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Newborns Need to Move

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Babies are born ready to “unfold” in their development, as Dr. Emmi Pikler discovered through her research on infant gross motor development. But the reality is, many infants lack the time and opportunity to develop their motor skills in the way they were designed to.

Babies thrive when all their needs are met with love and respect and they have an environment that invites exploration and experimentation. We often think about the following when we consider the needs of infants: food, rest, love and safety, but there is so much more to it than just those core basic needs. Infants need space and time to move in ways their bodies choose.

With so many products marketed towards infants available and many with claims that they are “educational”, it can be hard for parents and caregivers to know what is truly best for babies. Understanding what an infant’s developmental needs are can help greatly in making decisions about the child’s environment.

Newborns come into the world with disorganized bodies and a need and desire to begin to work out those kinks so to speak. Although being cozy and close to their mamas is an essential need as well, the need for babies to have time and space that is close to their primary caregiver but also a little bit separate is often overlooked. Going from fresh from the womb to walking means babies must develop many muscles and master various minute skills that build on one another; this can only happen in the way it was designed to occur if the baby has lots of opportunity for full freedom of movement.

Meeting the needs of newborns requires a great deal of observation. Observing your baby for cues that they are ready for some space to move takes practice. Watching for ideal windows of opportunity is key. Good times to offer this space for newborns to freely move are when they are awake and alert and aren’t showing hunger or sleep cues.

What does offering space for newborns to move look like?

  • A quiet, peaceful environment, if possible.

  • A small area that feels cozy and secure, not too overwhelming.

    • Something like a moses basket or sheepskin rug are nice choices.

  • A place where bright lights aren’t shining into the infant’s eyes and there isn’t a draft or loud sounds.

    • Lay on your back in the spot you intend to lay your child and consider what the experience will be like for your child.

  • Room for your baby to move their body in any way they choose.

  • A flat surface for your baby to lie on their back and have full range of motion and full breathing ability.

  • Clothing that doesn’t restrict the baby’s movement.

  • A safe place away from potential hazards and out of the direct path of people and animals walking.

  • A place closeby for you to be near your baby and quietly observe and/or take some minutes to care for your own needs.

When your baby is awake and you’re not directly caring for them or enjoying some special time holding them close, the best place for them to be is in their safe space to explore movement and just be. Starting this practice with your very young baby will help them get acquainted with it and soon come to love this space and time just for them.

Babies have the ability to meet their developmental milestones if given the time and space to do so. This starts in the newborn days.

A growing tree diverges from its upright direction only when either internal disease or external circumstances hinders its upright growing. Motor development also is an organic chain of specific developmental stages. It too, can be diverted from its course only through diseases or through circumstances which disturb it from the outside. Thus, the motor development of an infant will only get off course if that infant cannot move in the way she wants.

Pikler, E. (1994, Winter). Sensory awareness foundation.

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