Friday, May 18, 2012

Musing on Baby Devices

Now, since you know I'm an attached mommy, the first thing I have to say before getting into this is that I own two double strollers, two exersaucers, a jumperoo, a baby bucket, a bouncy chair and a bassinet. So: hackles down, I'm not one of the extremists who thinks that all devices are evil detachment machines.

Exersaucers: letting moms shower and cook since... uh, whenever they were invented!

However (yes, you knew that was coming), just as there are people who are vehemently against any kind of gadget, there are, sadly, far, far more who overuse the baby gear. I read in one article that the average American baby is in arms for only 3 hours a day. This is not acceptable. Babies need to be held--that is not an opinion, nor a theory, it is a fact.

How does this happen? Well, first, the baby wakes in his crib, then is transferred to a bouncy chair after getting a clean diaper. Baby is given a bottle and often, that bottle is propped (a deadly practice). Baby is then moved to a swing while Mom catches up with the housework or desperately takes some social time on a network (as I write this, my baby is sleeping on my chest, her ear resting on my heart--keeps her asleep the longest). Then if Mom has some errands to run, baby is moved to a bucket carseat, where they will likely spend the next few hours. At the store, the bucket is placed in the cart (or, unsafely in the child seat on the cart) and then returned to the car. At friends' houses, baby stays in the seat most of the time. Then back home and either remaining in the bucket or into the bouncer, swing, pack and play, bumbo, crib (if it's nap time) or exersaucer. Older baby may spend some time in a high chair with some solid food play. Tummy time on a mat on the floor. Back to the crib for bed.

Even if mom breastfeeds, baby may only be held marginally longer if she goes from crib to device in between feedings. There is also fallout from all this time in these contraptions: plagiocephaly.

These devices were invented for our convenience, but like many tools, they are often abused. What is the solution?

Pay attention to how long baby is in the device. If you need to clean, set a timer for 15 minutes (assuming baby doesn't have his own internal timer!) and do what you can't do with baby strapped to you (laundry, picking up, etc.). Save vacuuming, sweeping and mopping for after (since you probably already logically do!) and pick a comfortable baby carrier (a wrap is my preference or a mei tai, but slings are well-loved and there are many other carriers, too!), put baby in it and sweep, mop, etc. Not only will you be giving baby valuable contact, but you'll burn more calories if you're looking to lose pregnancy weight (or, if you're like me, the extra from before pregnancy).

My second child riding in the mei tai, picture by my mom

Shopping is another time to use a baby carrier. Personally, I am uncomfortable shopping without one with my pre-mobile babies. Sometimes I want to walk five feet away from the cart without dragging it into the aisle (especially a busy one!) with me and I can't leave it behind if there's a baby in it.

Car seats are for the car. I know how tempting it is to bundle baby under a blanket into the store in a cold snap, but trust me when I say baby is warmer if you take them out of the seat in the warm car and stuff them under your jacket to get into the store. You're warmer, too, by the way! If you must use the bucket (my first loved hers and spent probably too much time in it), if your baby gets upset, take them out. Find a place to sit for a few moments and feed the baby! Yes, it drags out the trip, but it's better for you both to take those moments to reconnect. Plus, non-vehicular time in car seats is considered one of the highest risk factors for flat head syndrome.
January 2, 2009; 20-some degrees outside and we were quite toasty!
Baby swings. Why are these so popular? Because babies like to be in motion. It simulates the way they spent the first 9 months of their lives! The problem with baby swings is that it's very easy for baby to sleep in them and then not want to sleep anywhere else. Now, for some babies, that may just be what you have to do, but with most, if they want to rock, it's better to do it in your arms or in a baby carrier and then set them down on a safe sleep surface (or wear them while they sleep! I get a lot more writing in when doing that, because she will stay asleep longer). Swings are still great for getting a few minutes, but like bouncy chairs and exersaucers, they should be used a limited amount of time. Plus, the less often they are used, the more likely they are to continue entertaining baby if you have something come up that needs your attention for longer than normal.

Tummy time. Now, when baby's doing it later and trying to crawl, they'll need to be on the ground, but early on, when you're just playing anyway, you can start with baby on your tummy. The same muscles will be worked, but it could not only make it more fun, but the babies who hate tummy time might feel different when they're lying on Mommy! Breasts make a wonderful boppy substitute, but not having any is no deterrent!
Awesome dads can participate!
Baby holders surely have their place. I love my double stroller for safe walks or the zoo (or places that might be crowded, especially if I have a runner). My exersaucer lets me cook and take showers (well, not with my high-needs middle baby, but my third will happily play in it while I get to feel human again). Bouncy chairs are a lifesaver for babies with GERD or those who just like to sleep in a more upright position while you're doing things that you need to do with your arms and chest free.

An argument can be made that baby carriers are a device, but that's just nitpicking. You don't have to eschew all baby devices to be an attached parent and even if you're not interested in attachment parenting, there is no ethically-supportable reason for your baby to spend more than a few hours in baby devices (this does not include their sleeping areas, such as the crib or bassinet, when they are asleep).

Be mindful that baby gets enough loving physical attention. It shouldn't need to be said that this is a necessity, not a want and vital to good health. Babies who are not held are at risk for all sorts of psychological issues. In fact, it's been found that babies that are not held, snuggled and nuzzled enough can stop growing and in severe cases, even with proper nutrition, they can die. The fact that this data exists is enough of a prompt to comment that babies need to be held (though the data comes from orphanages, which are unlikely to be reading my blog).

There is also a field of study that all this time in objects may be affecting healthy developmental milestones. Some experts say that placing a baby in an object that assists them into being in a position they are not capable of getting into on their own (a newborn should not be assisted to sit, for instance and walkers are pretty well known for being dangerous now, though that is more about accidentally falling down stairs) will interfere in their normal development.

I think it's ridiculous to totally shun them. "Pushing a stroller is pushing your baby away," is, in my opinion, extremist and ridiculous. Ignoring your crying baby in the stroller is bad, but pushing a happy, safe baby around (and having a place to stick the diapers [or potty for the diaperless crowd] and purse, etc.) is not going to make your baby think that you don't love them. Sticking them in the seat of the cart once they're big enough is not rejecting them (heck, it's the only way I can nurse while walking through a store). You can follow your baby's cues and use devices responsibly.

There is a lot to think about, but I think the most important thing is to remember this: A baby is only a baby for three years, anthropologically. They are only a baby by our society's standards for about 12-18 months. That is a tiny part of our lives, but such an important one for them. Finally, it's time you can't get back. I don't think I've heard a mother say, "I wish I'd held my baby less," or "I wish I'd spent less time with my baby." Baby devices steal that time from us (unless you're a super mom who only ever uses them while actively interacting with your baby! Kudos if you are! That's certainly not what they're designed for, regardless of the images on the boxes). They should be given as little time to do that as we can manage.

I've heard so many older mothers entreat younger mothers to remember that it will be over all too soon and not to get wrapped up in everything else, because you can't get it back. We need to remember that advice. Our babies should be in our arms or against our body as much as possible and in plastic as little.

1 comment:

  1. Really well thought out and supported article. :-)


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