Select Page

Session 3/13

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 brain activity decreases when a baby lies in a bed.
In nature or with native people, you will never see a gorilla or a mother put the baby on the ground or in a box that does not move while she is working. Because a bed does not move, it gives no brain stimulation. And because sheets are very smooth, they also stimulate very little.
If the bed has walls, the baby can only see the ceiling and is prevented from human contact and studying the human activity around it.

In a cradle or especially in a hammock like the one in this picture, the baby is gently rocking, it is stimulated by the clothes, it can study what is going on around it, and it can’t fall out.


Studies indicate that two kinds of stimulation are the most important 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 the 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 by trying to get physical contact with caregivers.

Balance stimulation:
(rocking, stopping, starting, turning the body around). For example when the caregiver carries the baby around, when the cradle or hammock is moving from one side to another, when the caregiver “throws the baby in the air” and makes it laugh. Toddlers actively seek balance stimulation by turning around themselves and get dizzy, and by enjoying roller coasters, swings, carrousels 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 smooth 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.


Under stimulated babies and toddlers, and premature babies are more sensitive than normally to stimulation 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 one child to another.

Babies who suffer from the effects of the mothers drinking during pregnancy (Foetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), or more severely, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)) are extremely sensitive to stimulation and their room should not have too strong light, people should move slowly and talk quietly and sit calmly with the babies on their lap often.

You can read more about stimulation at:

FAE and FAS often cause lifelong problems.

Drug abuse (cocaine, crack, etc.) is becoming still more common in pregnant mothers, regardless of social class.
Some common symptoms of cocaine babies are hyperactivity, poor feeding, rapid heart rate, excessive sudden movements and poor sleep patterns.
Other typical traits are a low birth weight, low Apgar score 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 an institution or 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.


10 minutes

  • Why is it important for babies to be carried close to the body of the caregivers?
  • 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?