Gina Mydlo, PT, DPT
4 Reasons Why We Should Focus on Prevention
Updated: Mar 13, 2021
As specialized pediatric therapists, we are typically called in AFTER there is a concern with baby. Either the parents or another medical professional notices that a baby is having difficulties or delays, and the pediatrician helps make the referral to an appropriate therapist.
However, with the right information and simple skills, parents & caregivers can be empowered to prevent many of these issues before they ever begin.
But why is prevention at this young age so important? Don’t babies just progress naturally at their own pace? You’ll just get help if you need it – right?
Actually, it is so much easier to prevent issues and delays than trying to manage them.
Let’s talk about why prevention is so important.
1. The amount of babies with delays and deformities is increasing.
About 1 in 6 children in the U.S. have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays. (1)
Almost 27% of children experience feeding issues. (2)
Up to 16% of babies develop torticollis (neck tightness). (3)
1 in 3 babies has a type of skull distortion (atypical head shape or flat spot). (4)
When therapists treat older children for feeding issues, they often find that the child has had a history of feeding issues since that child was an infant. Many times, we find that the mother struggled to breastfeed or the baby had reflux or bottle aversion. These issues can put the baby at risk for developing solid feeding issues in the future, like delayed feeding skills or picky eating.
Torticollis and skull distortion (flat head syndrome) is one of the most common reasons that a young infant is referred to a physical therapist. These impairments frequently lead to gross motor delays in infants, and have also been correlated with speech delays.
The fact that these numbers are so high is astounding, and we have a duty to educate parents on ways to prevent these types of delays and deformities. Because the truth is, if parents were armed with the correct information about their infant's development from the start, we may have been able to prevent these issues, or at least decrease the severity of these issues.
2. The first 3 years lay the groundwork for the rest of baby’s life.
Baby develops at an amazing rate during the first 3 years of life, and even just the first few months of baby’s life is jam-packed with growth, change, and learning new skills.
The connections in a baby’s brain are most adaptable in the first three years of life. These connections, also called neural circuits, are the foundation for learning, behavior, and health. Over time, these connections become harder to change. (5)
Baby is born with billions of nerve cells. Each of these nerve cells has the ability to make thousands of connections to other nerve cells. This would be very simplified, but you can think of each of these connections as a skill that baby has learned.
For example, let’s say that one connection is baby reaching out for a toy. As baby practices that skill over and over, that connection gets stronger. The repetition basically tells the brain – “Hey this is important because this keeps happening, so let’s keep this connection around.“
But if baby is never given an opportunity to reach out for a toy, then the brain thinks – “Oh this must not be important because it doesn’t happen very often.” And that neural connection is eliminated, or dies off.
Getting that neural connection back as an older child or adult is much harder than learning it from a young age. This is the very same principle that explains why young children have an easier time learning a second language than adults can.
So all that means, is that it is easiest to lay the foundation and framework for healthy development at a very early age, versus trying to change or teach it as the child is older.
We also know that babies need their environment to direct development because we don’t get all of our information just from our genes. Our babies need US to guide them and give them the right amount of opportunities for growth.⠀⠀
3. We don’t like to “wait and see”
Has anyone told you that it's "just a phase", or that you should just "wait and see" if your baby grows out of it?⠀ ⠀ So many people and professionals offer this advice to whatever concern you may have with your infant. ⠀⠀ It doesn't matter if you have concerns with your baby's sleep habits (or lack of), feeding skills, or motor skills. When you have a young baby, people just assume that your little one will just learn all the appropriate skills on their own. ⠀ ⠀ But the truth is, baby needs YOU to teach them the appropriate skills they need to eat, sleep, and move with success. ⠀
More times than not, waiting only persists the issue or delay, causing baby to fall further behind. This only increases the worry, stress, and frustration for parents and does nothing to support them. This kind of advice is very dismissive. Instead, if you are a parent with any concerns, you should advocate for your child and seek second opinions from a specialist.
As therapists, we can teach you how to implement EASY strategies in your everyday routine to get your baby back on track in any area of development before bad habits develop. Most of the time, all it takes is a little change that makes a huge difference. ⠀ ⠀ We want to help you prevent issues BEFORE they even start by educating you on what to expect and how you can support your baby throughout their own unique development.
4. A delay in one area can quickly cause delays in other areas
I’ve mentioned before that an infant is expected to learn many skills during the first few months of life. And these skills build on each other, like building blocks, forming the foundation for future skills. If one of those blocks is missing, you may see issues or difficulties with other skills in the future.
Let’s just take physical motor skills as an example. Did you know there are 8 essential areas of motor development that baby is learning to master the first 6 months of their life?⠀Baby has to develop skills in all of these areas: tummy time, side lying, rolling, pulling to sit, sitting, visual motor skills, fine motor skills, and supported standing. And EACH ONE of these areas directly impacts another area. So, if baby is having trouble with one skill, it will likely cause delays in many other areas.
For example, when a baby learns how to pull to sit, she is working on the abdominal muscles needed to help her sit independently later on. Side lying helps baby learn rolling. Tummy time prepares baby for sitting, fine motor, and tons of other skills. Baby’s visual motor system is being practiced throughout all of these skills. In fact, your baby is working on a multitude of skills at any given point in time!⠀ ⠀ But if baby SKIPS learning a skill… say baby never has the opportunity to do tummy time… then that will cascade into delays in other skills like rolling, visual skills, fine motor, and sitting. It can also cascade into delays in other AREAS of development, like cognition, speech, and feeding.
There is a small window of opportunity to teach your baby the foundational skills they need for future development. Waiting to provide the right opportunities can quickly cause delays in baby's development in all areas. Our goal with our online courses is to teach you everything you need to know to prevent issues before they start, and to support you and your baby throughout your journey.⠀
Not only could this information save you financial stress from doctor's visits, unnecessary interventions, and purchasing countless baby items that are doing more harm than good - they can also save you from emotional stress. ⠀
Parents often find themselves stressed over an issue their baby is having without feeling they have the skills or knowledge to fix it. They are exhausted from lack of sleep and from worrying about baby's well-being. We want to eliminate that kind of stress by giving you the tools you need to be confident in these situations! ⠀
Gina Mydlo, PT, DPT
C. (2020, November 12). Developmental disabilities. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/index.html#:~:text=About%20one%20in%20six%20children,disabilities%20or%20other%20developmental%20delays.&text=Milestones%2C%20screening%2C%20causes%20and%20risk,and%20living%20with%20a%20disability.
Benjasuwantep, B., Chaithirayanon, S., & Eiamudomkan, M. (2013). Feeding problems in healthy young children: prevalence, related factors and feeding practices. Pediatric reports, 5(2), 38–42. Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://doi.org/10.4081/pr.2013.e10
Kaplan, Sandra L. PT, DPT, PhD; Coulter, Colleen PT, DPT, PhD, PCS; Sargent, Barbara PT, PhD, PCS Physical Therapy Management of Congenital Muscular Torticollis: A 2018 Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline From the APTA Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy, Pediatric Physical Therapy: October 2018 - Volume 30 - Issue 4 - p 240-290
Peitsch WK, Keefer CH, LaBrie RA, Mulliken JB. Incidence of cranial asymmetry in healthy newborns. Pediatrics. 2002;110:1-8.
The Importance of Early Intervention for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and Their Families. Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://ectacenter.org/~pdfs/pubs/importanceofearlyintervention.pdf.