Category Archives: All/General

The Importance of Measuring (or, The Importance of Not Propping in Sitting, Standing, and Walking)

It’s something we do automatically. It’s how we know where the floor is; or gauge how much to move our legs when going up and down stairs. If we didn’t have a chance as infants, or we have other challenges with balance, it’s part of why we feel clumsy or uncertain about our movements.

This mysterious activity? Measuring. Babies are masters!

We can see this baby feeling what she's doing. She's starting to push up to sitting. In the process, she's "measuring," or sensing where she is in space and in relation to the ground.

We can see this baby feeling what she’s doing. She’s starting to push up to sitting. In the process, she’s “measuring,” or sensing where she is in space and in relation to the ground.

When babies learn to move, they begin lying on the floor. Over time, development brings them up off the floor, from lifting head and chest to crawling to walking. Pushing off the earth comes before, and leads into, being able to reach into space. That is, measuring comes before, and leads into, freedom of movement and innate trust in our own movement abilities.

So what is measuring?

This brilliant design of the human nervous system gives infants a chance to “measure”—to experience their distance from the floor. It allows their brains to read gravity and know where they are in space.

Imagine this. You (your adult self) have been picked up by someone strong and set on your feet on a 5-inch-wide wall several feet above the ground. (And you happen not to be a gymnast or tight-rope walker.) What do you do? How do you feel? What happens to your breathing? Is this familiar? What’s your sense of heights and distance from the ground? Did you want to be put up here? Would you have been able to get here on your own? How will you get down? Do you know yourself and your abilities right this moment?

Imagine this. Perhaps you’re hiking and you have come upon this stone wall. You’re curious. You touch it, lean on it, and want to get on top of it to see the view or to get to the other side. You have desire, intention, motivation. You make attempts at climbing it, try a few things, discover what works, and make it to the top. How do you feel? What are you thinking about, or not? What’s your sense of heights and distance from the ground? How well do you know yourself and your abilities right this moment?

In the second scenario, you measured. YOU experienced the journey from the ground to the top of the wall. You know where you are in space. You got there yourself, and you’re likely to be able to get yourself off of it.

In the first scenario, you had no opportunity to measure. You were dependent on someone else to get you up there, and because you didn’t experience how to get up, you may also be dependent on someone else to get you down. You weren’t given a chance to know your own ability; rather, someone more powerful has done something to you. While it may be thrilling, you may also be apprehensive.

Watching your amazing baby: How do babies measure?

Watch for:

  • The nose-bob or nose-to-mouth. At the breast or on her tummy, you may see Baby bobbing her nose, then latching on with her mouth. If she’s holding something, you may see her bring it to her nose, then slide it down to her mouth. This is one form of measuring or orienting—setting herself up to know where something is and where she is and how to make the two meet.
  • From tummy, lifting head and pushing up on hands. Get on the floor with Baby and try it yourself too! Lying on the floor > pushing up > down to the floor > pushing up. Clock some time doing that, and you understand how to “be” at that distance off the floor. You know where you are in space.
  • Baby spots a toy and either pushes backwards on belly or belly-crawls forward. She has spotted what she wants and sets up her movement to attempt to get it. She gets feedback from the outcome—did her actions get her what she wanted? Please don’t move the toy, as she won’t get correct feedback about measuring what she had set herself up to do.

    Spotting what he wants, figuring out how to get it, trying it out, discovering the outcome: measuring.

    Spotting what he wants, figuring out how to get it, trying it out, discovering the outcome: measuring.

  • From sidelying, watch Baby push with her hands into sitting. Try this one too. Here I am lying on the floor; and feeling each moment of the journey up to sitting; back down, back up; measure, measure; ah, now my proprioceptive system (inner ear) knows where I am in space, and I know how to get back down.
  • Pulling up to standing—it’s all about measuring! Up, down, up, down. Reading distances, feeling gravity, knowing her own ability. “Down” may be falling or plopping at first, but she’s not afraid because she got herself up there. Her brain is reading this distance and what she needs to do to move within it.

