This featured guest post is by Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Mary Kate, with NAPA Center who explains what occupational therapy for infants looks like from ages 0 to 12 months. She tells you what to look for along with ways an OT at NAPA strengthens these skills. There’s no better way to stay on top of your baby’s development than to read what Mary Kate experiences on a daily basis. Enjoy!
What Does Occupational Therapy For Infants Look Like?
In this blog, we will discuss what occupational therapy for infants may look like. Would you believe me if I told you babies have occupations too? Despite what it sounds like, occupations aren’t just jobs. An occupation is anything that occupies your time. For babies from birth to 1-year-old, their main occupations are eating, learning to interact with their environment through their senses, moving their bodies, bonding with their caregivers, and playing. During infant occupational therapy sessions, you will likely find your OT focusing on these occupations to help your baby!
While it is important to remember each baby develops at their own pace, it’s also important to keep an eye on their developmental milestones. If you believe your child is falling behind in their milestones, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician and they will determine if therapy is necessary. Below you will read about specific developmental milestones occupational therapists are looking for at NAPA and ways that baby OT sessions will address them.
Occupational Therapy for Infants by Age
Ages 0-3 months
During infancy, babies are adjusting to their new environment on the earth side. That means they should start to visually track objects or people and explore their bodies by moving their hands. Your baby should start to have emerging control over their head (head control) and start pushing up during tummy time.
The bond between baby and caregiver is flourishing, as a lot of your time will be spent feeding (i.e. breastfeeding, formulas, etc.).
As OTs, our priority in this stage of infant occupational therapy will be parent education by teaching tips and tricks to reach these milestones. That may look like ways to incorporate tummy time in your daily routine, introducing you to specific toys that are visually stimulating, oral motor exercises to improve control in eating, and ways to encourage bringing hands to the midline during play.
Ages 4-6 months
In this stage, babies are learning how to use their eyes and hands together to reach for their favorite toys or for their caregivers. Toys are being explored by shaking them or bringing them to their mouths. Your baby should start to roll from tummy to back, which may be scary for them at first. They should continue to grow stronger with their head control and pushing into their hands during tummy time.
To strengthen these skills, occupational therapists will show you ways to encourage rolling such as where to position toys or how to use your own body to facilitate their movement.
OT sessions will provide sensory experiences by exposing them to toys with various textures, sounds, and visuals to help motivate them to reach and play with toys in a variety of positions (I.e. on their side, back, or in sitting.) Parent education will also address positioning throughout the day, so your child isn’t spending too much time on their backs or in chairs.
Ages 6-9 months
Woah, did you see that?! In this stage, motor skills are bursting. From starting to sit independently, army crawling, and 4-point creeping your baby is learning how to get around to where they want to go. Babies in this stage are transferring items between their hands such as toys or their bottle, and even starting to use their fingers to pick up small objects. Be careful, they may be quick with their hands so make sure to get rid of any choking hazards.
Occupational therapists will continue to address and strengthen the milestones above, while also teaching ways you can set up your environment to promote independent movement and transitions.
For example, placing suction cup toys on a vertical surface such as a mirror encourages reaching in an independent sitting. OTs can help show you toys that are age appropriate to work on those fine motor skills and bring hands to the midline. Some of our favorites for this age are pop tubes, bubbles, and books.
Ages 9-12 months
Just like that, your baby is inching toward the one-year mark! Not only are they showing more of their personalities, but they are also showing more purposeful play. You should see them start to understand the concept of in and out, whether that’s putting their blocks into and out of a bucket or stacking household items like tub-a-wear containers. They should start copying your actions, so it’s time to break out a game of peek-a-boo.
Babies at this age are becoming more independent eaters, as they are starting to finger feed and drink by holding their cups all by themselves.
In terms of movement, babies in this stage should start to pull to stand, cruise by holding onto furniture, and may even start taking a few steps independently. Therapy sessions may address working on those fine motor skills to help with finger feeding and working on their core and upper body strength to help them gain the strength to pull to stand and maintain their balance when taking steps.
Occupational Therapy for Babies to Support and Encourage Parents and Caregivers
What do occupational therapists do with babies?
Throughout all developmental stages, the most important focus in occupational therapy for babies will be on supporting and encouraging the parents’ relationship with their own child. Occupational therapists wear multiple hats, so we are here to listen to your concerns, problem solve and give you the tools to be successful at home.
About the Author
Mary Kate graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor’s degree in Therapeutic Studies and a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy. Before joining NAPA, Mary Kate worked at a specialized school in New York City for children with brain-based disorders and with an early intervention agency. Mary Kate is a kid at heart and connects best with children through playing and finding what motivates them.
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