Chances are, when you go to a park or playground, you probably have seen at least one child running around with airplane arms. Kids love to pretend and play, and really, if you join them for a moment and forget about being a boring adult, it’s so much fun to act like an airplane.
But tummy-time airplane arms are something else.
And no, there’s no reason to worry about this, and I’ll explain why just below.
What are airplane arms in babies?
While kids on the playground are pretending to soar the skies, babies aren’t evolved enough to make belief in such a way. So what’s happening here?
With tummy time airplane arms, babies lack that balance. They’re also not putting their arms forward or bringing them in to support themselves. There’s no reason to panic if you’ve noticed this happening between 4 and 8 months of age.
While it could be an issue with rib curvatures, this is likely something your pediatrician will note and be able to correct easily. In most cases, though, babies are just excited to move around.
See, everything is new to a baby. Once they realize, “OMG! I have arms! I have legs! Ooooh! Look! I can control them myself!” then they start using every chance they get to practice. Often, it can look like airplane arms until they get the hang of things.
Tummy time airplane arms are most common for children before they crawl. Again, fully normal since they are strengthening their muscles and learning how to use them.
Do tummy-time airplane arms mean autism?
Every mama worries about autism. Is this a sign? Is that a sign? Oh, believe me, I know. We can worry ourselves to death this way.
But you can relax here, as tummy-time airplane arms do not mean autism. While one of the signs of autism is to repeatedly stiffen the arms and put on unusual body movement displays and repetitive behaviors, there’s more to it than that. If your baby has autism, you will notice delays in motor development.
Among the delays, rolling over, pushing up from the ground, and crawling are common. But if you have no other milestone delays, your baby will likely not have autism. If you have concerns, you should bring them up with your pediatrician so you can have an official evaluation which will likely relieve your worries.
Your concerns about tummy time are answered here.
What to do about those baby airplane arms?
Again, most of you will not need to worry if you see tummy-time airplane arms. But you will want to help your baby get into a better position so they can excel at the upcoming milestones and build the strength they need.
Here’s what you can do to help tummy time airplane arms…
Move their arms
When you notice those tummy time airplane arms out to the side, all you need to do is help your baby move their arms so they are bent in front of them with their weight resting on the forearms.
Try a towel or pillow
If your baby seems agitated by this tummy time business, as many of them do, you can help them lift and push up by sticking a folded-up towel underneath them. This will encourage them to put their weight on their arms correctly. You can also use a Boppy if you have one.
Your baby may just not be excited about being on her belly like this. And who could blame her? She can’t move, and if you were in that way, I’m sure you’d scream and cry too. Heck, I know I would!
Blowing bubbles or using a baby toy that will encourage the baby to lift with her arms is a good start. For older babies that are closer to crawling, you may want to arrange a bunch of baby toys in a semi-circle in front of your baby on the tummy time mat. Place them, so they are within easy reach with minimal movement. This will encourage your little one to keep her arms in front and not to the sides.
Use an exercise ball
Some babies may find it easier to do tummy time with an exercise ball. I’ve provided tips on how to do that in my article about tummy time activities and ideas, so be sure to check those out!
And, of course, once you know tummy time airplane arms are just your baby’s way of trying to balance and support themselves, you can start correcting this move. But don’t discourage them from airplane arms at other times. You can hold your baby on her belly and gently swing her back and forth while making airplane noises.
All told, tummy-time airplane arms are no big deal. Many babies do this, and it’s a normal thing. You’ll want to put those arms in the right place to help them continue to build muscle strength, but other than that, let them fly through tummy time activities, and you’ll soon have a crawling baby!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.