As pediatric occupational therapists working with infants, a core component of our job is making recommendations to parents about how they can help their baby developmentally. For example, suggesting what type of baby products can help their developing baby; this is after all what lead us to create the Learn & Lounge. It’s always nice being able to recommend products, environmental and/or positional strategies or exercises to parents; we’re giving them something - it feels nice. What’s more challenging though, is when the advice we give is around something that the parent is doing…well…wrong. OK to be fair, when I say wrong I only mean that through our clinical lens it’s not in the best interest of their baby’s development, but not that what they’re doing is causing any actual harm.
So with that being said, it would be nice to provide you with 3 of the most common errors we see parents, from our perspective, make during the first year of their baby’s life regarding developmental milestones.
Over-swaddling – Let's face it - babies are super cute when they’re swaddled up and fast asleep. It’s functional too, as it prevents them from producing the startle reflex, and instead keeps them asleep. Not only that, it’s also a great way to help them soothe when they’re fussy. So naturally a baby is going to spend plenty of time swaddled up during the first 2 months, as they should. But at that point it’s time to transition away from the swaddle, especially when they’re awake. During the first several months of a little one’s life, they are not only growing, but also expanding. After a baby is born they’re still going to be in that scrunched up position after spending all those months in such a tight space. Part of their development process is to become more comfortable and relaxed being in a more extended position; a swaddle won’t allow that happen. More obviously though, a baby needs time to move around against gravity, to spread their limbs, to start forming an internal sense of their own body, and a swaddle won’t allow that to happen either. The bottom line is this: Swaddling is important, functional, cute, convenient etc. – but everything in moderation – try weaning away from the swaddle around the 8-week mark.
The baby jumper – A mom and dad’s best friend, and a therapist’s worst enemy. What do I mean? Let me explain:
Baby jumpers do serve a purpose. They keep your baby quiet and give them visual stimuli to look at and reach for. Beyond that though, there isn’t much going on. Parents tend to fall in love with the idea that the jumper has their baby upright – like they're standing! Except they aren’t. In fact, not only are they not standing up on their own, the jumper is actually promoting the use of inefficient motor patterns, and then rewarding them for it. Think of it like this – when a baby is first standing in a jumper, their feet are typically dangling towards the ground, but not firmly planted. This in turn causes the baby to straighten both legs and push off (jump) as hard as they can – and boy is it fun for them! Except fully extending their ankles, knees, hips and core in order to jump is only reinforcing the wrong idea of how to move, without even having to worry about falling down. To put it simply, actual movement (getting from point A to point B) is about the delicate balance between flexor muscles and extensor muscles to produce efficient mobility. So, while the jumper is most definitely worth using for ten minutes at a time, especially as a means to keep your baby happy, don’t keep them in their much longer than that, more than twice per day.
Too much talking – This one is a little counterintuitive, and I’m not a speech therapist so I’ll keep this brief. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents talk with their baby (as they should be!) the whole time their baby is awake, but never actually give their baby a chance to respond. Of course, that’s not to say that a baby is even listening to, never mind understanding what mom is telling them. But before a baby is talking, they’re already beginning to pick up on the nature of communication - conversing back and forth – another form of cause and effect. In other words, babies need to learn that “when I talk, mom listens” - “when I say “BA!” Mom says “BA!” back to me and smiles – we are communicating!” The point is this – once your baby is cooing, it means they’re already working on language. So give your baby a chance to process what you’ve just said to them, produce a sound, and then enjoy the effect it has on you as you smile and repeat it back to them.
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