Baby Fitness: How Do Babies Exercise?

I know what you’re thinking: babies can’t exercise! And you are right; they cannot exercise in the traditional sense that we think of as adults. However, some basic things that you and I take for granted as adults prove to be a workout for those little ones. Understanding what activities require more energy will help you understand your baby better.

Newborns have a fairly regimented schedule: eat, sleep, get a diaper change, repeat. The primary thing that causes them to exert energy at this age is eating. If they are drinking their bottle or breastfeeding for more than 30 minutes at a time, they start burning calories. If your newborn has trouble eating, or it feels like your newborn is always eating but not gaining weight, it might be because they are immediately using up all the calories they are taking in. Additionally, for ba-bies with congenital heart or lung problems, just eating can be too much strain and exercise for their little bodies and tire them out.

As infants grow, they develop motor skills and strength from head to toe. This is why “tummy time” is so important. Be-tween one and two months of age, infants are starting to get more muscle strength in their necks to support their head. I hear from many parents that their baby cries and protests to tummy time. I don’t blame the little ones; I protest when I need to work out at the gym, too! For babies, this can be very tiring and they often cry out of frustration. That said, it is still im-portant to have 15-30 minutes of tummy time per day. It may be easier to break this up into smaller increments, and even laying them on your chest instead of the ground may help ease them into this.

Baby “exercise” becomes more fun as they gain more strength. Infants usually start rolling over between 4-6 months of age. After this, they start becoming more mobile. They will scoot, crawl, elephant walk, or roll to get where they want to go. This can be tiring too, but they’ll seem to enjoy it more. Once they are closer to 7 months old, they should be sitting up-right without support, and as they reach 9 months, they should be starting to pull up on furniture to a stand and cruising along while holding onto hands or furniture.

During this mobile phase, infants are becoming more developmentally independent. The problem is they know what they want but they cannot communicate their needs effectively. Although they are more mobile, they still obviously have limitations to what they can do. This can be cause for frustration and tears. It is also important to anticipate their mobility and start baby-proofing the house around 6 months of age. Begin watching babies around the sharp corners of tables and breakable items.

It is such a delight to see a baby grow and develop. It relieves some stress and makes the day more enjoyable once you start understanding and getting to know your baby’s needs. All of these forms of exercise can be fun, but can also wear a baby out. It also alleviates some pressure when you have realistic expectations about how your baby should be progress-ing. These years are so formative and enjoyable – and they only happen once for your baby, so enjoy and watch those babies exercise!

Jennifer Adair M.D.

Jennifer Adair, M.D., was born and raised in Mobile. She graduated from Davidson High School in 2002 and received her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at The University of Alabama in 2006. She completed her medical training at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, and pediatric residency at the University of Nevada College of Medicine – Las Vegas and the University of South Alabama. She joined Children’s Medical Group in July 2013 and currently practices at their Airport office. Jennifer and her husband, Cory, reside in Mobile with their dogs, Fitz and Barkley.