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From Surviving to Thriving – Making the Most of Month 3 to 4

By Cozette Laubser |

For so many families the first 12 weeks are really tough. For our family, who recently welcomed a second baby boy into the world, it was no different. Despite a homebirth, skin-to-skin contact and exclusively being breastfed our little man had enormous tummy discomforts. A struggling tiny human often does better upright in the loving arms of a parent and this is where he spent many hours a day and night.

While my biceps and trapezius muscles were bulking up just fine from all the bobbing and jiggling, I was well aware that this big boy was gaining weight at a very healthy rate but not spending adequate time on the floor to build the muscle tone to keep up with his growing size. As a BabyGym Instructor I also knew how this could impact his ability to move and reach the all-important motor milestones.

Thankfully, the time arrived where he was crying less and laughing more and I knew we needed to grab our chance – the time had come to transition from surviving to thriving!

A developing brain and nervous system is evident when a baby reaches each motor milestone in sequence. At the BabyGym Institute motor milestones are viewed as beacons, that indicate progress – Dr Melodie de Jager

This article aims to share development basics, information and practical pointers with those who had a similar start. Keep heart, you’ll find below it really is the little things that make a big difference.

DEVELOPMENT BASICS

Most parents know massage and tummy time are important. I find however, that parents are not told, that these activities become a lot more challenging (perhaps it is more appropriate to say impossible!) once baby becomes mobile. The first motor (muscle) milestone a baby reaches is the rolling milestone. This happens at roughly four months of age. Thus, for the family who had a rough start, optimising month 3-4 is crucially important!

 Activate the different muscle groups from top to bottom (cephalo-caudal) and from inside out (proximo-distal) – Dr Melodie de Jager

If you attended BabyGym 2 Firm Foundations with your little one, you will have a great understanding of how to awaken all the senses and strengthen all the muscles in sequence. For the purposes of this article, I am keeping things really simple and attainable, and will be focusing on the absolute basics.

4 MAIN FOCUS AREAS

  • Head control
  • Strong core
  • Supple shoulders and arms
  • Open hands

Strong muscles fight the pull of gravity and help the baby to develop – Dr Melodie de Jager

Good news or bad news first? The good news is… all four areas are significantly developed with massage and tummy time alone. The bad news is… many parents find exactly these two activities the most challenging to master. They are tough at first, no doubt, but they offer your baby a fantastic starting place to move forward from, and reach all future milestones on time and in sequence.

WHY MASSAGE AND TUMMY TIME

The best way to plug muscles firmly into the brain is through massage and movement – Dr Melodie de Jager

Dr Melodie de Jager goes on to say:

  • Supportive or firm touch is calming to baby, it reaffirms that he or she is not alone. Compare the cramped space in utero to the vast space outside mom’s body and it is easy to understand how baby easily feels abandoned or alone without touch.
  • Firm loving touch or massage helps baby to create a body map in the brain, because the brain can only use-, move and develop, what the brain is aware of. Through massage the brain learns what the body looks like, and the more accurate the body map, the better the brain and body develops.
  • Massage leads to a state of relaxed alertness – the optimal state to adapt to life outside the womb. Being relaxed and aware is the ideal circumstances for the nervous system to mature so a baby is not overwhelmed and hyperactive nor switched off, floppy and passive.

A word of caution: Babies who have experienced ongoing pain and discomfort are apt at tensing their muscles. Be forewarned, they will not like their arms, shoulders and neck muscles massaged. But they desperately need it. Work slowly and gently and purposefully stretch the arms wide open. Similarly, the hands can do with frequent opening and stretching.

A closed hand is a resting hand. An open hand is a learning hand – Dr Melodie de Jager

What is tummy time? Placing a baby on the stomach while awake and supervised.

MASSAGE POINTERS

  • Massage should be done slowly, with as big a part of the hand as possible, to unfold each of baby’s body parts.
  • Keep eye contact with baby at all times.
  • If working gently irritates baby, work with firmer movements to overcome tactile defensive reactions.
  • Join a BabyGym 2 Firm Foundations class to learn a fantastic massage routine. Find an Instructor near you.

