HEAD & NECK SUPPORT IN POSITIONS AND TRANSITIONS
One of the most commonly-needed supports for baby is that of the head and neck. This is often easy to do when holding the baby in one’s arms but challenging to do when picking baby up or putting her down. It is the transition from picking her up off of the floor and putting her back down again that brings moments when her head lacks the necessary support. Parents should learn how to hold and transition baby from one place to another while keeping her head and neck supported.
BABY ANATOMY: EXTENSION VS. HYPEREXTENSION
In the above photos, Donna demonstrates head support with Zizu (about 5 mos. old). The hand can be placed in back of the head so it is cradling the head while the wrist of the same arm crosses in back of the neck and upper back. This prevents the head from tipping backward beyond the position of extension. Extension of the neck is the position of the head when we sit up straight and look forward. Hyperextension is when we sit up straight and look up toward the sky. The latter should be avoided with baby. To complete our anatomy lesson we should also mention that flexion of the neck is the action of looking down toward the floor from a sitting position. When baby is lying on her back in your arms or on the floor, extension exists when her spine and head make a straight line that is parallel to the floor. Hyperextension, which we want to avoid, exists when the head tips backward from the point of extension. This causes great strain on the developing muscles and ligaments of the neck.
THE PERIOSCOPE OF THE 5 SENSES
The great range of motion that is possible with the head and neck exists because we need that mobility to look around us. The somatics pioneer Dr. Moshe Feldenkais referred to the head as the “perioscope of the senses.” You can imagine a submarine with the perioscope moving around to observe what is happening, to determine which way to go, and to steer clear of potential danger. That is what we are basically doing with our head and senses as we move. Thus, we need greater mobility in the neck region of the spine than we do the lower portions such as the middle of the back. The mid-back had less range of motion because it is part of the ribcage which protects vulnerable organs like the heart. The need here is for stability and protection.
TUMMY-TIME FOR BABY NECK STRENGTHENING
Babies develop strong neck muscles through motor skill development. Tummy-time is one of the most important activities for developing this strength. Tummy-time for babies teaches the gross motor skill of lifting the head. By putting baby on her stomach two or three times a day while supervised, she will learn to lift her head very high. At first, begin with only a few minutes on the tummy and gradually increase the time as her strength and comfort improves. This activity develops the strength in her neck and back muscles so she can eventually hold her head up on her own. Remember that it takes time, maybe 2 or 3 months, to develop this strength. Continue to support baby’s head until she can hold her head up on her own for a long time while on her tummy.