The truth about propping

When we prop babies in sitting, standing, and walking before they are able to get into it and out of it by themselves, they don’t get this experience of knowing themselves and measuring. They become dependent on us to get them up higher and to get them down again. We put them into the situation of the first scenario above.

In a society so focused on achievement, allowing Baby her full time and space necessary to discover movement on her own takes trust! But we are designed to be able to do the next thing when we are ready.

Sometimes there are stressors that prevent babies from finding milestones. But in general, each milestone will happen by itself once all (ALL) previous and necessary preparations are in place.

It’s a common myth that we need to teach sitting, standing, and walking. Baby will benefit the most from finding these on her own. It’s also a myth that babies learn it by practicing it. She’ll learn because she did all the preparations and ends up in the new milestone.

Remember that Baby is a master at measuring and knowing her own abilities, and you can point this out to all the people who come along and say “your baby isn’t sitting yet?????”!

Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor. She also uses Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting.

© Eliza Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

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Cloth AND Disposable! How Diapers Can Affect Your Baby’s Development

Diapers are a part of everyday life with a baby. Cloth and disposable each offer advantages and disadvantages. For optimal motor development, there are some Diapers three-babys-in-diapersimportant considerations that tend to affect cloth-wearers more, but can also affect disposable-wearers. Note, this article address typical development and babies not experiencing hip dysplasia.

The Effects of Big Diapers

When you’re shopping for cloth or disposable options, take into account the size of the diaper when worn. Some diapers can be big, spreading Baby’s legs wide and limiting movement in the lower spine.

For healthy movement development, Baby needs to be able to:

BB2 blue

Being able to curl into a ball shape (“flexion”) is very important for development of movement, muscle tone, coordination, and nervous system regulation

  • Curl into a C-shape, called “flexion” (important for milestone development, digestion, and the nervous system’s ability to balance stimulation with recuperation)
  • Bring each leg into alignment with her hip joints and spine in belly crawling so that the push of her foot will travel well through her body to carry her forward
  • Bring her knees under her hip joints in hands-and-knees crawling, and into optimal alignment for kneeling and walking.

The relationship of the legs, hip joints, pelvis, and spine supports a healthy back for life. Diaper-induced wideness can skew alignment, cause compensations, and lead to W-sitting (See “W-Sitting Revisited” by pediatric physical therapists).

DIY

Don’t listen to me—listen to your body! For fun, get down on the floor and experiment so you know for yourself.

  1. Crawl on your hands and knees comfortably. Notice where your knees land and how much distance is between them.
  2. Then spread your knees wider, as if you were wearing a diaper that didn’t allow your knees to come close together, and crawl like so.
  3. Experiment with the placement of your knees and feel the difference it makes in your lower back, side muscles, jaw, mindstate, and other parts of yourself.

Watch Your Baby Crawl

The next time you see your baby crawl, notice where her knees land. Optimally, the knees will come through under the hip joints. Diapers can make a baby’s knees spread wider than the hip joints while crawling, which can have an unhappy affect on the lower back, whether it shows up now or in 40 years. Wide knees are also less stable in movement because they don’t allow force to travel efficiently in the most direct route through the bones and joints. Wide diapers and widespread knees can also encourage W-sitting. Even if your baby is not yet crawling, spend some time watching how your baby’s legs relate to each other.

What to Look For in Diapers

This doesn’t mean ditch diapers altogether! It’s about making informed choices.

  • Lie your baby on her back. Without a diaper on, gently bend her knees and bring them toward each other. (Do not do this with a newborn or if there’s concern about hip dysplasia) How close together do her knees move easily? Then put a diaper on and do the same thing to compare. Does the diaper allow movement of the knees toward each other? How much of a difference is it? The intention here is not to force the knees together, but to gently feel your baby’s natural range of motion without a diaper, and then to find out if the diaper restricts access to her natural movement.
  • Look for companies that offer a variety of sizes and stick to the smallest possible size needed.
  • No matter which diapers you choose, give your baby diaper-free time, wearing only swimming/training pants if desired.

