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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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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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