We all know that core strength is important throughout the lifespan—important for posture, coordination, decreased pain, athletic performance, healthy bathroom habits—the list goes on! The development of core strength starts in infancy, so it’s vital to begin encouraging your baby to move in ways that will help develop core strength. You can think of your core being comprised of four walls—the diaphragm up at the top, the pelvic floor at the base, abdominal muscles on the front of the body, and back extensors along the spine.
The pelvic floor and diaphragm develop independent control a bit later in life and are more reliant on internal bodily processes, however the abdominal muscles and back extensors can be targeted from birth! The following are recommendations to encourage core development in early development and toys that can help:
Ages 1-5 Months
Tummy time will always be my number one recommendation. It truly is a full body exercise. It targets the back extensors, neck extensors, gluteal musculature, abdominal musculature, and shoulder girdle. Supervised tummy time can start from day one of life, and the earlier you start it, the better your baby will be able to tolerate it. Place toys their can grab in front of baby to grab their attention during tummy time.
Hands to knees/hands to feet play
One of the first places that babies really start to activate their abdominals is when they start to reach hands to knees or feet when lying on their backs. Try it yourself!! It’s difficult to bring your legs up and down repeatedly and really challenges your abdominal muscles. By placing toys or enticing objects on or near their feet, babies become more motivated to find their toes.
Ages 6-9+ Months
Once babies have mastered hands to feet, they begin to roll side to side—think of a happy baby yoga position. With the side-to-side rolling, they start to realize they can start becoming more mobile, and those first rolls will likely soon follow. Rolling from back to tummy requires significant core strength.
Encourage your baby to roll to both directions to target both sides equally. By placing toys slightly out of reach, your baby will likely be more motivated to roll. Use their favorite toys and toys that will be easy to grab or interact with, in order to encourage rolling.
Crawling is the ultimate coordination of core strength. The core needs to maintain stability in order for your baby to hold his/her head up and move opposite arms and legs away from the body. If your baby has mastered rolling and is able to pivot in all directions, however, is struggling to crawl on hands and knees, place toys slightly out of reach or place them over your legs so that they start to feel what it feels like to be in that four-point position.
Banging and clapping
When your baby is using his or her hands to bang on toys/surfaces or clap together, the core is keeping the rest of the body stable. Encouraging your child to bang and clap will encourage that core stability.
This is one piece that also incorporates more of the diaphragm. By voicing, babbling, giggling, singing, (and also crying…) etc., your baby utilizes the diaphragm and abdominal musculature to build up enough abdominal pressure to produce those noises. Any toys that encourage vocalization will be helpful for your baby to target his or her core in this way.
Many of these skills develop at different times for each child, and that’s okay! Each child develops skills on their own timetable, and as long as there is progress being made toward new skills, there is typically nothing to worry about. However, if you have concerns with how your child is developing or if you feel core weakness is impacting your child’s development, speak with your pediatrician. They can take a closer look and recommend a referral to physical therapy, if they think it could be helpful.
Even if your pediatrician doesn’t recommend PT, but your instinct is encouraging you to seek a PT opinion, ask for a referral! Or see if your insurance allows you to receive care without a referral. You are the best advocate for your child—trust that instinct!