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Baby containers – why they need to be limited

Baby containers – why they need to be limited

Let your baby have lots of free play on the floor

Article by Dr Lin Day

The next time you put your baby in a bouncer, walker or strap-in chair, think carefully. Studies show that too much time spent in them can prevent them babies from getting the exercise that they need for healthy development. 

If a rocker, bouncer, car seat or other restraining device is to be used, confinement should be limited to short periods of time only. Babies need plenty of opportunities to exercise their bodies and their brains in order to move on to the next stage of development. They also need to spend time in close contact with a loving adult. 

It makes sense to put your baby in a car seat when travelling, but use should be restricted to car journeys only. Head control can be delayed in babies who spend too much time in car seats and other restraining devices.

A baby walker may give your baby a sense of mobility and freedom, but it can delay the development of muscles in the upper body. Your baby may also miss out the crawling stage, which is a crucial developmental milestone. Baby walkers allow babies to move very quickly, but if unsupervised, they may crash into furniture, fall over steps or tip over into a heater or fire. Walkers are responsible for about 24 thousand reported accidents every year. In some countries, the sale of baby walkers has been banned.

Most babies enjoy the exhilaration of exercising in a doorway bouncer.  However, overuse can lead to spine and back problems in later life. Babies can also develop foot and joint problems from pushing up on their toes. Babies need to develop essential balance and stability skills by themselves. 

Containers that hem the baby in by enclosing their legs are also potentially dangerous. Some babies react by arching their backs and by throwing themselves backwards or forwards in an attempt to escape. Serious injury to the head may be sustained if the baby falls out of the seat and on to the floor. 

High chairs are permanent fixtures in most homes. Unless safety straps are used, babies are at an increased risk of sustaining skull and limb fractures when they try to stand up.  Brain concussion or even death can also occur if the baby falls out of the chair.

What are the alternatives?

Some containers are less restrictive than others. An old-fashioned pram or a play pen can keep your baby safe during busy periods. A wearable sling carrier or wrap offers a useful alternative to a conventional container. The carrier keeps your baby close to your body where he or she feels safe and secure. Your baby will also benefit from the extra stimulation of looking around and seeing the world, and you will benefit from being able to get on with daily chores. 

The consequences of spending too long in a container are only just beginning to emerge. Problems such as clumsiness, poor posture, eye problems and delayed motor skills have been linked to their misuse. 

Babies have an in-built drive to be mobile from birth. Through exercise, your baby’s muscles grow strong and the brain becomes increasingly proficient at controlling complex actions. Freedom of movement improves sleep patterns, reduces stress and frustration and boosts the immune system. Exercise also helps to protect against heart disease and obesity in later life.

To keep your baby’s body and brain healthy, a container should only be used when absolutely necessary. If your baby appears uncomfortable or starts to fuss, then close physical comfort should be provided. Alternatives, such as a wearable sling carrier could be considered during busy times. However, the best solution is to get your baby out of the container and on the floor to encourage mobility skills and overall brain development. 

Further reading:

Day, L. (2008). In praise of tummy time. Early Years Educator 10 (1): 36- 38.

Day, L. (2009). Solitary confinement (baby containers). Early Years Educator 10 (12):

 

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Sensory Development

Sensory Development

Article by Dr Lin Day

“Babies learn best when they experience things that they can see, hear, touch, smell or taste. It is how they gain knowledge of themselves and learn about the world”.  

When your baby is alert and you’re ready to play, sensory activities that you can do at home include cuddling, reading stories, listening to music, and exploring interesting shapes, colourful objects and toys. Games such as peek-a-boo, blowing ‘raspberries’ and tickling your baby with a soft brush or scarf are also delightful ways to stimulate your baby’s senses and have fun together.

However, you don’t need to put extra time aside to stimulate your baby’s senses. Routine activities such as feeding, nappy changing, dressing, bath time and preparing for sleep all provide opportunities for sensory development.

When you go out, a trip to the supermarket offers a rich opportunity to discover new sights, smells and textures. The fresh fruit or herb counters are good places to start. A nature walk, a trip to the zoo or beach will provide a complete sensory experience. Seeing objects moving at close and far range, smelling freshly mown grass, feeling the texture of sand, water or dried leaves, and hearing animal noises or birds singing will stimulate your baby’s senses. Swimming also provides a unique sensory learning experience as well as being therapeutic and calming.

