It’s not often that I rant. At least out side of my head, anyway. Today, two things have inspired this blog. First is that blog list I’m working off of, which says “Write a Negative Post.” I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but a rant feels right for this category. The second was a recent comment on The Great Chime Puncher, from a physical therapist specializing in kids. And I want to start of by saying that I completely respect this individual’s post and good will even though I am using her comment to make a point. The issue I have is not with the therapist, but with the set of knowledge given as curriculum for the academic programs of therapy, human development, etc.
In response to my “baby chime exercise” and diaper recommendations during play time:
“Far more important for kids with low tone is tummy time. It’s the activation of muscles in this position that serves to connect the 4 inner core muscles (respiratory diaphgram, pelvic floor, transversus abdominis and multifidus) together with the other postural or outer core muscles.
Also, far more than diaper/no diaper, it’s the actual skeletal developmental biomechanics of the hip that create the restriction at this age. Tummy time when they are babies, well-rounded physical activity as they grow and less sitting are what the brain and the skeleton need for a lifetime of good alignment and function.”
While there were other aspects of the post I didn’t jive with, it was really the last sentence of the comment that moved me to post today. The notion that these items -- tummy time, well-rounded physical activity, and less sitting -- are presented as all the human body needs for correct development is a huge oversimplification for therapists and parents. There is much more a developing human needs than these three items. And note: This is not about manipulating variables to create a physically superb child, or about being an over-zealous parent. So many books and websites talk about letting a child develop in a natural way. I couldn’t agree more. But the big, huge, gray, wrinkly, ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM is that we do not live in nature -- and what we are calling “natural development” is actually extremely stunted and limited based on our modern lifestyles.
If I were to make a much more specific list of what babies and then kids need, it would look a lot more like this:
1. To be carried as an infant, everywhere, in the arms of another human.
Not in a stroller. Not in a sling. Not in any contraption that prevents the infant from doing its own work. Have you ever seen any baby transport device growing on a tree? I didn’t think so. Why not the stroller? There are huge biological activities happening in development that require human-to-human communication that goes beyond words. This can only happen with proximity. Second, no human (at any age) can develop musculature without resistance. They need to feel their body against gravity in order to develop their brain (and proprioception) to set the muscles at the correct lengths. Baby-wearing is also a huge market with tons of products, all advertising their better positioning for better development. Well, unfortunately, human muscle doesn’t develop based on position. Position is passive. If I casted a part of your body into an optimal position for healing (think casting a broken leg) this ensures that the bones set evenly but the casting actually promotes muscle atrophy (shrinking) -- not muscle development.
Now I love baby wearing more than strollers, because at least you’ve got the closeness and a more upright posture. But there is something much better than baby wearing, and that is baby carrying.
Why don’t we do that? Probably because we are too weak (most women aren’t strong enough to carry the weight of the pregnancy, hence the back pain and hip problems), or too inconvenient. How can you use your iPhone and carry your baby? Very carefully, I can tell you from experience.
2. To be carried, often.
It’s not enough to hold the baby now and then (like, well most of the time the baby is on the ground/crib/bed). Physical anthropological data shows that women used to walk 800-900 miles per year carrying their babies. These kids didn’t have flopping heads either. All it takes is the careful carrying of your baby for the first month or two to help the child develop correct motor skill and strength to support their hefty head.
3. No shoes.
No human should be wearing footwear but least of all developing children. I know we all don’t live in Africa, so put some socks on the kid when it’s cold, but correct development of sensory nerves in the feet require unique surfaces to feel with their foot-skin. And when it comes to walking, nothing on the feet that would cause a baby to lose traction. The correct gait pattern has a pushing-back motion that should develop. Guess why most of us don’t have it? Slippery socks on a wood or linoleum floor. Baby jumpers, and those round things that babies sit in to push themselves around? Baby walkers? What are those called? Those prevent natural gait development because they turn off the reflex for doing it “biologically best” and replace it with another computer program.
4. Cultivate the gripping reflex.
Babies have a reflex that allows them to grip onto something and hold their body weight. As babies pass the first couple of months, they should begin to hang on to your body while walking. (Which is really cool!) This makes it less work for the baby-holder (especially when you have a 3-month, 17-pounder) and helps the baby develop the muscles that hold the shoulder blades down -- the same motor skill that is needed in opening up the muscles between the ribs which improves oxygen intake. (Children with respiratory issues should be working on their ability to hold their body weight with their arms!)
5. Encourage squatting.
Westerners have less hip and knee ranges of motion than anyone else in the world. Be wary of studies that list “what humans can do with their knees and hips” based on data collection from Western populations. We’re all jacked up in the body and the scary thing is, our academic texts are starting to confuse “normal” with “natural.”
6. Get rid of your furniture.
Do you have a kiddie table and chairs? Raise up the table for a standing play/work area and toss the chairs. Why would we teach our kids to sit? Really?
7. Start advocating for the removal of chairs and the use of standing tables in the classroom. Feel free to use this:
Please excuse Bobby from sitting today. Research shows that sitting increases the risk of death from heart disease. I am hoping that your school does not advocate heart disease and am providing the standing table for my kid.
P.S. Please don’t roll your eyes at my request, talk about me in the teacher’s lounge, or write off my completely science-based and logical request. I know that you know sitting isn't healthy. Who’s going to be the first person to do something about it?
8. As soon as your kids can walk, keep them walking.
There is nothing that gets me more fired up (ok, so it turns out that I do rant a lot!) than seeing a parent strap their walking-aged child into a stroller so Parent can get their exercise. What’s the message there? You sit and be still so I can get some health on? Ok, strike that. What gets me more fired up than that is the same situation, only the kid is eating a bag of Funions (a child-friendly bag of onion-flavored, onion-shaped hydrogenated-oil laced snack. Nice.)
I saw this one time on the beach walking path, I swear I did. W.T.H??? All humans require long-distance walking to develop the optimal amount of bone, shoulder biomechanics, respiratory function, digestion, etc. Not playing and not doing other forms of exercise, but walking. Kids can do play too, for sure, but it doesn’t replace walking. Riding their bikes doesn’t replace walking. Playing an exercise-video game doesn’t replace walking. Biology has laws of specificity and there are physiological tasks that don’t happen unless under the particular mechanical stresses and strains upright walking creates. (More on kids walking.)
All right. I could go on and on. But writing out a rant has a wonderful way of removing steam (try it sometime!) And, I think that there’s enough here to work with, don’t you?
Thanks for listening. My bigger issue is always this: We have gotten so modernized and technologically savvy, and our cultural message is so ingrained that we fail to stop and consider the most fundamental aspects of being human.
Ok. The end. And, thanks to everyone for reading, and posting. Especially to the lady who so graciously commented to get today’s post going. I am thankful you posted.
Katy A. Bowman