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Get Your Baby to Start Cruising

Cruising is an important gross motor milestone that occurs when a baby steps sideways Blog-Baby-Cruising-Main-Landscapewhile holding on to a safe and stable piece of furniture. Cruising facilitates core, hip and leg muscle development, standing balance, and is a crucial stepping stone (no pun intended!) to independent standing and walking.

This is a milestone that is typically reached around 10 months of age. Before your baby can cruise, he or she needs to be able to stand, accepting weight evenly through both legs, with 1 or 2 hands supported at a safe and stable piece of furniture, such as a couch or ottoman. Many babies are excited once they can start standing on their own at a piece of large furniture, although they often do not know how to move around.

Here are a few useful tips to help your baby learn how to cruise:

  1. Place toys a few steps away in either direction. If your child has the toy she is interested in playing with right in front of her while she is standing at the couch, there will be little motivation to move. However, if you place the toy just a few steps away, your baby will be highly motivated to try and get to the toy. Make sure you don’t place the toy too far away though, as that might encourage your child to crawl to the toy instead, or your child may lose motivation due to feeling that the toy is completely out of reach.
  1. Show your baby how to cruise. Since the cruising motion is most likely different from any other movements your child has performed, he may not know that he can step sideways or how to activate the muscles required to do so. When your baby has both hands supported on the stable piece of furniture, slowly and gently elevate the lead leg off the ground, move it a small distance to the side, and then bring the other leg to meet it.
  1. Practice! Learning new gross motor skills takes lots and lots of practice. Babies learn through trial and error, so the more that they work on a new skill the better at it they will become. Give your child frequent, supervised opportunities to practice cruising.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Why Isn’t My Child Walking Yet?

As a follow up to last week’s blog, Signs that My Child Will Walk Soon, I present the next topic in my walking series, Why Isn’t My Child Walking?. As first birthdays come around, many anxious parents wonder, “why hasn’t my child taken his first steps?” First off, let me dispel the myth that babies will begin taking their first steps by their first birthday. The normal range for independent walking is 10-18 months, however most children begin walking around 14-15 months. Delayed walking skills may be due to decreased muscle strength, decreased confidence, or impaired balance. Read below for a description of signs of each and tips to help improve them.

 Reasons Your Child May Not Be Walking Yet:

  • Decreased Muscle Strength: Walking is a major milestone for children and requires a lot of lower extremitywhen will my child walk strength. This is why there are so many important precursors to walking, such as cruising and creeping on hands and knees. Children typically spend 1-4 months in each of these precursory milestones in order to build the strength necessary for walking. Encouraging your child to spend time in these gravity dependent positions will help build lower extremity strength.
  • Decreased Confidence: Often times children who have been cruising for significant periods of time without making the transition to independent stepping may have decreased confidence in their walking skills. Employing a towel or blanket that is held as a link between parent and child, can help build their confidence.
  • Impaired Balance: A child who shows difficulty with independent standing may have impaired balance and proprioception. Using heavier shoes that help give feet to the child that let them know where they are in space.
  • Other Medical Reasons: There may be an underlying medical condition preventing your achieving his gross motor milestones in an appropriate time frame If your child is not demonstrating signs that he will walk soon by 12 months of age, please contact your physician or come into North Shore Pediatric Therapy for a free physical therapy screen.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

signs my child will walk soon

When Will My Child Start Walking? 5 Signs That Your Child Will Be Walking Soon

All children develop and grow and their own rates. Current research gives a range where typically developing children achieve their gross motor milestones. But when the baby books and Pediatricians tell you that your baby will probably be walking independently somewhere between 10-15 months, with some children even walking at 18 months and still falling within normal ranges, parents want more answers. A great way to see if your child is on the right track is to check for these 5 signs that walking may be in their imminent future.

5 signs your child will be walking soon:

  1. Pull to Stand – When a child begins pulling up into standing using hands or stablesigns my child will walk furniture, he is strengthening his legs to prepare them for walking. The mature form of pulling to stand is to perform through a half-kneeling position.
  2. Cruising – Cruising is defined as walking while holding onto furniture. Cruising allows your child to practice weight shifting and forward progression in a safe environment.
  3. Crawling onto and over Furniture – As a child becomes stronger throughout his core and extremities, you may find him starting to climb onto furniture or crawl over obstacles. These are all signs that your child is developing the muscle strength and balance needed to walk independently.
  4. Walks with Push-Toy/Handheld Assistance – The added stability of walking while holding onto a push-toy or a parent’s hands helps children develop the confidence needed to take those first independent steps. Some children may use this as a crutch, so be sure to provide as little support as needed (2 handheld assistance>1 handheld assistance> holding onto sleeve of shirt>holding blanket between child and parent).
  5. Standing Independently – Children begin to let go of objects while standing when they feel confident and stable. The longer the child is able to stand, the greater his confidence is.  Bonus if the child is able to get into or out-of this position with control by himself.

If your child has not begun demonstrating the above skills by 12 months of age, he may benefit from a physical therapy evaluation.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

How to Encourage Baby’s First Steps

As a physical therapist who works primarily with the 5 and under crowd, I have had the pleasure of witnessing many babies’ very first steps. Some of the proudest moments I’ve experienced on the job have involved children meeting their milestones for the first time.  Watching a child develop the confidence in his abilities to venture onto unfamiliar terrain on his own makes the months leading up to that moment so worthwhile.