You can also join an organised group activity such as Baby Sensory, where you will explore a wealth of sensory experiences with your baby, meet other parents, and gain ideas for home use. Babies especially love hearing the sing and sign song ‘Say Hello to the Sun’ at the beginning of the session and parents and babies soon learn to communicate with signs.

 

Sensory development and activities

Sights

At birth, your baby can see colours, although they may appear blurry. That’s because the brain and eyes are still developing. It will take a few months before your baby can see colours clearly. However, even at this early stage of development, your baby can track the movement of an object. You can help your baby develop this skill by slowly moving a colourful toy across her field of vision or by hanging a mobile above her cot.

Bold black and white images, bright shapes and shiny objects will also stimulate your baby’s senses and maintain interest and concentration.

When you hold your newborn baby close, she’ll fixate on your eyes and study your facial expressions and mouth movements. Your baby may even stick out her tongue when you stick out yours!

Your baby can grasp an object from the moment she is born, but from about three months on, she’ll reach out for her favourite toys, which shows that her eye-hand coordination is developing. By the time your baby is nine months-old, she’ll pick up small objects using her thumb and forefinger. At this time, you’ll need to be extra careful about safety.

Sounds

Having listened to your voice in the womb, your baby will freeze when she hears you talk within minutes of the birth. She’ll also know the difference between your voice and that of a stranger. To help your baby tune in to the rhythms and patterns of speech, use simple, slow, repetitive sounds, and high and low pitches. When you change your baby’s nappy, talk or sing to her. She may respond with cooing sounds or throaty gurgles to show you that’s she’s listening!

Your baby will recognize lullabies and tunes heard in utero and find them comforting. Other sounds similar to those heard in the womb include the rhythmic sound of your heartbeat, shushing, and white noise such as the tumble drier, vacuum cleaner or the hum of a car engine. Nature sounds such as rain, ocean waves, running water, a bubbling brook or fish tank are also very soothing.

Books are a wonderful way to introduce new sounds and words and they offer the perfect excuse to cuddle up and spend quality time together. Music is another sensory delight that can help your baby learn different rhythms and sound patterns, and drift into peaceful sleep at the end of a busy day.

If your baby fails to respond to everyday sounds or an ear infection is suspected, ask your GP or health visitor to carry out a hearing check.

Touch

Touch is one of your baby’s earliest sensory experiences and it plays an important role in the development of the brain. Massage, close physical contact (especially skin-to-skin), stimulates the production of oxytocin (known as the ‘love’ or bonding’ hormone), which makes your baby feel comfortable, warm and safe.

In the womb, your growing baby was lulled by the sensation of rocking and swaying. After the birth, your baby finds comfort when you rock or sway her in your arms. If your baby needs a lot of holding, a wrap or carrier will keep her close while freeing up your hands for other tasks.

Give your baby toys to look at, shake, and touch to boost her development. When your baby is about three months-old, she’ll bring everything to her mouth and learn about texture, shape, taste, smell, temperature, size and weight. But as soon as your baby starts crawling or moving about independently, be on the lookout for small, hazardous objects that could end up in her mouth.

Smell and taste

Within an hour of the birth, your baby uses her highly developed sense of smell and taste to locate the breast. Breast milk has a similar smell and taste to amniotic fluid, which your baby swallowed in the womb. Its sweet taste triggers the release of opiates in the brain, which calm your baby.

When nursed or during skin-to-skin, your baby experiences your taste and smell, which provides reassurance and comfort. A cloth sprinkled with milk or your familiar scent can offer your baby comfort when you’re not available. And there are plenty of other opportunities to stimulate this sense in the home from cooking smells to the scent of fresh flowers, herbs and baking bread.

If your baby has started solids, she’ll enjoy exploring the smell and taste of different foods. She’ll soon let you know which ones she likes best. The more varied your diet during pregnancy, the more likely your baby will be willing to try different foods.

Sensory toys

Age and stage appropriate toys will offer a wealth of sensory learning opportunities and lead development forwards. Black and white pictures to look at, and rattles that can be grasped, will stimulate the interest of a newborn or very young baby. Books with textured or sparkly materials, brightly coloured pictures and hide-and-seek surprises are also favourites for babies of all ages.