Knees-Together Time

Kneeling (kneel-sitting back on the heels and kneel-standing on the knees) offers many wonderful benefits! Kneeling comes in once babies begin to crawl on hands and knees, sit back from crawling, and pull to standing. For optimal movement development, babies need access to knees-together time in these positions. Kneeling–with the forelegs under the body (not W-sitting)–re-engages midline, provides an efficient transition into and out of hands-and-knees crawling, and supports coordination of the legs and torso. It even helps establish healthy support in the lower back. If you notice Baby’s legs spreading wide while crawling or W-sitting, respectfully and gently scoot her knees in toward each other underneath her so that she can kneel-sit. Kneel-sitting generally provides healthier alignment, as well as more options and freedom of movement than W-sitting.

Kneel-sitting is a fantastic, fantastic, fantastic thing for babies to do!

From kneel-sitting, Baby can move in any direction . . . including up to kneel-standing and eventually into walking.

But efore disposables all babies were in cloth, and they ended up just fine didn’t they?

I can’t speak to what cloth diapers were like in history; but I can speak for the babies whom this issue affects. “Fine” is relative. Again, this is about looking at the size and effects of any diaper, but especially cloth because it has more potential to be bulky. Many physical challenges in adulthood stem from a variety of issues in infancy. In the case of big diapers, the diapers direct the movement, rather than the baby’s natural reflexes—and this can create compensation patterns. These compensations can easily go unnoticed in a “healthy,” active child, but they linger in the body and can become problematic later in life (including back, hip, and knee challenges).

Think Functionally and Shop with Awareness

Some babies may not be affected by their diapers. For some babies, this is a question of optimal development vs he’ll-be-okay development. For others still, it can turn a “normal” situation into an unnecessary difficulty that can affect not only movement, but also learning and self confidence.

Whether there are concerns or none,  whether cloth or disposable, every baby benefits from diaper-free time! Optimal joint development… Freedom of movement… Having the most potential available within ourselves to rely on in everyday life… Why not make the effort to build the best foundation possible in the first year?

Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and is trained as a Feldenkrais® Practitioner.

© Eliza Parker 2014, All Rights Reserved 

Exersaucers and Seats For Babies—What’s Best For Baby’s Health?

I often get questions about walkers, activity centers, jumpers, and seats for babies. These devices can be tempting and are often used as a temporary holding-spot so the caregiver can do something like cook dinner or take a shower. We all want the best for our babies—and ourselves. Here’s what you want to be aware of regarding these devices and Baby’s long-term health.

Many parents aren’t aware of this information. If you are using these devices, I share this not to pass judgment, but to spread the word. Consider, gently, ways that you can ease your family into less propping time and more floor time.

Any device that puts a baby into a position he can’t get into on his own yet will encourage compensation patterns. Even if it seems like he’s fully propped and supported, somewhere internally he still can’t support himself or he’d be doing the position on his own already. Often after prolonged use, arching (“extension”) takes over. This compromises integrated development of the lower back and hips, which makes a person more susceptible back problems later in life. Being upright before Baby’s body is ready also calls on his reflexes to be over-active because he is constantly responding as if he is falling. This prevents a natural progression of milestones because what would normally be natural movement is now perceived as falling, which can result in events such as scooting on the bottom or entirely skipping crawling on hands-and-knees (a very important milestone!).

Non-walking babies of all ages often can “stand” or take weight on their legs. This is a healthy sign, but it’s actually a reflex, not a choice! Babies “like” these devices because they bring Baby up higher perceptually so she can participate in the up-high grown-up world. However, Baby’s movement abilities do not yet match this higher perceptual/sensory state. So a split is developed: their bodies tell them to stay low, but we ask them go beyond what they’re ready for.

It’s wonderful to bring Baby up face-to-face while you’re holding him

It is wonderful to carry Baby upright, to bring him up to face level for interaction, to sit her up for eating, etcetera. But it’s oh so beneficial to balance this upright time with on-the-floor time. Meaning—we go down to the floor with Baby! Yes, go on and lie down with Baby and enjoy!

