will need for playground and sports-related activities later in life.  Crawling is also a time when the two hemispheres of the brain are communicating with each other, helping with bilateral coordination.

In order to help your child reach the crawling milestone, make sure they get plenty of tummy time from the start. Even when they are newborns, getting into a routine like 3 minutes of supervised tummy time after every (daytime) diaper change will yield great results.  This will get them on track early on in life to have strong muscles, good balance and to enjoy tummy time.

When your child is a bit older (7 or 8 months), help your child get up onto their hands and knees by giving them some support under their trunk.  This position helps your child gain the muscle strength in their shoulders, core and neck needed for crawling.  You can even gently rock them forward and back in order to give them the input into their hands and vestibular movement they will need for crawling.

Here are some of my favorite toys to get little ones motivated to get moving on their tummies:

playyard

These colorful play yards are a great way to ‘contain’ your baby without strapping her in to anything. Babies are still able to roll and crawl inside of this playard, so Mom can fold laundry knowing baby won’t be getting into Dad’s briefcase.   Bonus: This gate provides a nice barrier between baby and any four-legged furry friends in your home.

playballs

Play balls are so under-rated. This simple toy can provide tons of motivation to get your little one moving. Once your baby is able to sit up independently, roll the ball to them. Your baby will learn how to corral the ball and even will start to roll it back by 8-9 months. This is a great way for babies to work on reaching outside of their base of support and eventually learn how to transition from sitting to their hands and knees in order to crawl.

tunnels

Tunnels can be a great motivator for crawling activities. Place your baby’s favorite toy in the tunnel or play peek-a-boo from the other side.  Your baby may love the different sensory experience that crawling through a tunnel allows as an added benefit.

mirror

I am a huge fan of this tummy time mirror.  Use this right from the start when baby is a newborn to help them to enjoy tummy time.  When your baby is older, they will love touching the crinkly butterfly and spinning the wheel on the ladybug.  This helps with baby being able to learn how to shift her weight right and left in order to reach forward with one hand.  Weight shifting while on their tummy is an important pre-crawling milestone.  Also, babies LOVE to look at themselves.  Need I say more?

Crawling and creeping on hands and knees is an important developmental milestone and will provide the base of muscular strength and coordination your child will need later in life.  Some children do skip crawling and creeping all together,  go straight to walking, and turn out just fine.  However, if you can encourage your little one to crawl, they will gain some important developmental benefits that will assist them with other fine and gross motor activities later in life.  Whether your child is late to achieve milestones, such as crawling, or misses a step all together, it will likely turn out okay.  So, keep celebrating all of those milestones and enjoy every step in your little one’s development.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.