By Dr Suzy McCleary
Today, modern parents are surrounded by a world of devices and technology designed to make our lives easier. Babies can be propped up in moulded seats before they have the physical strength to support their weight; we can move them from the car to the shops without having to wake or move them; and technology allows us to watch their every move without being in the room. But what if this environment, together with all this stuff, is contributing to rising behavioural problems, asthma, allergies and emotional issues, including hypersensitivity in our children? Can ditching the restrictive devices, returning to nature, implementing the power of touch and being face-to-face with our babies, be the answer to reclaiming our greatest gift?
We all know it is our job to guide and create a positive supportive environment for our children to grow and thrive in. We hope to see them laugh, play, imagine, sing and create. But for many children this natural progression is missing. We are noticing more infants and children who appear withdrawn, are hypersensitive, are over-cautious or who lack a sense of boundaries with respect to both their own and others’ safety. The number of children with behaviour problems is skyrocketing and it is difficult to find a classroom that doesn’t have several children with significant allergies or asthma. Is there a link between our modern world and what is happening to our babies? You bet there is!
“All children are born wired for feelings and ready to learn” (1) and it is the growth of our baby’s brain that will determine how successful this is.
It is during the first 12 months that our baby’s brain grows most rapidly and this critical period for learning is essential for physical, emotional and cognitive development. The brain is the only organ that is not fully formed by the time a baby is born and it needs stimulation from the outside world for this development to occur. Research shows that the correct stimulation for babies can influence how well they behave, read and learn. In addition, it can influence their confidence, communication and socialisation skills. However, this stimulation needs to come in the form of movement, touch, nature and face-to-face interaction – not a device.
Active babies who have the correct early movement experiences, have also been found to have better coordination, concentration, memory, and perception as they get older (2). Although it may seem that your baby would be bored laying on the floor and that sitting them up is important so they can be stimulated by the world around them, the opposite is true. Your baby’s desire to see the world is the driving force that will encourage them to first turn and then lift their head, and it is this same desire that will encourage your baby to start rolling, crawling and walking. According to Van Der Meer (2017), a professor of neuropsychology, the neurons in the brains of young children quickly increase in both number and specialization as the baby learns new skills and becomes more mobile (3).
When you put your baby in a “container” it is like hitting the pause button on their brain development.
Allowing your baby time to lay on the playmat on their tummy or on your chest, is an essential part of their development. When your baby is on their front, they are able to feel their body against the hard surface and this pressure on their large muscles and joints stimulates what is known as the proprioceptive system. This weight-bearing activity is responsible for wiring your baby’s brain, helping them learn where and what their body is. This is also the first step towards early independent movement and is the beginning of your baby being able to self-regulate. This proprioceptive input also assists your baby in controlling their responses to sensory stimuli and can have a very calming effect.
Unfortunately, babies today are getting a limited amount of time and opportunity to explore their bodies and their environment. They are spending extended waking hours strapped in devices, including car seats, strollers and bouncy chairs. This is having a profoundly negative effect on our children, delaying development, contributing to the growing number of hypersensitive children and an increase in muscular imbalances in growing bodies. When you put your baby in a “container” it is like hitting the pause button on their brain development. This includes baby capsules. Although they are an essential part of car travel – as every child must be restrained safely and securely – when taken out of the car these containers tightly restrict a baby’s movements. It’s best to leave the capsule in the car and just take baby out.
It is also not uncommon for parents to sit their babies up by propping them up against a pillow or using a rubber moulded seat. Although meaning well, this is not helping our babies at all and is hindering their development and slowing their pathway to mobility. If your baby is forced into a sitting position under six months of age, or propped up and handed toys, they don’t need to move. They will not only slow their brain development, but if they are not able to move freely, will also be denied the opportunities to develop the muscle strength necessary for crawling and creeping.