It can be easy to assume as a new parent that the only way you'll get anything done is to put your baby in an infant swing, bouncy or rocking seat or other infant positioners. But you might be surprised at how happy and content your little one can be playing on the floor nearby as you tackle some tasks on your to-do list, especially if floortime play is a part of your baby's daily routine. AND science shows that less daily time in baby equipment is better for development and reduces baby's risks of Flat Head Syndrome / Positional Plagiocephaly and Torticollis (neck tightness). Learn more about how Baby Holding Devices affect infant development.
Baby Stations: Positioning For Play
As parents, no one tells us how vitally important our infants' body position is for development. At well baby check-ups we're asked about pooping and peeing and feeding and sleeping, but very few pediatricians ask whether our babies are experiencing a variety of positions every day.
Unfortunately, the impact of positioning on development is usually only discussed with new parents when problems arise - typically Flat Head Syndrome (Positional Plagiocephaly) or Torticollis. But proactive positioning can help prevent these issues AND provide valuable developmental benefits for your baby's motor, cognitive and sensory development.
The concept behind baby stations is simple - have a few (3-5) different play activities prepped for your little one. Aim for a different body position for each.
Great Positions For Baby Development:
Tummy Time, sidelying (*on each side for symmetric development), playing on the back with toys to the side to encourage head turning.
Positions To Use In Moderation:
semi-reclined (as in a car seat carrier, bouncy seat, napping wedge, lounge pillow, etc.) and on the back with toys directly overhead.
Baby Stations For The First 3 Months
Today, I'll share some stations to try in the first 3 months, but be sure to read Part 2: Baby Stations - Baby Play Ideas for 3 Months to 6 Months.
Propping baby's chest over a small pillow or towel roll can help make Tummy Time more tolerable for longer stretches of time in the first months when lifting the head is HARD WORK! Toy placement for the first few months of life will be on the ground or just off the ground a foot or less in front of baby. A board book or black and white high contrast picture cards make great toys for baby to visually explore in belly down play. Learn more about ways to make Tummy Time more tolerable for newborns.
Sidelying is a great position for infant development, and one many parents don't know about. Use a 1 lb. bag of dried rice or beans or a rolled towel to prop baby on his or her side in front of a low mirror or other toy for visual play. I made little pillowcases to protect our rice bags and to make them cute. Just be sure to alternate sides to promote balanced development.
Activity gyms are awesome for baby play but because your baby is likely spending many hours laying with pressure on the back of the head while asleep, it's beneficial to use your activity gym as a tool to help encourage head turning. Simply move the toys to the perimeter or sides of the gym instead of directly overhead. I even used to place the gym BESIDE my baby for him to turn and look at. Here are tips for picking an activity gym for your baby and ideas for making it perfect for your newborn!
It's important to have realistic expectations about baby playtimes. While it may be easy to read this post and imagine your little one happily playing in each station for 10 minutes and rotating through all three to give you 30 minutes of hands-free time, that's usually not the reality. Here's are some things to keep in mind...
- 1-4 minutes in Tummy Time is a great success in the first few weeks and months.
- Daily practice in Tummy Time will help your baby grow stronger and more comfortable in longer periods of belly-down play.
- Baby stations should be fun for baby. Please don't leave baby in a position in which she's miserable!
- Your baby may need you near enough to put a hand on her, turn the page of a book or talk to her during playtimes.
- Your baby may not make it through a full "circuit" of baby stations at once.
- Daily independent playtime helps baby get used to floortime play and will likely grow longer as your little one grows, matures and develops new skills.
- There will be days (or strings of days) where your baby plays less independently or just wants to be held, soothed, bounced all day. This is normal. Frustrating, but normal.
- Your baby needs direct supervision, even if you're folding laundry or paying bills nearby.
All that said, when people asked me how I launched a business and wrote a book with a newborn in the house, baby stations are my answer. In the beginning, I would get 1-5 minute chunks a few times a day. As my baby grew, these times grew and he contentedly played for 3-10 minutes at a time. Now, at 10 months, he's very used to having 5-10 minutes of playtime with mommy for every 10-20 he has "on his own" (closely supervised, of course).
Give baby stations a try, stay tuned for ideas for older babies and happy playing!
Looking for a way to keep your baby's head round and avoid a baby helmet?
The great news is that there are simple steps you can take starting TODAY to impact the shape of your baby's head and promote healthy development at the same time. Current research and the clinical experience of many health care professionals (including me) point to the fact that there are effective strategies for fighting Plagiocephaly and other forms of head flattening without using a helmet. Available in print and eBook. Here's what others are saying:
Until now, a comprehensive guide to those strategies hasn't been widely available to the parents who deserve and desperately want the best information about how to help their babies.
That's exactly why I wrote The Flat Head Syndrome Fix. Let's get to the bottom of this Flat Head problem!