Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tips to Strengthen Your Baby's Neck

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The development of the neck in babies is a milestone that precedes other very important baby milestones. Babies must have good head control before a they can sit up, roll over, or crawl. Since neck muscles are needed for swallowing, properly developed neck muscles also help a baby while he or she is learning to eat solid foods (LiveStrong).

We'll go through the stages of infant neck development, ways to strengthen your baby's neck and what to do if your child is favoring one side of her neck.

Stages of Infant Neck Development

From birth to about six months of age, your baby will gradually develop head control. The BabyCenter website has some great information about neck development and we've summarized part of it for you here:

Stage of Neck Development
Baby’s neck muscles will be really weak for the next few months. Use your hand to support his head and neck when you hold him.
4-5 Weeks
May briefly lift her head and turn it side to side during tummy time.
6-8 Weeks
May raise his head while lying on his back. May hold his head up shakily while you hold him on your shoulder.
3-4 Months
May raise her head up 45 degrees and keep it steady during tummy time.
5-6 Months
Should be able to hold his head steady and upright. His head shouldn't lag behind his body when you pull him up to sit.

Ways to Help Strengthen Baby's Neck

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As your baby grows and develops, those neck muscles will become stronger, but you can complete neck exercises and stretches with your baby to help expedite the process: (LiveStrong: Baby Neck Exercises)

Tummy Time
  • Tummy time is highly recommended by pediatricians and service providers alike as a way to help strengthen your baby's weak neck muscles. As your baby is actively doing tummy each day, her neck will get stronger and she'll try to lift her head from the ground. Make tummy time more interesting for your baby by laying down and have face to face interaction with her or put some fun toys near her for her to play with. 

Toy Game
  • Play with your baby while he is laying down. Take a rattle and gently shake it in front of him. Once he looks at the toy, switch it to the other side of your baby so he has to turn his head to find the sound again. Switch it back to the first side and continue back and forth. Keep your baby interested so he can get his neck muscle exercise  Even if he is a very young newborn, he'll look toward the sound and look at the toy. While you shake the toy, switch to the other side of your baby so that he has to turn his head to find the sound again. Parents Connect notes that you can switch toys if your baby seems bored to keep him engaged, interested and stretching his neck muscles.

    Football Hold
    • The "football hold" is often a dad's favorite way to hold and carry his baby around. This is done by position baby's body under your arm, with your hand firmly supporting her belly and chest. She should be facing downward--this helps strengthen her neck muscles as she looks around the room. The "football hold" is also a popular way to breastfeed.

    Neck Stretch
    • Some babies naturally tend to look to one side more. Gently turn your baby's head so that her chin touches her shoulder. Make sure you gently rotate the head, but never force it or it could become an injury. If the muscles are tight, gently massage your baby's neck muscles while you hold her. This may loosen the muscle to help your baby look to both sides equally. Talk to your doctor if there is any pain or if baby is still favoring one side.  

    Does your baby favor a side?

    If your baby tends to favor a side of his or her neck, you can try doing some these exercises with him: (KidsHealth)
    • When your baby wants to eat, offer the bottle or your breast in a way that encourages your baby to turn away from the favored side. (Use your child's desire to eat to encourage him along!)
    • When putting your baby down to sleep, position your baby on her back facing the wall. Since babies prefer to look out into the room, she will actively turn away from the wall and this will stretch the tightened muscles of the neck. 

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