Baby Moves

Babies (DVD):
Culture has a profound influence on the developmental trajectory of infants. Although somewhat obvious, it is highly educational to observe how settings and attitudes define the opportunities for growing children. The documentary “Babies” (2010) follows the first year of life of four infants across the spectrum of developmental options. Edited without commentary, it forces the viewer to come to their conclusions regarding the effects that environmental influences exert on development. In the video two traditional cultures, and two industrialized cultures are represented. Conclusions can be drawn from these observations as to the cultural effects on the sense of well-being, level of anxiety and stress, high-level cognitive function, locomotor and stability reflex function, eye tracking and convergence, and the general level of developmental skills expressed by these children.

My takeaway from the film is that traditional cultures are more inclined to let infants develop at their rate, without an agenda. The Namibian child in particular demonstrates a high degree of primary reflex integration by the end of the film. Emotionally this can be perceived in this child’s sense of well-being, joy, and enjoyment of life. The industrialized society children appear more attuned to their high-level executive functions, but unsettled in their bodies.

Baby Moves (Book):
Additionally, I have discovered an excellent book by Marianne Hermansen-Van Wanrooy that describes the natural progression of infant development, and how to best support the emergence of their innate skills. I believe that by following these guidelines, you will support your child in developing along his or her genetically organized trajectory. This trajectory enables the full embodiment of our innate motor and sensory skills, establishing a solid foundation upon which more complex behaviors can depend. In childhood, and later life, this solid foundation will be expressed as competency and adaptability, as well as an overall lower level of stress reactivity.

The layout of the book is elegantly simple, organized into sections for guidance on ways to encourage your child’s development and things not to do at a specific age. Each section is for a specific developmental age: newborn, birth – 3 months, 3-6 months, 6-9 months, 9-18 months.  There are also a couple of pages on reflex integration and recommended equipment. Although the recommendations may not always seem practical, I believe that they offer excellent guidelines for making the best possible choice when encountering multiple options in managing your infant.

Perhaps the most important point the book makes is that babies should not be held upright, or encouraged to walk until they are ready. Essentially, an infant should not be put into any position that they cannot get into by themselves. The author has stated that forcing the spine to deal with the compressional forces involved in holding the head upright before the spinal structure has fully developed can compromise its structure. When asked at what age should one begin to encourage a child to walk, the author stated 18-20 months. As well as the mechanical issue described here, there are neurological developmental aspects that fit with this guideline. It follows from this statement that the design of most strollers and car seats is inappropriate for infants. Providing infants space to lay down, as older designs of these appliances did, is much more developmentally friendly. There is a major design opportunity to invent a device that can afford an infant this degree of freedom and keep them safe in a car at the same time. Further discussion on the subject of spine development can be found here: UNDULATION

Another point the author makes is that regarding toys for infants less is more. Almost everything one can purchase for an infant in the way of a toy may induce more stress. It is critical for our ability to self-regulate that our brain stem and mid-brain functions mature adequately before our higher-level cortical functions deploy. The first 24 months are mainly dedicated to this task. During this time, the simpler the environment is, the easier it will be for these primary neurological functions to establish an optimal neurological organization. It has become widely recognized that before the age of 7, children develop more authentically with soft challenges that integrate cortical links with the midbrain and brain stem, rather than with hard cortical challenges like reading and math. Further discussion on this subject can be found here: BABIES ARE SCIENTISTS

The author additionally states that although these may seem like radical notions, they were considered the norm in Western culture until the post-WW2 era, when child development was “modernized”. This position is supported by Esther Gokhale in her book: “8 STEPS TO A PAIN FREE BACK”.



Marianne Hermansen-Van Wanrooy