Updated: Nov 19, 2020
No two babies are exactly the same. Each grows at their own pace and in their own way but one thing is consistently true of every infant, variety is the spice that promotes well-balanced development.
In the age of contraptions- car seats, swings, bouncers- babies are spending more time than ever confined and restricted from movement. You may have had a busy day running errands with your infant but if he spent his day in the car seat, his position never changed. And if he was moved from the car seat to a swing or bouncer once you get home, again he is still in the same position. Spending a disproportionate amount of time in one position can hinder the development of strength and mobility ultimately slowing your baby down from meeting milestones. It can also lead to flat spots on the head and shortened neck muscles, balance issues and decreased tolerance to being handled just to name a few issues that can arise.
Over the years, one of the most common questions I've been asked is "how much tummy time?" The answer is simple "equal to the amount of time spent on the back." If the baby sleeps for 8 hours on her back at night, try to get that much tummy time throughout the day along with being on her sides, upright and being carried around in your arms. A variety of positions will help to develop all of the systems of the body including strength and endurance, vision, balance and coordination. Changing the baby's position when you put her down, sometimes laying on the back, sometimes on the belly and sometimes on the side will promote a rounded head appearance and give optimal opportunity to gain strength and progress with milestones. I regularly encourage parents to avoid placing their baby in the car seat for long periods. Car seats should only be used in the car. If you go on a long car trip, get the baby out at rest stops and give her back a break!
Sure, we all have to live so putting your baby in a swing to soothe or in an exersaucer for a bit while you cook is fine for short periods but to promote mobility, the best place for baby is having free time to play on the floor or in a pac-n-play just exploring the environment. Changing the position you put him in regularly will give him new experiences, develop his balance and coordination not to mention spark his curiosity. If he doesn't want to be in one position, he will have to figure out how to get in another by rolling over or scooting around. Often parents will exclusively place their baby in sitting once he learns to sit which can slow or stop the developmental process because he is no longer being placed laying down where he can move. Functionally speaking, being on the stomach is the best position to be in because from there a baby can reach, pivot, scoot and learn to crawl. I encourage parents to continue changing it up even when baby can sit independently to keep the process moving forward. If he is laying down and wants to sit up, he has to figure out how to get there.
The simple act of carrying a baby around on your hip will challenge her strength as she holds onto you, her balance as she moves when you move and her vision as she views different environments. The physical closeness she experiences while being held has a host of benefits as well! Need both hands? Consider a wrap or baby carrier which will keep baby close and still give the benefits of movement. Honestly, there is no such thing as too much opportunity for development so start when they are infants and keep it up until they are exploring on their own. Variety really is the spice!