Once your baby starts getting a little more physically animated, you might notice them moving their arms around a lot. But, what does this mean? Why do babies flap their arms like this? And, is there anything parents need to do about it? Don't worry, because this gesturing is actually a good thing.
As they develop, babies discover new ways to communicate with their caregivers and express emotions besides just crying. Arm-flapping is one of those new ways. "We generally see babies 'flapping' when they are excited and happy," Lilie L. Bonzani, OTR/L, pediatric occupational therapist, and Mary Hart Macleod, OTR/L, occupational therapist, tell Romper in an email. "We generally see babies 'flapping' when they are excited and happy." This movement, which they describe as a baby "rotating their wrists and sometimes their ankles," actually "elicits a pleasurable sensation in their joints and muscles." Essentially, they say, arm-flapping is "a physical expression of emotion."
Of course, every baby develops on their own timeline but generally speaking, this behavior is most common in "babies who are not yet walking, crawling or using their hands as purposefully to clap and bang toys," explain Bonzani and Macleod. In fact, it may be a signal that they need more to do with their hands or are beginning to become more intentional with their hand movements. This is a behavior you should definitely encourage, and Bonzani and Macleod recommend parents "give baby plenty of activities to do with their hands." Some ideas they share include "food play, water play, banging toys together, finger songs and clapping hands."
If you're worried about your child's arm-flapping for some reason, it's always a good idea to talk to the pediatrician for reassurance or to come up with a plan of action. However, it's a very normal behavior, and Bonzani and Macleod note, "Parents should be concerned with this only if it is significant enough to interfere with play and other developmental skills." Otherwise, it's just evidence that you have one very happy and expressive baby.
Lilie L. Bonzani, OTR/L, Pediatric Occupational Therapist at Duke Unversity Health
Mary Hart Macleod, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist at Duke University Health