It's rare that a baby needs formal exercise and stretching. In fact, if you watch your baby's movements, you'll notice that he stretches and contracts his body naturally while sleeping and during his alert times throughout the day. But in the off chance that your baby shows signs of stiff arms and legs, you can try gentle stretching as a first response to your baby's behavior. If the stiffness continues, it's time to see your pediatrician, as constant stiff limbs could be the sign of a serious condition.
If you notice that your baby's limbs are most often curled against his body, some gentle extension stretching can help loosen stiff limbs. Just remember that babies don't need vigorous stretching, and you should never force a limb past a gentle extension. For instance, lie your baby on your lap and then grasp his ankle. Pull it gently toward your body until you feel resistance and hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat with the other leg and the arms. Never pull so hard that your baby shows signs of discomfort.
Not only can gently cycling your baby's legs help relieve stiffness, it can help diffuse gas that causes your baby to be fussy after a feeding. Just lay your baby down on a sturdy surface or your lap. Grasp his ankles and raise them just above his torso. Start cycling his legs in an alternating pattern, so that one leg is down while the other is up. Continue for as long as your baby tolerates the movements, remembering to move slowly and smoothly and avoid jerky movements.
Babies can benefit from massage in a myriad of ways. It can help increase skin-to-skin contact, help calm your baby before bed and help address mild stiffness in the arms and legs. Start by placing your baby on his back on a blanket. Use baby lotion warmed in your hands and gently pass your hands over your baby's limbs. Gently press with your thumbs along the thighs, calves and forearms, but stop if our baby shows signs of discomfort. Baby massage can become a relaxing part of your daily routine with your child.
Your baby might look like he has stiff arms and legs, when it's really just his way of stretching and testing movement. If your baby's legs and arms are so stiff that he shows discomfort when you try to stretch or massage them, make an appointment with your pediatrician. Stiff arms and legs is an earmark of conditions such as cerebral palsy, so it's important to address your concerns with your baby's doctor, because you'll require more than stretching as part of the treatment process.