Sensory toys for babies aged three to six months include objects that can be brought to the mouth, and play gyms that can be biffed and kicked. From six to nine months old, pop-up toys, musical instruments, tea sets, and activity centres with buttons to press provide an endless source of sensory stimulation. Large plastic bricks to stack or bang, shape sorters, and push along toys are fun and educational for babies aged nine to twelve months-old. A treasure basket containing interesting everyday objects or a cardboard box filled with paper or fabric will develop hand-eye coordination, keep little hands busy, and boost your baby’s intellectual development.

Where possible, limit the number of objects or toys to one or two at any one time to maintain interest. Look out for cues such as looking away from you, rubbing her eyes, yawning, fussing, jerky or disorganized movements. They may suggest that your baby needs a change of activity, quiet time, a cuddle or a nap.

Did you know there are more than 5 senses?

 

Further reading:
Day, L. (2008). The enigma of walking. Early Years Educator 9 (10): 20-22.
Day, L. (2008). In praise of tummy time. Early Years Educator 10 (1): 36- 38.

Baby Sensory © 2011 (updated January 2018)

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Rolling Over – Top Tips

Rolling Over – Top Tips

Article by Dr Lin Day

“How can I help my baby to roll over and when will this happen?”

Rolling over is an extremely important milestone in your baby’s development and the starting point for all other balance skills, including sitting up and crawling.

Going from front to back usually occurs at about 3 to 4 months-old. However rolling over from back to front and vice-versa is usually achieved at about 6 months-old and sometimes sooner. However, parents should not worry if rolling over is achieved later. All babies are different.

The ability to roll over depends on upper body strength (neck, shoulders, arms, and chest) and plenty of opportunities for unrestricted movement and tummy time. Babies who are given plenty of tummy time tend to roll over sooner than babies who lie predominantly on their backs during daytime waking hours.

Although babies must always sleep on their backs, rolling over from back to front may be achieved before front to back. The most important factor is to ensure that the baby does not get tangled in layers of bedding.

Bigger babies can take longer to roll over than smaller babies. Premature babies may reach the milestone later than babies born at full-term. Babies with physical impairments may not follow the normal developmental sequence. They may already be already working with a physical or occupational therapist to help them achieve
developmental milestones. Any precautions or specific instructions that have been suggested should be followed.

How to encourage this essential milestone
The following can help your baby to roll over:

  • Plenty of tummy time during supervised waking hours will strengthen your baby’s upper body muscles in preparation for rolling over.
  • Rolling over can be encouraged through play. If a toy or rattle is wriggled or shaken to one side, your baby may roll over to get it.
  • Put your baby’s arms and legs into the correct position (one arm and shoulder tucked under the body, the other knee bent) and gently roll him over. He will soon get the idea and attempt to roll over on his own.
  • Sing ‘Rock-a-bye-Baby’ and gently rock your baby before rolling him over.
  • Play ’Peek-a-boo’ on one side of your baby to encourage him to roll towards you.
  • Make rolling over an enjoyable activity. If your baby seems uncomfortable, try again when he is rested and ready to play.
  • Some babies find it easier to roll over when their nappies are removed.Rolling over enables babies to get to interesting toys and objects. However, parents will need to be on the lookout for hazards.

If your baby isn’t rolling over by 12 months of age, see your healthcare professional.


Further reading:
Day, L. (2008). The enigma of walking. Early Years Educator 9 (10): 20-22.
Day, L. (2008). In praise of tummy time. Early Years Educator 10 (1): 36- 38.

Baby Sensory © 2011 (updated January 2018)

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Postnatal Depression – Top Tips

Postnatal Depression – Top Tips

Article by Dr Lin Day

Postnatal depression is a debilitating illness that can spoil the experience of motherhood, interfere with the development of the mother-baby bond and put an immense strain on adult relationships.

The postpartum period is a critical time for the health of the mother. In some cultures, it is not uncommon for other women to look after the mother in the first few weeks after the birth. However, many mothers find themselves without support and with little or no experience in the practice of baby care. This puts the sole responsibility of looking after the baby on the mother long before she is ready.

