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Session 5/15

Page 3/5 Why is a bed not a good tool for baby brain activity?

Why is a bed not a good tool for baby brain activity?


Staying in a bed for many hours is not stimulating!

In fact when a baby lies still in a bed its brain activity decreases.
Originally, humans always carried their children around close to their bodies during the day and slept very close to them during the night, so the babies were constantly stimulated. Today and especially in industrialized societies, parents tend to put their children to sleep in stagnant beds or cribs. But this doesn’t stimulate the baby brain.
Hence, when you are prevented from carrying the baby, it is a good idea to put it in a cradle, a crib or a hammock (like in the photo) that can rock or swing. Also, choose terry cloth sheets instead of plane sheets to increase body stimulation. And finally, make sure that the baby can see its surroundings when awake, so that it can study the people around it.


HOW DOES PHYSICAL STIMULATION REGULATE BRAIN ACTIVITY?
– SKIN CONTACT AND BALANCE STIMULATION.


Studies indicate that two kinds of stimulation are essential for increasing basic brain activity:

 

Stimulation of the skin, the tongue and the mouth:
For example when the baby is sucking, or when it is lying in the arms of a caregiver, or when it is hanging in a sling on her body, or when it is wrapped in flannel or terry cloth which produce more stimulation than sheets. Babies and toddlers actively seek skin contact with caregivers.

 

Balance stimulation (Rocking, swinging, turning):
For example when a caregiver carries the baby around; when the cradle or hammock is moving from side to side, or when the caregiver throws the baby in the air and makes it laugh. Toddlers actively seek balance stimulation by turning themselves around and get dizzy, and by enjoying roller coasters, swings, roundabouts and other balance stimulation activities.


Some examples from various studies of premature and low birth weight new-borns:

    • In an incubator there is no movement and little skin stimulation. If babies lie on a sterilized lamb skin instead of a plane sheet, they will gain 15 grams more weight per day because of the stimulation from the lambskin increasing brain activity – thus supporting better digestion.
    • If you gently touch and strike the back head of incubator babies two minutes once an hour with a fingertip, they produce 20% more gastric acid, thus increasing their appetite and weight gain.
    • In countries where incubators and medical treatment is not available, premature babies have a much higher survival rate if the “Kangaroo Method” is used – the baby is simply carried by the caregiver all day long. You can study the method further here after the session:

Other studies indicate that the basic rhythms of the body gradually are stabilized when the baby is touched or rocked often by caregivers: pulse, breathing, appetite, digestion, sleep rhythms, alertness, eye contact and attention.
If you study the video below with the mother, you can see how much she uses touch and rocking, and how this makes the baby respond and become active.


STIMULATING FRAGILE BABIES AND UNDER STIMULATED TODDLERS


Under stimulated babies and toddlers and premature babies are more sensitive to stimulation than normally and for this reason they actively try to avoid stimulation. The more sensitive a baby or toddler is, the more you should:

  • Stimulate very slowly (for example, just have the baby lying in your arms without moving much or talk too loud. Or rock the baby very gently for a few seconds, see how it responds and do it again a few minutes later).
  • Start by stimulating frequently for very short periods, and gradually stimulate more for longer periods (for example start by rocking the baby for a few seconds and repeat this after a few minutes, then day by day rock it a little longer and touch it a little more).
  • Pay attention to signs of over stimulation. The baby may startle, try to turn away or start crying. After stimulation, a baby needs to rest for a little while. Try to find the baby’s threshold for stimulation and the baby’s best stimulation rhythm. This pattern is very individual from child to child.

Stimulation of babies and toddlers.


Babies who suffer from the effects of the mother’s drinking during pregnancy (Foetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), or more severely, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)) are extremely sensitive to stimulation and their room should not be too bright, people should move slowly and talk quietly and sit calmly with the baby is on their lap often.
You can read more about stimulation at: www.nofas.org
FAE and FAS often cause lifelong problems.

Alcohol and drug abuse:
 Some common symptoms of drug-affected babies are hyperactivity, poor feeding, rapid heart rate, excessive sudden movements and poor sleep patterns.
Other typical traits are low birth weight, low Apgar score (a scale to measure the baby’s general health, including breathing heart rate and reflexes) and smaller than normal head circumference. However, these symptoms are often caused by the general misery of the mother, and if being placed with a normal caregiver after birth, many of these problems will disappear.
Placement in a foster family is therefore very important immediately after birth.

In babies who suffer from epileptic seizures, stimulation should be planned with medical assistance if possible. Epileptic seizures in babies can be provoked by too quick and intensive stimulation.


GROUP DISCUSSION


10 minutes

  • Why is it important for babies to be carried close to the caregiver’s body?
  • What tools are used in your culture for providing baby stimulation when the mother is busy?
  • Why should lying in a bed be limited only to the natural short periods of sleep in the daytime?
  • What kinds of stimulation seem to be most favourable for normal brain activity in babies?
  • What babies should you be most careful with when stimulating them?