Contrary to popular belief, babies actually learn how to sit and stand through rolling and belly-crawling, which build strength, balance, and coordination—not from actually sitting and standing. So . . . floor time (so they can move as they’re ready) and baby-wearing (so they can feel you moving) are great for Baby’s movement and brain development!

If you are alone and need a contained, safe space temporarily, I recommend these things:

  • If Baby is young enough, there are soft, flat floor pads with short soft walls on all sides called “Baby Zabu.”
  • Create baby-safe spaces throughout your house so that Baby can move freely rather than be confined. Some babies whose needs such as hunger and sleep are currently met and who don’t need to cry-in-arms will play happily while you do what you need to do
  • Is there a way you can carry or wear Baby while you do your task?
  • Always communicate to your Baby verbally what you are doing or need to do
  • If you’re thinking, “that’s nice, but you don’t understand, I need a device,” use one that keeps the baby as low or as inclined as possible
  • If you’re thinking, “whatever!” and you’re still going to use the walker or seat, use it for as short a time as possible.

Bern, professional Nanny in Seattle WA, recalls:

When I was growing up, it was before all the fancy furniture folks drag around now for the infant. When there was a family thing and a new infant was there, a space would be set aside on the carpet, a blanket spread, surrounded by pillows—stuff every house had. Seemed all of the relations did that.

And walkers—when the kid was ready, she prised herself up on the sofa edge and went back and forth for as long as the strength held, then plopped down. 

I think children need attentive, loving caregivers, not things.

Of course there are times when we find ourselves as the only grown-up present,needing to put Baby down safely. That is a fact of typical life in our culture! But as much as possible, for the well-being and full potential of our babies, please limit the use of propping devices.
© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

A Guided Tour Through the First Year of Movement Development

Climbing stairs, driving, playing sports, brushing teeth, maneuvering a sailboat, reading, and writing: we can move any which way we desire. That is, within the limitations of our ligaments, joints, arthritis…

But before we are able to move so freely, we build up each piece of movement separately as infants, albeit with much overlap. Let’s take a tour through the basic bits and pieces of typical post-womb development.

Imagine Baby Flora, we’ll call her. Just born, she may have some reflexive crawling-like, stepping capabilities, but really she is dependent on her grown-ups to move her from place to place.

Flora’s first movement happenings will foster development of her central core or axis, which is called “Spinal.” If you place her in tummy time, you may spot her actually with her tail in the air; and later with her tummy down. Watch her wriggling through her spine, head-nudging (the floor or you), and revving up her “head-to-tail” engine. Then, the first milestone of locomotion (moving in space) is rolling: firstly, turning her head toward and away from the breast if she’s nursed; secondly rolling from front to back and back to front. Rolling will re-appear often within the first-year sequence; but this beginning rolling establishes Flora’s sense of core.

Once she has laid the tracks in her neuro-muscular system for a spinal axis, Baby Flora will move on to the empowering discovery of Upper-Lower, or “Homologous.” Think frog. This stage builds coordination of the upper body and lower body. That is, the arms will do the same thing (symmetrical), as will the legs. Flora now figures out how to lift her head by pushing up on both of her forearms; and eventually higher up onto her hands. She may also use both feet together—kicking and pushing. This stage establishes the upper body as separate from the lower body. Separate—but working in conjunction with each other.

Having established a powerful and stable basis of Upper-Lower, Flora can now explore going off center. This will happen in the Side-Side pattern called “Homolateral.” Watch how Flora, after having learned to push upwards on her hands/arms, sees something she wants and—rather than moving toward it—pushes herself backwards! Oh so frustrating! That frustration will serve as motivation (if she needs to cry-in-arms or is ‘done,’ that is different). See if, when she pushes backwards, she sidebends while doing so. This is because she’s starting to shift her weight side to side.

Then watch how Flora might support herself on her right forearm, with her left knee bent up and playing with her left hand. This means that she has indeed shifted her weight over to one side of herself: one side becomes stable and one side becomes mobile. Babies must learn how to maneuver their weight around down on the ground before they can learn to sit up and walk on two feet! From here, belly crawling forward can develop, as well as coming to sitting. This is a very, very, very beneficial stage!! More on that in a future post.

