Renate Wennekes and Marina Gieshoidt
What Babies Need To Grow Up Healthy:
A Developmental Kinesiology Perspective
In the last fifty years childhood has become very important, at least from the perspective of all the money spent and the myriad of discussions that abound about the safety and education of children. What is increasingly forgotten is what children really need. They don’t require an expensive stroller, their own room, or toys but rather they need to be attached to a human body that is working, moving, and speaking with others.
Humans are “carry-abouts” that highly benefit from bonding to one person—preferably the mother—through close body contact. They grow, learn, and organize their system in adaptation to the society and culture they are born into by being in connection with a living, breathing human body. The inner joy of being alive and curious is dependent upon, and driven by, this bonding relationship. The desire to discover one’s own body, the world and one’s place in the world are all founded in pregnancy, during the birth-process, and in the following three and a half years of life. The modern habits of lying on a lifeless mattress or in a closed carriage completely separated from life’s surroundings, with a plastic pacifier in the mouth is detrimental to human development. Such experiences may create desperate, helpless, incapable feelings inside children—even though they look okay from the outside.
The basis of our happiness is our sensory, physical, emotional and cognitive well-being, which develops during pregnancy and early childhood. Because humans are carry-abouts, I believe that the rising health challenges in our societies are connected to the ways in which our children are being raised: with pacifiers, left alone in a bed, swinging through the air in a car seat, and beset with constant control and judgment from the outside. In light of these escalating trends, I want to emphasize the ways in which one can develop inner stability and well-being by paying attention to the seminal aspects of “human” upbringing.
Practical Tips Related to Infants and…
Breastfeeding gives the infant security and supports the bonding between mother and child. It is the optimal nutrition for babies. Breastfed babies are generally healthier and their brain grows faster. To feed a baby whenever he or she needs it develops trust and the security of being heard. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends full breastfeeding for six to nine months and partially for two years and longer. At my Developmental Kinesiology Clinic, experience has been that most babies prefer it for nine months and then can be allowed to go on as long as desired for their food, immune system and security.
Babies need physical contact especially when they sleep. To sleep during the day on the body of the mother and at night in or near the parents’ bed, supports the child’s inner rhythms—breathing, digestion, temperature and circulation. The baby can relax when protected and, thus, can safely build a secure emotional and social core.
Again, let’s think of babies being like kangaroos! They need to be in a pouch to build muscle tone, to develop balance and build the proprioceptive system. Smell, tactility, vision and hearing are all developed in this secure position. Being in close contact allows the baby to reach out with the far senses to explore the surrounding world via observation and in their own pace. Carried babies generally cry less, especially in the evening. Carrying the baby in a cloth allows the mother to complete her daily chores and enjoy the bonding closeness, which both mother and baby need.
Babies cry a lot! It is their language. They show us that they are hungry, their diapers are full, or something hurts. Perhaps they are anxious—they have emotions. They may have difficulties due to adapting and processing their birth experience. Sometimes they mirror conflicts and insecurities of their surroundings or they misperceive something. It is important to listen. Kinesiology and muscle checking offer great support for this.
Children don’t need toys! They love to explore the things that adults use such as paper or kitchen utensils. They love to clean, help and work alone. We don’t have to play with children; they can occupy themselves. Their task is to get to know the world via play, experience, and observation.
Babies calm themselves with their fingers, the thumb and/or the nipple on their mother’s breast. They don’t need plastic to fill their mouth. Pacifiers alter the position of the tongue, teeth and lips, and therefore can influence both speech and teeth development. Constant sucking, without getting milk, changes the digestion system and may even support eating disorders and addiction.
The Car Seat
Car seats are important to secure the babies while driving. However, they are not for transport out of the vehicle or for sleeping. Babies are not like birds that have developed a balance system in order to live in a “nest” high up in the air. Babies belong on the floor and they must have the freedom of movement in order to explore.
Children are carry-abouts and not lie-abouts. For millions of years children were carried. This is how humans develop their perception, their movement and physical skills, and their social, emotional, and cognitive systems. Lying in a secluded nursery or in a stroller wastes valuable developmental time and essential energy. Newborns and babies are not hard-wired; they need a warm, living body in order to build their electric systems and to adapt to their cultural and social surroundings. If babies are left lying down too much of the time, their head gets flat and their neck muscles stay weak. Hyper- or hypo-activity, perception and behavioral problems can be the result.
Babies have active, receptive and passive movement experiences. The younger they are, the more receptive stimulation they need—they are moved and held in the womb and the cloth. Passive movements are in lying down, in sleep and deep relaxation. As they get older, more time is required for active training. Babies have “sensitive phases,” where they take incremental steps in their development. It is important that they have training time to build up against gravity, step by step, out of their own impulses. Sitting, standing, and walking should not be initiated by adults or supported with aids, such as walking devices. The joy that comes to a child conquering gravity on his/her own is incredible. Being barefoot supports motor development giving the baby wonderful sensory feedback which results in a good relationship to his/her own body.
