Early Development of Core Muscle Tone in Infants
Wednesday, 28th March 2018
Written By: Katelyn Bentley
Kids OT PTY LTD
The core muscles are in the abdomen, back and pelvis, and are the underlying muscles that contribute to the strengthening of all the muscles of the body. The key to developing and strengthening these muscles begins when you are a baby. Developmental milestones can give us an indication of what a baby is expected to be able to achieve at each age. As baby ages, each milestone builds upon the previous skill laying the foundation for postural control.
Below is a timeline of how babies develop postural control and reach milestones.
With no postural control, motor movements are impossible. Postural control is the foundation upon which other skills are developed and produced. Posture must be stable and ‘switched on’ to allow movements of the extremities such as the arms and legs, enabling the baby to complete complex activities such as looking around, handling objects and moving their body around.
It is essential for a baby to get as much tummy time as possible, as this is where they begin to develop and strengthen their core and postural muscles. When a baby lies on their tummy and lifts their head off the ground as a response to sounds and movements, they are using those muscles to help keep their head up high and developing their neck and back muscles. They are then expected to begin to reach for items, developing their core muscles helps them to use their arms and hands to reach and grasp. The next step of development is beginning to roll from their back to their stomach, using those core and postural muscles to assist. They then need to use those muscles to sit independently and hold their weight and heads against gravity, stabilising those muscles. Next comes crawling, which is another important milestone for children, as it develops all of the muscles around the stomach, neck, back and legs, which are essential for all activities required by children as they grow.
As posture is important for participation in all aspects of life, such as the development of a child’s attention, focus, respiration and extended movement patterns, it is essential to be developed. Posture is also an indicator of an improved life expectancy. As SID’s guidelines also currently state that babies are no longer able to sleep on their tummies, therefore there is much less incidental tummy time.
New parents can take advantage of incidental tummy time ie holding your baby on your forearm when carrying, having your baby rest on your chest rather than in the cot or carrier. As in today’s society mediums of convenience deprives us of core activation from a young age when it matters the most! We tend to carry our children in prams, carriers, capsules, bassinets and cribs, rather than taking advantage of carrying them in our arms or on our hip to support that development of core strength.
To assist your baby and infant in developing and strengthening their core you can do the following:
- Complete activities in tummy time position
- Complete activities in high kneeling
- Crawl on the floor, crawl through tunnels etc
- Complete resistance crawling (pretend you are a train and hold on to the child’s hips to give them resistance whilst they are crawling and you are crawling behind them)
- Bouncing on an exercise ball
- Reach and sit-ups – lie on back on the gym ball. Extend arms to reach toy/object behind and then sit all the way up and throw toy/object to partner in front of the ball. Similar activity can be completed to ‘hi 5’ partner in front of the ball.
- Reach down and collect objects – lie child on stomach on the gym ball. Place object below. Have child roll themselves forward and collect object then lift themselves up and place in a container. Provide support by holding trunk or hips (as required).
- Driving car on gym ball – be seated at top of the ball. Hold object as a steering wheel in the midline (middle of the body). Partner holds ankles and moves the child around. Can adjust speed and incorporate traffic lights in (green – fast, yellow – slow down, red – stop).
It is important to ensure that you make all activities fun and playful, to ensure you get the motivation from the child to complete these strengthening activities.
When completing core exercises, it is crucial that the child is breathing throughout the exercises – to make this fun, get the child to make noises, laugh, count out loud, sing a song, etc.
To further assist your baby in developing these muscles, which are needed for holding their head up in the sitting, lying and standing position, and during movement-based tasks, you can complete the following activities:
- Happy baby: lie flat on back on the ground and place knees to chest; babies putting their feet in their mouth or play with objects; develops the neck muscles. Ensure they get the chin tuck as it is important for eye contact and eye movements
- Tickle monster: lie flat on back on the ground and tickle your baby under the chin and on the feet to ensure they tuck their chin and place their knees towards their chest
Tummy time is HARD! Baby’s let you know that it’s hard, usually by crying or squirming, as they are using those core and postural muscles to help keep them in that position and lift their heavy head off the ground. If your baby is having a difficult time staying on their tummy, place a small wheat bag on the curve of their back to assist with keeping their hips aligned to the floor.
Tummy time is good for establishing the prone extension position, which is a fundamental position for development. It is also important for connecting the eyes, as the baby learns to turn their head from side to side and connect their eye movements whilst visually scanning. It also provides a base for development of shoulder strength which further assists with fine motor skill development.
Activities to make tummy time fun:
- Funny faces: Get face to face with your baby and make funny faces to each other; turning upside down etc
- Completing simple puzzles in the tummy time position
Imagine what it is like for a child who never develops their Postural reflexes for head movement or is delayed. They may not have muscle movement to lift their head to look at the teacher or to move their head back and forth for reading and writing
Once these milestones have been achieved, and the core and postural muscles are beginning to strengthen, they are assisting children with forming foundations for skills such as fine motor skills, feeding, tabletop activities, gross motor skills, attention, concentration, self-care skills such as dressing.
Sharma, A., Cockerill, H., Ōkawa, N., & Sheridan, M. D. (2014). Mary Sheridan’s from birth to five years: children’s developmental progress (Fourth). London: Routledge.
Adolph, K. E., & Franchak, J. M. (2017). The development of motor behavior. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 8(1–2), e1430–n/a. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcs.1430
Red Nose. (2018). Education, brochures download. Retrieved from Red Nose website: https://rednose.com.au/resources/education