How your baby develops balance

8 Mar

I caught myself!

My arms to the rescue again!

We all think of balance as being able to keep upright and not falling over. But how do we get to that place?

Babies are constantly having to develop their balance as they are learning new motor skills to reach their milestones. When an infant is first placed in a supported sitting position, he has to learn to balance his head so that it is in the middle. As babies start to learn to sit on the floor, you will notice that they fall to the side and their arms start to go down to protect them from falling. At first they will fall over, but with practice they will learn to catch themselves with their arms. This is called protective reactions or positional control, and is the second level of control that babies develop.

You will notice that your baby will move her legs or arms away from her body to stop a fall from occurring, once she has started to shift her weight. The movement of the legs and arms away from the body is called abduction. Use of abduction of limbs is a normal process in learning control of movement against gravity.

While your baby is learning to stop the fall or protect with her arms, she is also learning to keep her shoulders and hips in the same direction of movement.This means that she is starting to work the core/trunk muscles of her body. This is level three of control.

As she practices her movements she learns to balance using more and more rotation of her body, as well as flexion and extension. It is the rotation of your baby’s body that allows her to turn and pull that hat off. The balance in sitting is an example of the development of equilibrium, or level four of control.

See, I can take my hat off while turning around.

Learning to control gravity, she can hold her position, and look around while doing different things with her shoulders, arms and hands. She needs to practice developing her balance in a variety of positions, such as getting into sitting from the floor, and getting onto all fours from sitting. She will begin to use equilibrium in pulling to standing, and later while walking and running.

Your baby does not develop all four levels of control in a rigid sequence. For example, he may be developing level three in sitting while learning level two in crawling.

If your baby spends a lot of time just sitting with his legs widely abducted, then that will become his primary method to control his movements against gravity. He is not learning to use rotation, or level four of motor control. This prevents the development of movement skills, as he has a wide base of support that makes it very difficult to get onto all fours or to get into sitting. The variety of movement of his legs becomes limited. His ability to learn how his body moves in space is negatively impacted. This is a situation I encounter quite often in my practice.

When designing baby equipment the primary focus today is on safety, but it often comes at the expense of the development of movement skills. Next time we will take a look at how parents should adapt to this new reality.


2 Responses to “How your baby develops balance”

  1. Jennifer Bartlett March 9, 2012 at 1:29 am #

    Can’t wait to read the next instalment!


  1. Safety yes, but beware… « Connie Bartlett - March 15, 2012

    […] excellent opportunity to help the development of the balance skills I discussed in my post called “How your baby develops balance”. While feeding, your baby can bring her body forward, using that all-important rotation of her […]

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