By Dr Mike Marinus, dad to Megan and James plus a Chiropractor in Blairgowrie with a special interest in family practice and paediatric care. Click here to hear his podcast. This is part of a series on babies by Dr Marinus. Find his other articles here.
Stimulating your baby correctly can be tricky business. That is why I sat down with Una Van Staden from Pikanini Baby Academy to get the details on what we should be doing with our babies. Stimulation in the first months is vital to your baby’s nervous system. Your child will never again have as many brain cells as they did on the day they were born. Building connections between them at this young age is important because cells that don’t wire together eventually get pruned.
Free play vs Stimulation
But its not all work and no play for these tiny tots. Una says that babies require double the amount of free play time as they do actual formal stimulation. So if we were to take a 3 month old, we could happily give them 8 – 10 minutes of stimulation (tracking exercise or rattle play) followed by 20 minutes’ free play. That is to say, in a play zone, being observed but no face to face teaching.
This makes sense in an adult context as well. Yes, you learn from a book or a lecture but you cement that knowledge by making use of it in your environment.
Overstimulation happens when you get a sensory overload. This often happens to kiddies with immature nervous systems when they react to their environment. Even the relaxing setting of a good old South African Braai is packed full of weird new smells, foreign sounds and sights. What we see as relaxing some babies feel as intense. This is not to say you must always stay home, in fact quite the opposite. Being in the same surroundings doing the same things day in and day is not only mind numbing for you but can also lead to under stimulation for your baby which can also result in sleeplessness and a cranky child
Understand your child’s cues
Una speaks of SOS or Signs of Over Stimulation. If you see these signs in your baby it is time to remove them from their current environment and start the calming process before you reach elevated crying.
- Baby loses eye contact/ closes eyes
- They stare/gaze at one spot
- Jerky movements
- Clenched fists
- Baby gets hyper-vigilant – stiff body (Panic mode)
- Breathing rate increases.
The opposite is also true. If you find your baby exhibiting open hands, making eye contact and they have soft flowing body movements, these are cues to engage in stimulatory play.
A good tip is for every member of the support team to be on the same page with how much and what type of stimulation your baby gets. Some people may assume that TV is great stimulation for a baby when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the blue light from TV’s and mobile devices have been seen to cause overstimulation in babies.
Preparing for sleep
The last tip from Una is to make your way to the sleep zone area about 10 minutes before sleep time. This is to allow baby time to shake off the excitement of the day and become calm to be able to transition properly into sleep.