I’ve recently been getting a lot of questions about something babies do called “swimming”… And it has nothing to do with swimming in water. 🙂
Some refer to it as “flying,” but in many books you’ll find the term “swimming” used quite often.
What does ‘swimming’ look like?
Your child is developing perfectly; you couldn’t ask for better. By three months of age your child is propping up on the forearm, you’re making perfect eye contact, your baby’s hands join in the midline of the body and end up in the mouth, your baby’s feet are raised and kicking…
You are thrilled to see your child improving these skills each day. You were told how important it is for babies to push up on their arms, so you try to make sure your child does this often.
And then suddenly the day comes when your baby starts to behave differently. When lying on the back, your baby lifts up his or her legs, then puts them down in such a way that the feet rest on the ground and the bum goes up, sometimes quite high. The baby seems to tense up.
What’s more, you might notice that during tummy time your child doesn’t prop up on the forearms, but arches his or her back, lifts bent arms away from the floor, while the legs stiffen.
Of course, this alarms you. You have read many times that stiff legs are one of the symptoms of cerebral palsy. Your heart starts racing and you feel like you’re just one step away from having a heart attack…
In truth, this is a normal stage of child motor development. It takes place because it gives your baby the chance to experience straightening at a time when flexing is still so dominant. In the future when the baby makes his or her first attempts to get up, this stage will turn out to have been very useful so it’s good to start training now. 🙂 Have I mentioned already how smart children are and how they know what is best for them? 🙂
WHEN DOES “SWIMMING” START?
For the most part, “swimming” starts at around five months. You have to keep in mind that each child develops differently. There are so-called “developmental windows,” meaning time intervals during which a given skill or milestone should appear, though variances of up to six weeks are also possible.
WHAT SHOULD PROPER “SWIMMING” LOOK LIKE?
In a proper “swimming” position the child lifts his or her head up high, the back is arched, legs are straight at the knees and hips, toes are pointed and stiff, and arms are lifted with hands just in front of the shoulders.
WHAT IS “SWIMMING” FOR?
It’s a great position for playtime. Babies can rock back and forth and side-to-side. This is how they work on their sense of balance. It also teaches them how to support themselves in case of a fall, which will come in handy. Babies learn to move their center of gravity lower into the hip area. Straight hips get the baby ready for walking (while walking, the rearmost leg is straight in the hip area). In addition, the pelvic area gets stronger while the glute muscles activate and ensure pelvic stability. A stable pelvis is essential for proper development of the body and for future flawless posture. 😉
Moreover, thanks to “swimming” your baby gets ready for propping. A natural consequence of “swimming” is symmetrical propping on straight arms (or forearms). Around month six, babies should be able to support themselves on straight arms.
HOW DO I DISTINGUISH “SWIMMING” FROM A REAL PROBLEM?
OK, but how can we tell the difference between something that is part of proper developmental vs. abnormal tensing up or pulling back of the arms during tummy time? Such problems can happen.
At first, this might be hard for parents, but keep in mind that you only have a real problem when babies truly are unable to support themselves on their arms. Such babies keep their arms pulled back and do not “push up” from the floor. In addition, when on their back they do not reach out for toys, they don’t grab their knees, and they don’t look at and play with their feet at the same time.
Of course, when in doubt you should consult a pediatric physical therapist. However, proper “swimming” should not make you anxious. It is a very important stage in your child’s development.
Phew! You can breathe a sigh of relief. 😉
You may also be interested in:
Swimming! Rolling! Rotating! Kneeling! Just being silly! There is so much fun you can have with your baby that helps them develop at each stage. Check out my ideas for playtime from birth to first steps in the following e-book:
E-book: A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR THE MOST FUN PLAYTIME WITH YOUR CHILD