From how you swaddle your baby to choosing her footwear, you could be sabotaging her development. Experts share five common parenting mistakes.
Propping your floppy three-month-old up on a couch makes for a cute Instagram shot. But that might change the way her motor skills and posture develop, rehabilitation trainer Poh Ying Bin from Aileron Wellness warns. In the first year of their lives, babies master the skills of lifting their heads, rolling over, sitting up, crawling and standing before they take their first step.
During this critical period, how you handle your little one can affect the way she develops, says Ying Bin, who specialises in the development and movement of the body (otherwise known as developmental kinesiology). “One of the most common mistakes that parents make is to put their babies in passive positions they are not ready for, such as sitting or standing,” he shares.
When parents try to rush it, they can sabotage their little one’s development milestones because she isn’t given the chance to build the muscles necessary to crawl, walk and run.
Here, the experts share five baby-care mistakes and how you should do it right.
1. THE MISTAKE: You keep your newborn swaddled all day and night.
Swaddling helps soothe a fussy, colicky infant, but restricting her movements 24/7 hampers her motor development. “When babies aren’t given the chance to move, their bones, muscles and joint structures cannot develop in a way that helps them to move well later in life,” Ying Bin explains.
TRY THIS: Swaddle your newborn only at bedtime or when she naps. Avoid restricting her movements when she is awake, he advises.
She may not be capable of making any purposeful movements, but that doesn’t mean playtime is out of bounds. Flip your little one around and put her on her belly to play, using toys to entice her to reach out, he says.
2. THE MISTAKE: You sit your little one up when she isn’t ready.
In the natural order of things, a baby who is learning to sit up will attempt “oblique sits” around the age of seven to eight months, Ying Bin shares. She will roll over to her side and prop herself up using her hand. But placing her in a passive sitting position when she is not strong enough to sit on her own may cause her to skip this development stage, he says.
“When your baby is used to being put into a sitting position, she no longer needs to try to get up from lying down,” Ying Bin adds. Plus, if your little one is stuck sitting all the time, she may take longer to nail other critical development milestones like crawling, standing and walking.
TRY THIS: Offer lots of floor time instead. It gives her the freedom to work on her head-lifting, flipping, rolling and coordination until she is ready to sit up on her own.
While in a stroller or car seat, position Baby at a semi-reclined 45-degree angle to avoid overworking her hip joints, he advises.
3. THE MISTAKE: You put her in a walker to help her get the hang of walking.
This does more harm than good. According to Ng Shin Huey, senior physiotherapist at the Rehabilitation Department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the equipment can slow down your little one’s balancing and walking skills. It may also cause abnormal walking patterns which can be hard to correct later on.
Ying Bin adds: “If you look at how babies ‘walk’ when they are in a walker, their legs are actually dangling and they are on their tippy toes. That’s not the ideal movement pattern for walking.”
Even worse, walkers are a safety hazard because they can topple over and cause serious injury.
TRY THIS: Offer plenty of stable support around the house to help Baby learn to pull herself to a standing position. This development milestone usually happens when she’s around nine to 10 months old. Within a few weeks, she may even start cruising (walking sideways by holding onto furniture).
“You don’t need to buy fancy equipment. The things you need to help your baby stand and cruise are readily found in most homes, like a low coffee table, sofa or even a sturdy chest of drawers,” Ying Bin says.
What about push walkers, which she can hold on to for some support while she practises? He feels that while push walkers are a “lesser evil” compared to traditional baby walkers, they are still not the best way to help her take her first step.
“To walk on their own, babies need sufficient strength and coordination to hold their body up and move their legs.
Your baby moves differently when she uses a push walker, as she is supported by her hands,” he explains. He advises using it as a plaything, and only when she can walk steadily.
4. THE MISTAKE: You always place Baby on her back.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics advises placing sleeping babies on their backs to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, your infant still needs supervised tummy time to develop well. While on her belly, she builds neck and upper body strength, as well as motor coordination skills – everything they will need to help them flip, sit, crawl, stand and walk in the later months, says Ying Bin.
TRY THIS: You can start five-minute tummy time sessions when your newborn is around six weeks old, says Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, a specialist in paediatrics and consultant at Raffles Children’s Centre. Be sure to watch her closely. Aim to have her on her belly for up to 20 minutes each day by the time she is four months old.
5. THE MISTAKE: You put Baby on a mattress to practise crawling and walking.
A soft surface changes the way her natural movement develops as she cannot get a firm grip to move and explore, Ying Bin says.
TRY THIS: If you find it too nerve-racking to watch her fall, get a non-slip play mat instead. “Some thin padding is fine. But if you notice your little one’s feet sinking into the mat, that material is too soft for her,” he says. The same principle applies when choosing footwear. Going barefoot is best for crawlers and new walkers. While out and about, steer clear of shoes with thick, rigid soles. Opt for those with soft, flexible ones instead.
“The material should be thin enough to allow your little one’s feet to feel the ground,” he advises.
Eveline Gan, Young Parents, January 2016