PROPRIOCEPTION AND THE SENSE OF TOUCH
How do we know where we are in space? Through pressure. When you sit on a chair you feel the contact of your bottom against the seat of the chair and your feet against the floor. When you recline on the sofa to watching TV, you feel the pressure of the back of the legs, pelvis, torso, shoulders, and head against the fabric on the furniture. These sensations of pressure tell you that you are lying down. This ability to feel orientation in space is called proprioception. We have receptors in the cells of our skin, muscles, joint, and bones that respond to the pressure of touch by sending signals to the brain to pay attention to the area receiving the touch.
THE PRESSURE OF WATER, SWADDLING, AND SWIMMING
For baby, she has been in the watery environment of the womb for many months. Water creates pressure and helps baby feel her body more clearly. After birth, parents often swaddle baby to recreate the secure feeling in the womb of the pressure of water on baby’s body. The pressure of the material snuggly wrapped around her body is comforting because it helps her feel where she is in this new airy environment. Her new environment gives less sensation to the skin, bones, and muscles than the watery environment of the womb. Babies enjoy swimming lessons because the water is familiar to them and the pressure feels comforting. Benefits of baby swim lessons include gentle strengthening and improved proprioception as she feels each body part very clearly as it moves against the pressure created by the water. Learn how to swaddle your newborn and locate a school offering swim lessons for babies to develop your child’s proprioception.
TOUCH, MOTOR SKILLS, AND BABY’S BRAIN
Baby’s brain sends the signals to her muscles to move. As baby learns her motor skills, touch is very informative. The pressure of your hand on her leg clarifies that particular body part in her brain. When she feels her leg more clearly she can use it in an improved way. For example, after tapping and gently squeezing baby’s leg she may begin to kick that leg with more vigor. An activity to try at home is to gently tap each of baby’s limbs in a rhythmic way and name them for her. If repeated regularly, she will like it and it may calm her when she is fussy. Just remember, through the sense of touch information is being sent to the brain where her motor skills originate.
COACHING MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT WITH TOUCH
The baby in the photo at the top of the post is on her stomach. She feels she is on her stomach because of the contact of her abdomen and chest with the floor. When her teacher puts her hand on baby’s back, baby feels that part of her body more clearly. She also feels where she is in an improved way because of the contact to both sides of her torso, front (against the floor) and back (from the teacher’s hand). She feels more secure when she feels the dimensionality of her torso rather than only one side. This technique can be used to improve motor skill activities such as tummy-time. When baby is on her tummy you can tap her back so she feels more secure and will learn to lift her head. Simple hands-on skills can be learned to guide baby through each motor milestone.