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How to help develop baby’s senses – vestibular sense

Vestibular system game, baby flying on parent's feet

1 Mar, 2023

Did you know we have 8 senses? The usual 5 we all know about, sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing.

The sixth and seventh senses are the vestibular sense and proprioception. 

And the 8th is something called introspection.

At birth, the senses of hearing, touch, smell, and taste are usually fully developed. Vision takes a while to develop in babies (see my blog post on vision here), and vestibular, proprioception and introspection also need to be developed as baby grows.

This blog post will be focusing on one of the two movement and body awareness senses, the vestibular system. Check out my blog post on the proprioceptive system here.

If you’d like to learn more about developing baby’s senses then our CubCare Postnatal Course gives you all the information for baby’s physical and mental development.

Vestibular system stimulation

The vestibular sense, also known as the balance sense, is the awareness of your body is space. When we move, the fluid in our ears moves and stimulate tiny hairs in the inner ear. These hairs send the brain information about where our body is in space. There is a really good visual of the system here.

The more a child is out of an upright position, the more the fluid will move over the hairs, and the stronger the vestibular sense will become. 

Babies and children need to put their bodies in all different positions and move them in all different directions to get that fluid moving. Initially, babies struggle to do this themselves and rely on a caregiver. Seeking contact, to be held, moved, and rocked is a natural in-built need for baby. Not to only get comfort, but to also help to develop their vestibular system.

What does the vestibular system do?

Aside from balance, vestibular stimulation also aids the development of your baby’s muscle tone, posture, coordination, space awareness, vision and eye movements, the inhibition of primitive reflexes, speech, hearing and language development!

When developing through their milestones, babies need to learn to coordinate their body and maintain balance. This is done by developing muscle strength, but the vestibular system plays a very important role too.

Activities such as crawling, cruising furniture, sitting upright, reaching for a toy all use information from the vestibular system. Having a sense of balance will help them to feel stable and secure when bending down to pick up a toy, or trying those first tentative steps. As they get older, activities such as swimming and walking involve bilateral coordination and the vestibular system helps to maintain stability in the body. The same is also true for keeping the head and body still for activities such as reading or watching television. Even eating requires an engaged vestibular system to keep the body stable whilst reaching, or cutting, or chewing, or moving food from plate to mouth.

How can I help develop the vestibular system?

Any activity that gently and safely rocks, rolls, tumbles, bounces, swings and spins your baby provides him or her with vestibular stimulation. The progression of sitting to crawling to toddling to running during first 15-18 months is a crucial time for developing the balance sense. All the moves we do in class help to stimulate the vestibular system with a bonus of being really fun!

Inversion moves, where baby goes upside down takes vestibular system development up another level. The internal shift of their internal compass helps develop the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, helps ease congestion, eases tension and a rush of blood to the head is good for the brain as well as the heart!

Babies and children will often seek out movements and positions that challenge their balance and work their vestibular system. The strange twisted, upside down or round and round moves and positions they do are all naturally designed to help develop their vestibular sense.

The lists below can give you a rough guide for activies you can do to provide vestibular input.

0-6 months – vestibular activities

Vestibular activities

  • Babywearing – the constant movement will provide wonderful vestibular input
  • Rocking/dancing/cradling
  • Baby massage and yoga
  • Change their position often including tummy, back, upright and side lying time
  • Limit time spend in containers e.g. car seat, bouncer chair or swing to two hours a day maximum where possible. These containers often have baby in a semi-reclined position, limiting their vestibular input.

6-12 months – vestibular activities

  • Lots of floor time – encouraging rolling
  • Supported tummy time on an exercise ball, rolling them around and encouraging them to reach their hands to the floor
  • Swinging in parents arms or on an outdoor swing
  • Baby yoga and movement play
  • Songs like Row, row, row your boat or I’m a little teapot. To move them around from an upright position

12-24 months – vestibular activities

  • Baby/toddler yoga
  • Wheelbarrow walking
  • Dancing – lots of silly movement songs
  • Sitting and bouncing on an exercise, or large football
  • Mini-trampoline with handle
  • Walking/rolling on grass with gentle slopes
  • Playing on soft play equipment/creating an obstacle course at home
  • Playing on slides and swings at the park

If you’d like to learn more about developing baby’s senses then our CubCare Postnatal Course gives you all the information for baby’s physical and mental development.

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