Babies and Balance

Developing balance in babies is an important and fundamental part of growing up. An awareness of balance develops early in the womb, with a baby having a sense of whether its head is up or down. This is especially apparent at the end of the pregnancy when the baby's head ideally turns down to engage in the pelvis before delivery.

Our balance system is an integration of three parts; the semi-circular canals in our inner ears, our eyes and the feedback from the muscles and ligaments in our body. The biggest influence on balance comes from our inner ears, accounting for roughly 70% of the information that we need. Because these centres are located in our head, the learning of head control becomes an important part of our developing balance system. Bearing in mind that newborn babies have a poor visual system, and are still developing their muscular system, they will probably rely to a much greater extent on the information from their inner ears.

In recent years I’ve found that parents are particularly reluctant to lie their babies on their fronts. This may be due to a misunderstanding that has arisen from the very successful ‘Back-to-Sleep’ program. The ‘Back-to-Sleep’ program recommends putting babies to sleep on their backs and fronts to play. This has evolved in response to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and has contributed, along with other recommendations, to a reduction of SIDS. I have found that many parents consequently associate placing their baby on its front as being dangerous. The message from the SIDS campaign to place the baby on its back to sleep and FRONT to play, seems somehow to have got lost. Perhaps it’s in the word ‘play’ that the problem arises; a newborn doesn’t ‘play’ in the same way that a 12-week-old does, so why put a newborn on its front? Yet, there are many organisations which are positive advocates of laying wakeful babies on their fronts, for what is also known as ‘Tummy Time,’ which should be a normal and routine part of a baby's day.

Babies that spend time on their fronts will help to develop the necessary muscles in their backs, and especially the upper back and neck. Associated with this comes head, neck and eye control and movement. All of which are an important foundation for developing the layers of more complex movement patterns and neurology that should happen in the first year – rolling, creeping, crawling, sitting, standing up and cruising around furniture and then walking unaided. It’s an incredible first year and developing good balance underpins it all.

The following series of photographs were shot with the aim of encouraging parents to make it a priority for babies of all ages to have time on their front, not only for Tummy Time, but to make the most of the many other opportunities throughout the day for babies to exercise and develop their back muscles in this way. The aim of the photographs is to show a variety of ways of holding, carrying, lifting and playing with babies especially in the first 3 months of life. 

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