It’s a snap-and-go world for babies these days. Infants in bucket seats get clicked into and out of the car. Kids get strapped into strollers and high chairs, and propped up in ExerSaucers and Bumbos. With my third child, Stella, we used these kinds of baby-containment contraptions a lot more, and my mommy guilt went into overdrive. It seemed much better to keep her in an ExerSaucer than lying on the floor, where she was at risk of being stepped on by her two older brothers. It’s tough to find the right mix of what’s best for everyone in your family.
We are implementing bad habits “Babies are containerized for most of the day,” says Doreen Bolhuis, founder of GymTrix, a DVD fitness program that encourages “physical literacy” for small children. A new review by The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) found that 80 percent of waking time during a child’s early years (ages zero to four) is spent doing sedentary activities such as watching TV or sitting in a stroller when they should be wiggling around on a blanket, or activity mat, reaching for toys. “We are unwittingly teaching a sedentary lifestyle to our children,” says Bolhuis.
The health implications of “containerized” babies aren’t about weight or laziness – they’re more about how physical movement optimizes brain development.
Movement is critical “Activity builds the brain connection,” says Eileen Viloria-Tan, a public health nurse supervisor. Movement is a critical factor in the development of gross and fine motor skills, as well as cognitive skills such as language and the ability to pay attention.
To help get little kids moving again, the CSEP recently released its first activity guidelines for kids four and younger. Infants under age one should be physically active several times a day, particularly through interactive floor-based play lasting anywhere from two to 40 minutes. Prolonged sedentary activity should last no more than an hour.
Room to move “A few decades ago, babies spent most of their waking hours playing on blankets on the floor,” says Bolhuis. She advocates a return to the basics: Younger babies need tummy time, while older babies can sit and play with toys and eventually learn to move and explore. While playpens create a safe environment, Viloria-Tan also recommends limiting the time your child spends there. “The more room to play the better,” she says.
Babies who are used to being “containerized” may be fussy at first when left on the floor because it’s new – and it’s harder work for them. But don’t give up. Introduce simple toys that are new to your child and, whenever time allows, get down on their level and help them play.
A version of this article appeared in our July issue with the headline “Room to move,” p. 48.
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