Ask the Experts: Free mobility and baby’s development

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baby-crawlingQ: Between lounging in his swing, commuting to daycare in his car seat and being swaddled for naps and bedtime, my little guy spends a lot of time on his back and relatively stationary. Is there a chance this could hamper his development? How much “free time” does he need each day to move?

A: We live in a world awash in amazing gear. There are products to help our little ones sleep, sit, stand, walk and be entertained. However, all of these products restrict natural movements in one way or another. His arms and legs may move, but he is not producing whole-body movements through multiple dimensions—which is why it’s important to ensure he gets enough free mobile time throughout the day.
Although schedules vary, a typical 9-month-old may experience as little as six hours or less of “free mobility” after accounting for morning naps, afternoon naps, and multiple feedings and diaper changes. If you’re not mindful, though, you could easily restrict him in all of his wonderful gear for four or five hours out of the total six hours of wake mobility hours. Additionally, if you swaddle your baby when you lay him down to rest or sleep, you further limit his opportunities to practice mobility.
Practice is the only way your tot becomes stronger and more coordinated. A baby freely practicing these skills also facilitates the growth of his nervous system and optimizes brain development.
The best way to ensure your newbie is getting enough free time is not to simply schedule the free mobility time into your daily routine. Rather, you should default to having your child free to move. Any schedule you set with regard to free mobility time should consciously limit the time you have him restricted in gear.
Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done. Start by noting how much time you have your baby in gear over the course of a day, and then work to bring that number down. As he gets older, the majority of his day can be engaged in natural unrestricted mobility.

—Shannon Davis, PT, DPT, CEO of Inspiration Physical Therapy Inc. in San Diego and inventor of the Little Balance Box 

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