UNCURLING THE BALL
Rochel learns tummy time
Rochel received her first lesson at two months. In this story, the mother learned from the grandmother the importance of baby experiencing each motor milestone fully, and without rushing! Lucky Rochel! She gets to enjoy being on the floor without being forced to stand too soon. Rochel’s mother asked for tummy time tips, reporting that the baby did not like it very much. This was no surprise! Tummy time is usually one of the first topics covered in a newborn’s stellar caterpillar lessons. I explained that prior to birth, for all of those months, the baby is curled up in a ball. This means that all of the muscles on the front of the body, which we call the flexors, were contracted or shortened. The abdominal, front of the hip joints, and chest muscles are all contracted! Lying on the belly comfortably means these muscles have to lengthen. The front of the body can only lie flat against the floor when these muscles have lengthened, otherwise, the contracted muscles pull the body, specifically the pelvis and torso, up away from the floor. Once these flexor muscles (abdominal, chest, and front of the hip joints) soften and stretch out, the baby can be comfortable on her belly.
We began to teach Rochel how to lengthen the front of her body. First, we began with gently stroking the abdomen, with long gentle brushing strokes from the top of the chest to the bottom of the abdomen, left to right. We knew by Rochel’s happy cooing and little smiles that she was quite happy receiving this touch. Next, we gently assisted the lengthening of her legs by bending and straightening them, one at a time. Bend and stretch, bend and stretch, bend and stretch, several times with the right leg, then we worked with the left leg. After working with both legs, we gently rolled her onto her tummy, and there she was with her behind sticking up in the air and her nose pressing down into the floor! I said smilingly to her mother, “You wouldn’t be comfortable either if your face was smashed into the floor!” In this tummy position I stroked the front of Rochel’s hips to elongate the muscles and allow the pelvis and thigh bones to be flat on the floor, and now she could lift her head and see her mother smiling at her! Her mother’s face was far more interesting than only the darkness visible to her as her face smashed into the bedspread. In fact, so interesting was the world around her from this position that Rochel kept her head up a bit more, curiously gazing around the room. “What a different view from when I am lying on my back looking up at the ceiling,” she thought.
When you look at your baby on her stomach, look at her head and her pelvis. Is one higher than the other? Think of a teeter-totter: when one end is up, the other must go down. So, when the pelvis goes up, the head/face goes down into the floor. It is very difficult to breathe, lift your head, or look at the world if your face is pressing down into the floor. We would like her pelvis to stay down flat on the floor so her head is free to lift and examine the world. First we must uncurl the flexors from that ball-like position she was in for so many months prior to birth, then a new world curiously becomes visible. After some practice, Rochel now lays contentedly on her stomach while watching her mother chase her older sister. And, she still enjoys the abdominal massages, too!