My baby is now six months old and has really got the hang of rolling from back to belly. She does it a lot. Once she is on her belly she has a tendency to go into airplane mode (legs in the air, arms out to the sides slightly behind her) and can get very frustrated. She knows how to roll back, she just doesn’t want to, and resists my attempts to help her. If she whinges (cries) a lot I pick her up, but she often reaches to go straight back down again, so he’s obviously trying to do something with it. I think she’s trying to move forwards, but doesn’t know how to get going. -From a mother in Scotland
DEVELOPMENTAL PLAY FOR BABY’S ARMS
In the airplane movement baby lifts both arms and legs off of the ground at the same time, with the arms straight out to the side. This happens when baby is in tummy time. To teach baby to keep her hands on the floor, and even learn to push up with them, you can try a few exercise with her. Start with her on her back and try bending and extending one arm several times. Move her hand toward the ceiling to extend (straighten) it and bend the arm by bringing the elbow down toward the floor. As you extend her hand toward the ceiling, gradually move her hand so it is more over the middle of her body (her breast bone). She is familiar with the pattern of reaching her arms straight out to the sides as she does in the airplane action on her stomach. This exercise is giving her the experience of moving her arms more toward her center, a less familiar place. As she gets familiar with this place in space it will be easier for her to find it when she is on her stomach.
TRY TUMMY TIME WITH A NEW TOY
Try put her in tummy time and give her a toy that she will want to explore with both hands. This will bring both hands more toward the midline as keep them there for awhile as she plays with the toy. When she does have her hands on the floor you can lightly brush the tops of her hands with your fingers and gently press the palm of her hand down to cue her to push that part of her hand into the floor. This is “grounding the airplane,” helping baby connect to the floor. Baby will learn that the floor is helpful for her, for example, the more she leans on it the higher she can lift her head.
GO WITH HER PATTERN RATHER THAN AGAINST IT
How do we ground the legs? When she is on her back try brushing the legs with your fingers from the top of the hip to the tips of her toes. Make long brushing strokes with your fingers so she develops clear proprioception of the legs. When she is on her tummy repeat this brushing of the legs so she becomes aware that she is lifting them off of the ground. Then gently press her pelvis down into the floor so she feels the contact there. Then try gently moving one leg further away from the floor a few times to go with the pattern she is activating. Then bring her thigh a little closer to the floor and gently press it into the floor so she has the sensation of it leaning on the floor. Repeat this a few times. You are giving her the experience of feeling what it feels like to move the leg further away from the floor and to lean on the floor. Her system will soon choose the more efficient pattern, which is leaning on the floor.
A GAME FOR BABY TO AVOID
Take a moment and ask yourself if you occasionally hold baby up toward the sky like and airplane. If so, observe how her arms go straight out to the sides and her legs go up. This activity can trigger the startle reflex. She may be learning this airplane pattern in this activity. Take a break from this activity for awhile and try some other developmental games suggested in this post.