Babies don’t need cute, fashionable clothing. Clothes should be warm, easy, flexible, and made of materials that do not have harmful, synthetic substances. Natural wool is the most appropriate. Don’t change their clothes too often; this is exhausting for the tactile and temperature systems. Dress them as you would dress so they are neither too warm nor chilled.
Babies should be present when the family eats. There will be a point (when they are about six to nine months) at which they start to take something from your plate. First they play more than they eat. They have to learn. They have a capable choking reflex that protects them as they learn to chew and swallow. Special baby food is unnecessary; rather, eat healthy so that the children can join. Eating with their hands and at their own pace is important in order to establish one’s own nutrition style, good digestion and metabolism. Efficient mouth-hand and hand-eye coordination is also built through eating finger foods.
Babies don’t need artificial products to be clean. Water, breast milk and natural oil is what the skin needs. Bathing, massages and cold water to cleanse the body is good for the immune system, the child’s sensitivity, and to reduce stress.
Pregnancy and birth are natural processes as are childhood illnesses. They are not easy, but they provide some of the challenges necessary to grow up with confidence, self-security and trust. Today we want to avoid all risks and protect the mother and child with ultrasound, medication, vaccination, and surgeries. We have to be careful to not take away valuable developing tools. Increasing allergies, metabolism and immune system challenges, as well as many psychological disturbances could be the result of too much protection and intervention. Parents should be well informed and take responsibility for their child’s healthy development.
Babies have a reflex that tells the mother when they want to eliminate. When we diaper children and ignore the signs, babies lose this ability. Later, we train them and they experience symptoms of “not functioning well.” How crazy is this? Plastic diapers that absorb the excretions are difficult for the skin, for self-image, and serve to support the mentality of our “throw-away society.” Material diapers, a fur on the floor, instead of a changing table, and a lot of naked time supports health, flexibility and security.
A child’s joy in movement, the fun of discovering the world, the curiosity to explore one’s environment and oneself are primary and peak in childhood. Children develop the power and endurance to conquer gravity, to develop from creeping to the Energizer (a Brain Gym movement), from crawling to being upright. These are the “motors” that enable one to walk out into life, sometimes a little clumsy and asking for a helping hand, sometimes secure and daring to fall.
How are we as adults today? Do you know the feeling of wanting to move and create something, or the urge to discover new words or new worlds? Or are you curious, but you don’t go into action? Do you know that you have the abilities, resources, talents, and/or desires, but you don’t start? Instead of acting, one begins asking, asking questions like: How do I do this…? What chances do I see…? It becomes an endless inner dialogue occupied with two questions:
- How do I get rid of what I have—like slowness, stress, problems, pain, bad posture, bad messages…?
- How do I get what I want—like time, friends, money, housing, security, mobility, a good partner…?
We stare towards a distant goal and feel far from the possibilities that are already present…too far away to come into action.
The chance to live our potential and to step out of the negative spiral will be achieved by reconnecting with our ability to learn and develop as humans, from conception to standing and speaking. In comparison to most mammals, a human being leaves the uterus very undeveloped. Like a kangaroo, our animal nature is to crawl up to our mother and find a safe harbor in a “pouch with a view” in order to acquire our human competence. Unlike a monkey, who actively clings to its mother, the kangaroo’s joey passively participates as a carry-about.
Within the first 3½ years the first stage of development is accomplished. We are “ready” within 21 years. The senses, the reflexes and the movements are the basis of this development. The intentional movements within the Brain Gym® program are based on “natural” movements. They give us the chance to meet ourselves, where we are, to be in the moment, to have answers to the daily challenges, and to find contentment within.
Further information on natural upbringing we recommend:
- Workshops and classes on Developmental Kinesiology from conception to speech and hand dexterity, www.ikl-kinesiologie.de, www.developmental-kinesiology.com, twitter: twitter.com/DevelopmentalK, facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Developmental-Kinesiology-Entwicklungskinesiologie/569896813059167?ref=hl
- In literature:
- The Continuum Concept, In Search of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff
- Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook, by Gill Rapply
- Diaper free: The gentle wisdom of natural infant hygiene, by Ingrid Bauer
- Awakening the Child Heart: Handbook for the global parenting, by Carla Hannaford
- What’s Going on in There? How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life, by Lise Eliot
- My Child Won’t Eat!: How to Enjoy Mealtimes Without Worry, by Carlos Gonzalez
- Kiss Me!: How to Raise Your Child with Love, by Carlos Gonzalez
PULL QUOTE: In light of these escalating trends, I want to emphasize the ways in which one can develop inner stability and well-being by paying attention to the seminal aspects of “human” upbringing.
>> more about Developmental Kinesiology (in German)