Infants come into the world with a variety of reflexes. You've probably noticed your baby gripping your finger or swiping at objects in front of her. Although these reflexes may seem primitive, they are actually the first instinctual movements toward building arm strength, which impacts upper body strength and gross motor skills in the future.
At first glance, tummy time might seem to build strength in the neck and back more than the arms. Your baby might rock back and forth or even roll onto her back if she hates being on her tummy, and these movements might not involve the arms as much as the back and core muscles. However, over time your little one will realize that her arms can help her get that head off the ground and even allow her to push up into the scooting or crawling position. Pathways recommends working up to one hour of tummy time every day to build strength in the arms and other areas.
You've probably noticed the grasping reflex, which occurs when you place your finger or a similarly sized object in your baby's palm. According to Medline Plus, some babies have such a strong grasp reflex that they can almost be lifted off the ground if they hold onto two fingers. When combined with gentle support, the grasp reflex does much more than strengthen the hand, and within just a few months your baby might even be able to pull up with her arms. Although the reflex usually disappears around five or six months of age, it can help cultivate strength in the arms, as well as the lower body.
Pulling and Pushing
Go to any gym and you'll notice that the primary movements for arm and upper body exercises involved pulling and pushing motions. This also applies to babies. Once your little one is more mobile, give her opportunities to safely practice pulling herself up on furniture or other sturdy support objects. Age-appropriate pushing toys also provide opportunities to build arm strength, and may also help your baby learn to walk since they teach her to support her own weight.
Although babies are generally pretty tough, their bones and ligaments are still developing. In particular, be sure to avoid pulling or twisting your baby's arms during pulling movements or while lifting her. Because the ligaments in the elbows are not fully developed, there is a risk that the bones can slip out of place, resulting in a common injury known as nursemaid's elbow. Never pick up your baby by the arms, and if you do give her your fingers to practice pulling up, avoid pulling on her arms and allow her to bear her own weight.