I am sure that I do not have to talk about the importance of walking as part of typical development. What parents don’t realize are the components of human ambulation and the importance of each step.   For many new parents, I often reiterate the fact that weight-bearing through their feet is a great way for babies to learn. They learn how their bodies move, strengthen their muscles and bones, and receive the appropriate feedback from their environment to perform more and more challenging tasks, such as jumping, and running, and stairs.

Often, first time parents are unsure how to best encourage their child to take those first steps. So how do we facilitate and not hamper their exploration?

How best to help out a toddler learning to walk:

  1. Cruise is first: About a month after a baby first learns to pull to stand, he will start cruising along furniture.  At this time, he still relies on his hands a lot for standing and doesn’t yet have the full grasp of shifting his weight from foot to foot. Help him cruise along by placing toys just out of reach and he will slowly become more and more stable when all his weight is on one side. Cruising long distances increases baby’s standing stamina and strengthens those important hip and thigh muscles. Place toys on a low surface off to the side and behind him, and he will learn to let go with one hand and rotate in his trunk. Trunk rotation is an essential component of reciprocal walking later on. Click here to read more about cruising.
  2. Where to support: Contrary to popular practice, the best place to support a baby just learning to walk is actually at his trunk.  If you take an early walker (say, 9-10 months old) by both hands and try to lead him, he is most likely going to tilt his body forward and step really quickly to try to catch up with his center of gravity. This will not help him place weight throughout his whole feet. Instead, he may rise up on his toes. Weight-bearing through the heels during early walking is important. That impact from the ground helps build muscles and bones up the chain so babies’ thigh bones and hip joints can become strong and stable enough to support their growth. When assisting babies to walk, stay with them and let them lead, however slow each step may be. For more info about best ways to support a toddler learning to walk, click here.
  3. Slow them down: Children usually start to take steps on their own after they feel safe during independent standing. With each new step, babies will keep their feet wide apart so they can feel balanced.  Many parents I know like to give their babies a push-toy such as a doll stroller or shopping cart so they can speed walk around the house. While these toys may seem like a great way to get babies moving on their feet, if given to a baby in the early stages of walking, they also encourage poor postures and improper weight shifts.  If you have to use push-toys, weigh them down. When a baby takes each step slowly, he can experience the way his center of mass transfers over the entire surface of his feet. His foot muscles and his ankle joints need to experience the hard work required by each step in order to properly respond and develop the balance strategies he needs for later.
  4. No shoes or socks:  While I tell parents from early on that babies should experience their environment with only a diaper on, many parents think shoes are a necessary part of early walking.  Many pediatric therapists will tell you how important it is for babies to learn to walk barefoot. Why? Because babies rely on the feedback they feel from the ground to adjust their standing balance as needed. Standing and learning to walk on plush carpet, grassy terrain, or hardwood floor are all so different and our joints, muscles, and posture have to adjust accordingly. Taking that proprioceptive feedback away from babies just learning to walk by giving them shoes will make them unaware of the differences between surfaces.  Read here for information about the best footwear for babies.
  5. Importance of squatting: Squatting is a key play position for babies. Starting as early as 9-10 months, babies can lower themselves slowly from a standing position while holding onto furniture. So place some toys at his feet and try to get him to pick them up. That up and down motion, supported or unsupported, is great for strengthening hip and thigh muscles. Learning to safely transfer their weight during standing tasks will help them with walking skills. Eventually, around 15 months, a toddler is able to stand unsupported, pick up a toy from the floor, stand back up, and keep walking, all without any help from us. Now that is one independent baby on the move!

The typically developing baby learns to walk around 11-15 months. He might not look stable and he may fall after a few steps, but he is doing what he should. He is trying. Every child is different in how and when he chooses to take that first independent step. Our job is to provide a safe and motivating environment for him.  If your baby is not making any attempts to stand by 12 months, or has been standing for a few months and seems to drag one side and trips often, or still has not walked by 16-18 months, it is a good time to bring up your concerns with your pediatrician and contact a physical therapist for an evaluation.

Holiday Toy-Gifting Guide to Promote Gross Motor Skills

It’s the holiday season yet again. In this time of family, friends, foods, and traditions, many little minds are thinking about new toys.   This is the perfect opportunity for parents and family members to stock up on games and toys to facilitate their children’s development.  While some older children might have wish-lists to be fulfilled, there are plenty of toys outside of the latest trend that will help promote growth in children of all ages. As any therapist knows, a toy can be a powerful tool to promote developmental gains, particularly in children who are a little behind their peers.  Below are some toys that help kids strengthen their big muscle groups and attain gross motor skills, without making play seem like work.

Learning Tables

A learning table is a great investment if you have an infant. It will grow alongside your baby and help her attain valuable gross motor skills such as body control in tummy time, cross-body reaching, independent sitting, cruising, standing, and weight-shifting, all while promoting her upper body and cognitive growth.  Early learners can keep busy with the lights, sounds, and activities; the height of the tables adjusts so that babies from 6 to 36 months can play in various positions. Babies will be challenged throughout each step of their development and learn about cause and effect. Read more