Trunk Exercises for Babies
- gets tummy, waist and back muscles
- helps with baby development
- helps with baby motor milestones
Everyone understands that if something is not strong and stable, it easily falls apart. This applies to buildings, furniture, cars…everything. Well, it is really important when it comes to your child’s development and progress.
I can tell you that in healthy, but developmentally delayed infants and children, the problem is almost always poor trunk control. It affects balance, control, coordination and movements through space. So, if a weak trunk can be corrected early on, you’ll be amazed at how much progress will naturally result.
How to Use the Ball for Trunk Exercises
My best friend and favorite tool for working with infants and toddlers is the ball. Many exercises can be performed with the ball. More importantly, most children find it a lot of fun. If you approach the activity as if it’s fun, then the child will pick up your vibe!
As I explained in the blog about learning to roll, you should start by warming up the child by positioning him/her on their back and rocking a little. I always sat on my heels with my hands and arms available to rest on the ball or help the child move.
Once the child is comfortable, you can go ahead and sit them up. For a good position, I always sat them so that their bottom was at the highest point of the arc of the ball. If you are working with a younger child or infant who cannot hold themselves up, but has good head and neck control, you can still do this activity. You just need to give more sitting support.
The first thing to learn is how to keep the child in place and not have the ball pop out. This is done by making a wide V with your thumb and by keeping the other 4 fingers together. Take the V and place that part of your hand at the point where the thigh meets the hip. Then rest your palms on the child’s thigh. With equal pressure throughout the hand, push straight down with enough force to gently bounce the child. By keeping the heel of your hand, the palm and the V in position and in contact with the thigh, the ball and child should stay in place. Don’t push backward or exert more pressure on one part of the hand than another. Equal pressure is the key. And think of the top of the ball as having a dot, and the floor having a matching dot directly under the dot on the ball. If you connected the dots, you would have a straight line perpendicular to the floor. That is the direction you want to push the child.
If you are working with a younger child, or an infant who cannot yet sit independently, then you can do the same exercise by giving them more support. Rest your forearms gently on the baby’s thigh, and then grasp them around the lower waist area, with your thumbs toward their tummy and fingers toward their back. If the baby needs maximum support, splay your fingers wide on their back. Remember, you are heel sitting throughout. Once the baby is thus supported, you can begin to bounce, keeping in mind that you are pushing down toward that imaginary point on the floor.
When you feel that you have gotten the hang of the exercise, and the baby or child is bouncing happily, and neither the child nor the ball is sliding, you can go on to the next step. Your hands never change position for this activity.
What you are going to do is start to roll the ball in different directions, but not actually moving away from that imaginary dot on the floor (if it helps, draw a spot until you master the exercise). You will roll slightly toward your left and back to center, to your right and back to center, then a little backward and back to center, and then a little forward and back to center.
Benefits of Ball Exercises
Why this exercise works is that your child has “righting responses”. There is an instinct to always keep the head upright no matter what. If you are doing the exercise correctly and slowly enough, you will see your child bring their trunk up toward the middle of the ball each time they are moved off center. This means that the tummy works to bring them forward when pushed back, and the back engages to bring them up when moved forward. When moved side to side, the waist and abdominal muscles engage to correct the position.
Not all children’s reflexes react at the same rate. Many low tone children have lagging reflexes, and are slow to respond. Be patient, hold each movement change and wait for the response, and it will happen. Don’t be alarmed if initially you only notice the head tilting toward the center of the ball, and the trunk not coming with it. This is not uncommon with children and infants who need these exercises. But I promise that if you do them regularly, you will see very good improvement.
An additional benefit to this exercise is that is promotes spatial relations and balance, which will be important for learning to walk.