Let’s pause here in our tour. So far, we have the most basic ground-level pieces of movement. 

We’ve got Upper-Lower 

and Side-Side. 

If we combine these drawings (that is, movement possibilities) on top of each other, we have quadrants.

Hey, this means Flora can go diagonally! Remember her spinal axis, and her options for moving about in the world are just about to explode!

Let’s resume our journey.

With the great foundation of the Upper-Lower and Side-Side patterns that Flora has laid, she can now explore those diagonal movements. That is, crossing opposite sides or “Contralateral.” As Flora now crawls on her hands and knees, observe how the movement sequences through her body from one arm to her opposite leg. She reaches forward with her left arm, and in comes her right knee. This Contralateral pattern mixes up Upper-Lower and Side-Side. It establishes a crossing of midline and one diagonal as separate from the other (but working in tandem).

Think of all the criss-crossing amongst her brain halves while her Contralateral movement happens. Reflexes are integrating, hand-eye coordination continues to refine. This, my friends, will play a huge role in preparation for kindergarten! Crawling is absolutely an important stage! And such excellent preparation for walking—she needs to crawl for as long as possible to prepare her hips, lower back, balance, and coordination for being upright.

You will see these phases of movement—Spinal, Homologous (Upper-Lower), Homolateral (Side-Side), and Contralateral—repeat as Baby Flora traverses through level changes. Remember how, early on while on the floor on her belly, she homologously pushed up onto both of her forearms to lift her head? When she learns how to get herself into sitting, she will be able to reach homologously forward with both arms to go into hands-&-knees crawling. She will learn to kneel-sit (on both forelegs–there’s homologous). Even later, she will homologously squat and come up to standing on both legs. You’ll see her cruising sideways—that’s Homolateral—and, once she takes off hands-free, perhaps toddling like a penguin. Intermingled will be some Contralateral exploration of how her feet can alternate and move forward; and of course she will have been contralaterally climbing your stairs!

So be on the lookout! The next time your baby (or someone else’s at the farmer’s market) makes a move—any move—wonder what her innate developmental programming is really up to under the guise of innocent child’s play.

Eliza graduated as a Certified Practitioner from the School for Body-Mind Centering®.

© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

Trust Nature: Each Milestone Is Important!

Rolling, belly crawling, getting into and out of sitting, creeping on hands & knees, kneel-sitting, pulling up to standing, cruising, bear-walking, walking, running, climbing . . . flying?

Each and every developmental milestone is important. Nature is smart that way–we can trust it! The milestones build the foundation for all the movement we do as adults, as well as our emotional and relational patterning. A baby’s comfort level in movement affects all aspects of her daily life.

The milestones:

  • Establish a healthy lower back and hip/knee joints
  • Develop balance, coordination, and learning habits
  • Interweave with brain development
  • Influence self-confidence, a feeling of security, and an ability to adjust to new people, locations, and experiences
  • Affect the ability to modulate emotions and communicate effectively

And it’s not only about the movements! The quality of a baby’s movement has an effect on her sense of self and her means to get what she needs out in the world. Did you ever know anyone who is “pushy?” Or admire that person who seems to glide easily through life?

Reach! The ability to reach with both hands into space from sitting to initiate creeping on hands and knees is an important developmental event.

I often hear parents report that their doctors and books say creeping on hands and knees is not an important milestone. However, just because many babies do not creep does not mean it’s not important! (“Back to Sleep,” while important for reducing SIDS, has challenged babies in finding their way to each milestone.) Creeping is a key pattern. It entails a criss-crossing of movement through the body, which supports and teaches the criss-crossing of information between both sides of the brain. Research has shown creeping even to help children and adults at any age!

Let’s consider Baby’s future. Contrary to popular belief, movement challenges in infancy are not simply “grown out of.” Left un-addressed, they remain lurking in the body-mind, and can easily become problems in childhood or adulthood, such as back pain, hip or knee instability, behavioral difficulties, and learning challenges. What happens now will affect what happens later! Yet, it’s never too late. So if you yourself missed creeping . . . then what are you waiting for?!

© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved