Overstimulation and Under Activity

I was musing on the film Babies yesterday and thinking about the huge differences in the way of life between the Western culture and the ones much closer to a more natural lifestyle for a human being,
Several scenes really stand out in my memory the first two are from the West – one is a shot of prams in a hallway and all you can hear is babies crying. The second is of the babies in Japan in a baby class. The teacher is right up close to the baby making huge hand and facial gestures. The overall impression you get of these babies is of a busy hectic life, lots to see and do. Very much a preparation for their adult lives.

But then you head to Namibia- here nothing much really happens, the shots I remember are of two mothers relaxing doing each other’s hair, babies just pottering around near them, one is a beautiful shot of the mother gazing at the sunset, baby laid over her shoulder. The busiest scene was of pumping water with the baby asleep on her back in a sling.

A totally different way of life, still, calm and personal interaction (the hair grooming). I noticed that this little baby hardly ever cried, in fact she cried once – whilst walking back from somewhere – the mothers reaction was to bend down and offer her breast and after a couple of sucks the baby was ready to go again.

Hand in hand with this goes the studies of colic/night-time fussiness, which rarely happens in these types of communities and is a much more common occurrence in the West.

Despite so much research there still is not a definitive reason for colic (episodes of unsoothable crying often in the evenings). Harvey Karp thinks it is something to do with the transition from womb to world and has a system of ‘5 S’s’ to help soothe a baby during the first three months. These S’s are: swaddling, swaying, shushing, side or stomach lying and sucking. Used in combination he says they are guaranteed to soothe a fussing, crying baby.

Sharon Heller in her book, Vital Touch, explains how important close physical contact is to empower a baby to grow into a confident, self-assured, independent and peaceful adult.  Western babies are among the least held in the world. Due in a large part to the (misguided) belief that our babies will not learn to be independent if they are held too much. Coupled with it being the norm to carry our babies around in ‘containers’ (as Heller puts it) rather than in arms. Touch is vital for a baby’s survival “Touch nurtures our infants’ psychological growth; stimulates their physical and mental growth; helps assure smoothness of physiological functions…. In fact, touch is literally a baby’s lifeline.  Able to thrive without hearing, without vision, and without smell, infants lacking affectionate touch literally perish from a syndrome called, appropriately, failure-to-thrive.”

Jean Liedloff in the Continuum Concept, talks a lot about the importance of ‘the in-arms phase’. How she noticed that the Yequana babies did not suffer from colic and they tended to be carried around all day. She believes that colic is actually the baby trying to expel the natural energy a living being produces. That the stillness caused by babies mainly living their lives in a sedentary way is a huge contributing factor to the ‘indigestion, arching and flexing ‘ that tends to be a normal sight in the Western world.

Western babies tend to spend many more hours in a sedentary way and their stimulation is often bright coloured, noisy, moving toys, or intense hours of singing and movement. They tend not to be included in day to day activities (cleaning, cooking etc).      Leaving them overstimulated and under active which does seem to lead to these bouts of uncontrollable crying.

I really think this is where using slings can be such a useful, even essential tool ,in a parent’s repertoire. Carrying your baby in a sling gives them all the physical touch they need, the movement, the closeness, sound f the heartbeat and the less intrusive visual stimulation of just being an observer to life.

Certainly I think it may go deeper too – at conception and in utero. Elena Tenetti-Vladimirova talks of the ‘research that shows that an overwhelming amount of physical conditions and behavioural disorders are the direct result of a dramatic gestation and unnecessary mechanical interventions and an overdose of anaesthesia during delivery.’ (She also notes that due to limbic imprint a woman’s first birth goes the way she herself was born.)

However, she also states that ‘healthy, loving parenting CAN neutralise any damage’.

One of the simplest ways of providing ‘healthy, loving parenting’ can be to carry your baby close to your heart in a sling.

Which kind of brings me to my point – that I believe a sling of whatever kind is not just a way of transporting a baby, but an essential piece of parenting equipment? By simply wearing a baby in a sling as you go about your day to day activities, you are providing all the movement, stimulation (without over stimulating), touch, and healing that your baby needs.

References:

Karp  H, The Happiest Baby on the Block  2003 New York Bantam

Liedloff J The Continuum Concept- In Search of Happiness Lost, 1986 England Penguin

Sharon Heller, Vital Touch, How Intimate Contact with Your Baby Leads to Happier, Healthier Development 1997 New York Owl Books

Elena Tonetti-Vladimirov,   The Limbic Imprint, Juno Issue 13 http://www.birthintobeing.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=106:home-page-article&catid=82&Itemid=464