Postnatal depression is a serious condition that can result in a great deal of suffering. It can take a long time to recover from the illness, but early treatment can reduce its severity.

Causes
To get the mother through the birth, endorphins, adrenaline and natural chemicals course through her body. The rapid decline in hormone levels after the birth can leave the mother with a strong sense of anticlimax or the ‘Baby blues’. However, the condition usually sorts itself out within a few days and does not require treatment other than reassurance and support from family and friends.

Postnatal depression is much more serious and it can occur anytime within the first year after the birth. It can develop suddenly, it can be mild or severe, and it can happen to mothers with their first, second or last child. Although no one is really sure what triggers the illness, it seems likely that a number of different factors may lead up to it. Factor may include problems with a previous pregnancy, anxiety during pregnancy, bereavement, moving house, marital conflict, financial problems, ill health, poor diet, isolation or loneliness. Even so, postnatal depression can start without any of these stresses.

Symptoms
The symptoms of postnatal depression are very similar to those seen in clinical depression and may include:

    • Fatigue – even a simple task such as getting dressed may seem an
      impossible one.
    • Sleep disturbances – although the mother feels tired, she may find it hard to get to sleep and may wake up very early in the morning.
    • Feelings of worthlessness – the mother may be unable to organise a routine or work out what her baby needs or wants. She may also fail to take care of herself and how she looks.
    • Anxiety – the mother may be obsessed with the baby’s health and concerned that the baby will come to harm if left alone.
    • Despair – feeling unhappy and wretched can be worse at particular times of the day. Good days may be followed by bad days which can make the mother feel tearful for much of the time.
    • Irritability – feelings of irritability are common and may be aimed at her partner or family members, who may not understand what is happening.
    • Reduced libido – postnatal depression can take away the desire for sex. If the mother’s partner does not understand this, he may feel rejected.
    • Guilt – even though the mother has really looked forward to motherhood, she may find it hard to love the baby, which increases her sense of guilt.
    • Appetite changes – although the mother needs all the energy she can get, she may lose her appetite. Some mothers may eat for comfort and then feel bad about putting on weight.
    • Panic attacks – headaches, stomach pains or heart palpitations can make the mother fear that she is going to have a heart attack or a stroke.
    • Social withdrawal – the mother may lose interest in activities that she enjoyed before the birth and may not want to go out at all.
    • Delayed attachment – the mother may be unable to respond to her baby’s need for love and affection. This is an important concern because emotional availability in the first six months of life is crucial to the baby’s overall health and future development.
    • Thoughts of suicide – the mother may feel that suicide is the only way out of her problems. This should be taken extremely seriously and help should be sought straight away.

Treatment
The first stage in treatment includes good nutrition, plenty of rest, and regular exercise. All are important for emotional and physical health. Regular meals, adequate intake of protein from meat and eggs together with omega 3 fatty acids from fish and vegetables can make a real difference. Hydration is also important. The recommended daily intake is about ten tall glasses of fresh water. Massage, yoga, aromatherapy, acupuncture, walking, swimming, jogging, cycling, getting out and about and having fun can also play an important part in the mother’s recovery.

If the depression is severe, or has gone on for a long time, antidepressant drugs can be used safely while breastfeeding. However, antidepressants can take up to four weeks to start working, so it is important that the mother keeps on taking them or the depression may return. About 60 percent of women with moderate to severe postnatal depression feel better within a few weeks of starting medication, but they are not an effective method for everyone.

Evidence suggests that sharing experiences, anxieties and feelings with others is one of the best cures for postnatal depression. For mothers who do not have anyone to confide in, self-help groups and supportive networks such as the Association for Postnatal Illnesses (www.apni.org), Parentline Plus (www.parentlineplus.org.uk) and the National Childbirth Trust (www.nct.org.uk) can provide the help, support and reassurance that the mother needs.

Parent and baby classes, such as Baby Sensory, also provide a social setting where mothers can share their experiences with others who have gone through the same experience, and send quality time with their babies.

