“Will standing hurt my baby’s legs?”
I’m surprised how often I’m asked if having a baby “stand” on a parent’s lap will make them bow-legged or otherwise hurt them. Standing and jumping while being held and supported is a natural thing babies do, so why do so many parents worry if standing will cause bow legs or other problems?
Old Wives Tales are ingrained in our societies and because they are shared by people we trust, they are often never questioned.
Bowed legs from allowing babies to stand with support is one of those tales.
If an adult holds a baby under the arms and supports the trunk to allow the baby to bear weight on his legs, it will not harm the baby.
Many babies love this position and will bounce on your leg. It allows them to be upright and see the room around them.
Supported standing can help build strong trunk muscles.
Other ways to build strong muscles in infants:
This is a simple as it sounds. Place your baby on his or her tummy. Be sure s/he’s on a flat surface that is not too soft.
I think the earlier you start this, the better it’s tolerated. You can even do it before your newborn’s umbilical cord stump falls off!
Initially babies will not lift their head well, so be sure they don’t spend too much time face down. This can cause problems with their breathing. A brief time doing this is safe though as long as they aren’t laying on fluffy stuff. This is a major reason to never leave your baby alone on his stomach.
Use this as a play time.
Move brightly colored or noisy objects in front of your baby’s head to encourage your baby to look up at it. Older siblings love to lay on the floor and play with “their” baby this way!
Many babies will look like they’re taking off trying to fly. Others will put their hands down and look like they’re doing push ups. Around 4 months they can support their upper body weight on their elbows. All of these are good for building muscles.
Parents often avoid tummy time because their babies hate it. It’s hard to hear babies cry, I know. You can progressively make it harder for your baby without being a mean drill sergeant! Increase the time on their tummy as they gain strength. Start with just a minute or two several times a day. If you never do it, they’ll never get better.
Chest to chest:
From day one babies held upright against a parent’s chest will start to lift their heads briefly. You will most likely go to this position to burp your baby sometimes.
The more babies hold their head up, the stronger the neck muscles get. Chest to chest isn’t as effective as floor tummy time for muscle strength development, but it’s a great cuddle activity!
The more reclined you are, the more they work. Think of yourself doing push ups. If you do push ups against the wall, it’s pretty easy. If you put your hands on a chair, they get a little harder. Then if you put hands and feet on the floor, they’re even harder. Lift your feet onto a higher surface and it’s even harder.
Chest to chest time can be an easy version of tummy time, but I don’t want it to replace tummy time completely. Make time for both each day!
When your baby is able to grasp your fingers with both hands from a laying position, gently lift baby’s head and back off the surface. This can usually start around 6 weeks of age.
Babies will get stronger neck muscles by lifting their head and strong abdominal muscles by tightening their abs even though you’re doing most of the lifting. You could call these baby sit ups!
Be careful to not make sudden jerks and to not allow the baby to fall back too fast.
Place your baby on his back with things to kick near his or her feet.
Things that make a noise or light up when kicked make kicking fun!
You can also give gentle resistance to baby’s kicks with your hand to build leg muscles.
When you ride a bike, you get exercise, You can help your newborn stretch and strengthen leg muscles by making the bicycle motion with his or her legs.
When babies are first born they are often stiff from being in the womb. They will learn to stretch their legs, but you can help by moving them in a bicycle pattern. They usually find this to be great fun!
I also suggest doing this after they get their first few vaccines to help with muscle soreness, much like you move your arm around after getting shots. Generally by 4 months, babies kick enough that they can do this on their own.
Allow your baby to sit on your lap or on the floor with less and less support from you.
You can start this when your baby has enough head and trunk control to not bop around constantly when you hold him or her upright for burping. Don’t wait until 6 months to start – by this age some babies can already sit for brief periods alone if they were given the opportunity to practice when younger.
A safe easy position is with the parent on the floor with legs in a “V” and baby at the bottom of the “V” – this offers protection from falling right, left, and back.
When your baby is fairly stable, you can put pillows behind him or her and supervise independent sitting. Never leave babies unattended sitting at this stage.
“Will standing hurt my baby’s legs?” is the wrong question.
Parents should ask more about what you can do to help your baby develop strong muscles. Standing with proper support is not only safe, but also beneficial!