Exercies for Preemies:  Post 2 – Legs and Trunk

In honor of the March of Dimes’ March for Babies walks, I am providing some exercises that families can do with their former premature infant upon discharge.

The posture of a premature infant is often characterized by the baby having trouble holding themselves tucked in like a full term infant.   Instead former preemies tend to have a straighter posture.  This posture often over-activates the muscles of the back of the body and under activates the muscles of the front of the body.  This may result in difficulties with activities that require flexion like sitting, rolling and crawling.  It is for this reason that we it is beneficial to do stretches to prommote elongating of the muslces in the back of the body and exercise to activate muscles in the front of the body.   

Exercises for Legs and Trunk 

1. Elongation of the lower body

leg to ankle

  • Purpose:  Premature infants often have stiffness in the outside of their hips from laying with their legs too wide. When the hips are tight it limits the ability to shift weight (move side to side) effectively in all positions.  This exercise will stretch the outside muscles of the hips.
  • General tips: Take time during the day to exercise your baby.  Try to do exercises one time per day.  Pairing the exercise with a daily activty like ffeeding or playtime is helpful.  
  • Pressure: Babies in general prefer firm but gentle pressure versus light touch.
  • Position: Place your baby in your lap on her side with bottom at your belly and legs bent.
  • Exercise: Place your hand on baby’s back by the tailbone.  Bring your hand with gentle but firm pressure down the leg to the ankle. Follow with the opposite hand so that the baby has continuous pressure.
  • Repetition: Do this 2-3 minutes as your baby tolerates.

2. Gentle Pelvic Rocking

pelvic rocking

  • Purpose: Premature infants often have difficulties rotating their body and pelvis.  Effective pelvic rotation helps with bowel function (pooping) which can be a problem for former premature infants.
  • General tips: Take time during the day to exercise your baby.  Try to do exercises one time per day.  Pairing the exercise with a daily activty like ffeeding or playtime is helpful.  
  • Pressure: Babies in general prefer firm but gentle pressure versus light touch.
  • Position: Place your baby in your lap on her side with bottom at your belly and legs bent.
  • Exercise: Place your right hand around baby’s thigh and left hand on baby’s ankle.  Rock leg front and back so that you are rocking the pelvis as well.
  • Repetition: Do this 2-3 minutes as your baby tolerates.

3. Gentle Bicycles

real bicycles

  • Purpose: Premature infants often have difficulties rotating their body and pelvis.  Effective pelvic rotation helps with bowel function (pooping) which can be a problem for former premature infants.
  • General tips: Take time during the day to exercise your baby.  Try to do exercises one time per day.  Pairing the exercise with a daily activty like ffeeding or playtime is helpful.  
  • Pressure: Babies in general prefer firm but gentle pressure versus light touch.
  • Position: Place your baby in your lap on his back with bottom at your belly and legs bent.
  • Exercise: Place your hands hand around baby’s thighs and bring right leg to belly and then left.  Be sure to make the pelvis rotate a bit when doing this.
  • Repetition: Do this 2-3 minutes as your baby tolerates

4.  Massage Baby’s Feet

  • Purpose: Premature infants are exposed to painful procedures to their feet with frequent blood draws. This can make his feet more sensitive.  Gentle massage to the bottom of the feet helps to provide positive sensory input to the feet.  
  • General tips:  Take time during the day to exercise your baby.  Try to do exercises one time per day.  Pairing the exercise with a daily activty like ffeeding or playtime is helpful.  
  • Pressure: Babies in general prefer firm but gentle pressure versus light touch.
  • Position: Place your baby on her back or side with her bottom at your belly and legs bent.  
  • Exercise: Provide firm but gentle pressure to the bottom of his feet paying special attention to the heels with positive pressure.  If you have a great blanket or stuffed animal with a nice texture feel free to rub this on baby’s feet too.

Do exercises 1-2 on one side, followed by 3 and 4 then repeat 1-2 on the other side.  Add the arm and shoulder recommendations from a previous post

Disclaimer: If you are uncomfortable performing an exercise please consult with your pediatrician or physical therapist.

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