Further reading:
Day, L. (2011). Postnatal depression. Early Years Educator 11 (10): 31-33.
Day, L. (2010). Food fuel for the brain. Early Years Educator 12 (3): 32-34.
Day, L. (2010). Fresh air and sunshine. Early Years Educator 12 (4): 28-30.
Day, L. (2012). The science of laughter. Early Years Educator 14 (2): 35-37.
Day, L. (2014). Vitamin D and sunlight. Early Years Educator 16 (4): 16-18.

Baby Sensory © 2012 (updated January 2018)

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Tummy Time – Top Tips

Tummy Time – Top Tips

Article by Dr Lin Day

Tummy time is an essential aspect of development from birth.

It promotes:

  • Healthy development of the central nervous system and brain
  • Strong neck, back and upper body muscles
  • Balance, coordination, stability and postural skills
  • Flat hand development, which increases precision finger and thumb
    movements
  • Rolling over
  • Visual development
  • Crawling – an essential developmental milestone not to be missed.

If your baby finds being on his tummy physically uncomfortable, introduce tummy time gradually, two or three times a day for a few minutes. It will eventually become part of your baby’s daily routine and he will learn, play and practice essential head control movements in this position. Make sure your baby is safe and attended.

How to make tummy time fun:

  1. Keep your baby company on the floor. Coo, sing or make funny sounds to encourage him to lift up his head.
  2. Roll up a towel and place it under your baby’s chest. Extend your baby’s arms forwards over the towel. This supported position allows your baby to lift up his head and look around, which improves focusing ability and strengthens neck muscles.
  3. Place your baby on his back. Slowly pull your baby up to a sitting position (hold your baby under his arms). Hold him there for a few seconds and then ease him back down again.
  4. Place a safety mirror or favourite toy in front of your baby and draw his attention to it. The object will encourage your baby to lift up his head to get a better look.
  5. Shake a rattle or bell to one side of your baby to  encourage him to turn towards the sound.
  6. Encourage creeping movements by placing interesting toys out of reach.
  7. Lie on your back and put your baby on your tummy or chest. Say your baby’s name to encourage him to raise his head to get a better look at you.
  8. Place your baby on his tummy across one arm. Your baby’s head will rest in the crook of your arm, but his legs will dangle free. Rock your baby in this position.
  9. Place your baby across your legs and pat his back. Patting will encourage your baby to lift up his head and straighten his legs.
  10. Place your baby on your lap facing your knees. Draw up your knees so that he can see what’s going on. He’ll probably love the new view.
  11. Put your baby on the edge of the bed and sit on the floor with your face next to his. From this position, you can interact and play together.
  12. Put your baby on his tummy over a beach or gym ball and hold him firmly while you gently rock the ball back and forth. Your baby will learn to shift his body weight, which improves balance and coordination.
  13. Roll a ball over your baby’s back, legs and arms. It’s a great way to stimulate his skin and relieve tension.
  14. Place a ball in front of your baby and within easy reach. As soon as he touches the ball, it will roll away. Your baby will either ‘swim’ or on his tummy or lift himself up on his forearms in an attempt to reach it.
  15. Exercise or massage your baby while he lies on his tummy.
  16. When your baby can sit up unaided, place an interesting toy in front of him. He
    may end up on his tummy when he tries to grab it. In this position, he make may
    crawling movements, which is good for his brain development
  17. Avoid putting your baby in a recliner or restraining device unless absolutely
    necessary. Your baby needs to be able to move and coordinate his movements
    without restriction.
  18. Spending time with your baby and giving plenty of praise and encouragement will
    soon make tummy time a pleasurable habit.

Tummy time is an essential aspect of development because it leads on to crawling. Crawling fires groups of neurons (brain cells) in different parts of the cortex responsible for visual processing, sensory perception, conscious planning and prediction. It also activates eye-teaming, a crucial skill in learning to read.

Crawling is a key period in your baby’s physical and intellectual development and it only takes a few minutes of daily tummy time to start seeing results.

Babies who spend most of their waking hours on their backs may experience delays in developmental milestones. If you have any concerns about your  baby’s development, see your GP.

Further reading:
Day, L. (2008). In praise of tummy time. Early Years Educator 10 (1): 36- 38.
Day, L.(2009). Solitary confinement (baby containers). Early Years Educator 10 (12): 41-43.

Article by Dr Lin DayBaby Sensory © 2011 (updated January 2018)

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