Did you know, a newborn’s head accounts for about ¼ of baby’s entire body weight and lifting the head is an intense core workout? No wonder tummy time is such hard work, baby’s head is heavy!

Dr Melodie de Jager says, “Once born, gravity gives baby a sense of security when he is lying down, pretty much like when mom lies down to feel better when she is dizzy with an ear infection or early morning nausea, but baby was not born to only lie down, baby was born to develop. To develop, baby needs to fight the pull of gravity to gain muscle tone and a sense of direction. Baby also needs to hold his head up, move from lying down to rolling over, to sitting, to crawling, to pulling up and finally, walking.” (de Jager, 2011)

HOW TO INTRODUCE TUMMY TIME

Dr Scott Cohen says, “I usually recommend starting to offer tummy time at least once per day”. He suggests leaving baby on the tummy as long as baby accepts it, whether that’s 15 seconds or 15 minutes. Similarly, registered nurse, Beth M. Lovinelli recommends approximately 30 minutes of tummy time a day, either all at once or broken up into short segments ranging from a few minutes to longer intervals.

TUMMY TIME POINTERS

  • When the going gets rough keep it short but repeat it often.
  • Make nappy changing times synonymous with tummy time. After every change, turn baby onto the tummy.
  • A mirror positioned in front of baby provides distraction and entertainment. Make sure the frame of the mirror does not get in baby’s way.
  • Dress baby with movement in mind. Winter wear is often oversized and bulky, this can make it tricky to get the hands into a comfortable position to support the upper body.
  • Celebrate every effort, even if it lasts for only seconds. It’s an improvement!

Tummy time is most beneficial on the floor. There are however numerous ways to strengthen the neck and core without being on the floor. Think outside the box!

 

The move below works great for a baby who has mastered head control, but whose arms still flop out. You might need to repeat it a few times, it doesn’t matter. Baby will get the hang of it soon enough!

 

 

SETTING UP

 Although you won’t find equipment or product suggestions in any BabyGym resource, I would like to mention how setting up areas for play and development can help the entire family to move to the floor. In our home we used two separate areas. I have named them The Massage Zone and The Play Zone.

We encountered month 3 – 4 during June which was exceptionally cold in Johannesburg, so we had two separate areas simply for the purpose of having one close to a heater. You could have both zones in one area.

These zones should preferably be areas which are ready for use day and night, no daily setup or tidying up afterwards required. The less fuss, the more likely parent and baby will be spending time on the floor – the more baby will play and build strength. These areas should also ideally be in your communal area like the lounge, this way there is a constant reminder, “HELLO, IT’S FLOOR TIME!”.

For The Massage Zone, we used:

  • A large mirror
  • large mattress like the one in a camping cot
  • Wall panel heater
  • Ointment
  • Light, warm blanket

One of the biggest challenges with undressing and massaging a young baby is temperature control, some instantly start shivering. Make sure the room is warm enough to keep baby comfortable while being undressed. Avoid a heater that will cause a sudden temperature change or blow onto baby.

For The Floor Zone, we used:

  • Large cushion or blanket. Not too thick but soft enough to make time spent on the floor comfortable, especially when baby’s muscles tire during tummy time, and the heavy head drops down to the floor. If there are older siblings, you can also call this item Baby’s Safe Zone, or The Go-Slow Zone. Whether the blanket or cushion is always in one place, or moved from lounge to porch to grass, this is where all tread carefully.
  • A play-gym, mobile or something interesting baby can look at. This should be the right height to interest baby when on the back and on the tummy – in time, something baby would like to reach out to, and grab hold of.

 

Once baby has mastered head control, you are ready for the BabyGym Medley. Have fun with it!

 

IN CONCLUSION

Month three to four is a magical time. Baby’s senses have now adjusted to life outside the womb and baby is getting eager to move and explore. With a well developed body map and relaxed but strong muscles, the tricky yet exciting rolling milestone is now winking in the not too distant future.

Developing your baby should be fun, not stressful. Remember – keep it simple, involve the entire family, and lastly – slow and steady wins the race.

 

de Jager, M. 2017. Play Learn Grow. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute Publishing.

de Jager, M. 2019. Brain development, milestones and learning. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute Publishing.

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