“Weak tummy” is probably one of the most frequent phrases heard by parents whose children undergo physical therapy. Indeed — the stomach muscles have a very important function and without them (or rather without their coordinated work) the process of child development would be hindered.
Of course, a baby’s posture depends on more than just the stomach muscles. Basically, the whole torso is responsible. Only when the surface and deep muscles COOPERATE properly, can they provide optimal conditions for child development (once again — it’s not just about their strength, or so-called “quantity”of this cooperation, but above all, it’s about its “quality”).
You may not always be aware of this, but very often, when you deal with abnormalities of muscle tension, the main issue (both in reduced or increased muscle tension) is usually a weak torso.
STOMACH MUSCLES ARE IMPORTANT
Of course 😉 If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be there. 😉 But, in newborns these muscles are very weak (we can even notice their divergence in the form of a bulging cone running up and down along the baby’s belly button. It usually goes away with time, but in some cases, it may require our special attention).
The tummy of a newborn does not provide stability. That’s why babies’ movements are chaotic and engage the whole body. With time, the nervous system develops and the distribution of muscle tension in the body changes, the torso stabilizes and provides a solid core for making isolated movements of the arms and legs. You can see it very well when you compare a newborn with a 3- or 4-month-old baby. The difference is HUGE.
Stomach muscles are used for virtually every activity, but one of their most important functions is to control the position of the hips. The position of the hips has an impact on the whole body. 😀
The stomach muscles are vital for babies in reaching for their thighs, knees, and feet, as well as, for rolling, crawling, pivoting, playing on their side, sitting, walking, and… grabbing toys. 😉 To sum up, they are always useful.😉
HOW DO BABIES AVOID USING THEIR STOMACH MUSCLES?
When the stomach muscles are weak, babies may use all sorts of compensation mechanisms to achieve their goals. For example, when 5- or 6-month-old babies play with their feet and want to put their toes in their mouths, they can do it ACTIVELY — by lifting up their bum, or… LAZILY — by spreading their legs and pulling them to the mouth, with the bum left down.
And while it may be a temporary solution because the short-term goal is achieved, it will never work in the long run. In the future, the child may develop problems with posture, proper rotations, or being on all fours. He or she may also walk with a protruding belly, an arched back, or knock-kneed… In a word, the more you get into it, the more complicated it becomes…
So… of course! A child can get by with weak stomach muscles, but it simply doesn’t pay off in the long run. 😉 Keep in mind that children grow and build their activity based on previous experience, so it’s good to include tummy-time exercises in your daily routine 😀.
If you notice your baby’s bum rising up (when lying on the back), that means the child is ACTIVATING his or her stomach muscles. 😉
AT WHAT AGE SHOULD WE SEE BABIES WITH ACTIVATED STOMACH MUSCLES?
Active stomach muscles can usually be seen from the end of the 3rd or the first half of the 4th month of life. Playtime activities encouraging your baby to be more active are as follows:
- ACTIVITY No. 1 Show a Toy at Belly Button Level
Lay your child on a medium-hard surface (carpet, blanket, or mat) and show them a toy at the belly button level.
Why not at the chest level? Because we want the baby to reach towards their knees and feet in the future. We want them to be able to keep their eyes on the toy and their feet raised up (at the age of 6 months, the child develops the ability to grasp objects with their feet, so if the toy is at the belly button level, they may feel more encouraged to do so😉)
- ACTIVITY NO. 2 Put a Light Weight Large Toy on Your Baby’s Belly
While on the back, show the baby a large toy, like a ball or a roller – something lightweight. We can put it gently on the baby’s tummy — giving the baby information to stabilize the torso 😉
We want the child to reach forward and try to embrace the toy (this helps to improve the stability of the shoulders and is beneficial for children who tend to clench their fists too much because, to hold a large object, they have to open up their palms. 😉) Placing a lightweight ball on the baby’s tummy should also encourage them to lift the legs up, and thus increase the activity of the stomach muscles.
- ACTIVITY NO. 3 Gentle Patting of the Tummy with Your Fingertips
This is something for slightly older children able to get on all fours. While holding the baby on the sides of their torso, gently pat their tummy with your fingertips 😀 This will help babies improve the position of their hips and gain better control of their body (the point is to keep the child’s back straight, so that there isn’t any arching).
If Your Child Still Has Trouble… 😉
Sometimes it seems that we try in vain… And yes, it may happen that, despite numerous attempts, the child still has difficulty lifting the legs and activating the stomach muscles.
What would I do in such a situation? Before nervously pulling my hair out, I would look at my own actions (How do I handle my baby on a daily basis?). First, I would look at how I pick up, carry, and roll the child over. Am I doing anything that would discourage the child from using his or her stomach muscles? Second, I would check the products that I use with my baby on a daily basis. Does my baby use a bouncer or any other equipment that could possibly make their torso a little lazy? (it’s worth checking out: BABY BOUNCER – how to tell if it’s not doing any harm).
Some children just need time, while others need our guidance. Of course, appropriate physical exercises can only be prescribed by somebody who examines the baby in person, but if you want to try physical exercises with your baby at home, you may find these helpful:
– place your hand across the baby’s tummy
Your touch will tell the child where the muscles should activate 😀
But take care! Your hand must rest on the baby’s belly button for a long moment. A quick touch may not draw the child’s attention to the belly. Constant and firm stimulus is best. 😉
– place a (fairly small) pillow or folded blanket under the child’s bum
This will cause the child’s bum to be slightly raised and rounded, making the child able to see their legs. And when the child sees them… there’s a good chance that the legs will draw interest 😉
This position is great because the baby’s chin moves closer to the chest, the bum is raised, and the child can see their legs. Just make sure the child’s torso is straight and the hips and shoulders are aligned with each other.
For a 4-, 5-, and 6-month-old child, it is VERY IMPORTANT to have activated stomach muscles — the baby should reach towards his or her thighs, knees, and feet (to play with them) and KEEP THE EYES focused on the feet.
– it’s not the quantity that counts, but the QUALITY of the activity,
– the slower the movement, the more demanding it is! That’s why, if you want your child to have active stomach muscles as you pick them up, put them down, or roll them over, you should do it very slowly. Keep in mind that lifting, carrying, and putting down should always be done in a safe, baby-friendly way,
– your baby will not always want to exercise — sometimes it’s better to wait for the right moment when your baby is in a good mood to play, than to lose your nerves trying to make a hungry, half-asleep, or uninterested child enjoy playtime 😉
You may also be interested in:
These were only three simple tummy-strengthening activities that you can easily do at home. But… That’s not the end of it. 🤩 The ways of encouraging your baby to be more active are endless – and all spelled out for you in my e-book. Try them out! I do them constantly with my children and we always have the best time! 🥳🥳🥳
E-book: A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR THE MOST FUN PLAYTIME WITH YOUR CHILD