For Infant Caregivers: Ways to Foster Natural Development in Your Childcare Environment

Care providers sometimes have more than one child to look after, and sometimes parents request a different way of handling their babies than providers have always done! Negotiating this overlap has become a popular conversation topic in my baby classes.

I hope this post will be supportive to both:

  • Nannies, daycares, grandparents, and other non-parent caregivers willing to support natural motor development
  • Parents who want to raise an unpropped baby, in communicating with caregivers
First, thank you to anyone and everyone in babies’ lives! I’ve been a professional nanny to many babies, so this topic is important to me. Many caregivers want to keep learning about development. Thank you for your commitment!

First, thank you to anyone and everyone in babies’ lives! I’ve been a professional nanny to many babies, so this topic is important to me. Many caregivers want to keep learning about development. Thank you for your commitment!

What is natural, or unpropped, development?

It’s allowing babies to discover motor milestones by themselves, without being propped up in sitting, standing, or walking before they can do so on their own. (“Propped” means placed in a device that holds Baby upright or holding habitually by hand in an upright position.) Many people aren’t used to seeing babies develop this way! For more about what to expect, see this blog post.

First, a look at first year motor development from a different perspective

Placing babies in propping devices or holding them upright in new positions is the current cultural norm (at least here in the States). There’s a common assumption that babies learn to sit, stand, and walk by sitting, standing, and walking.

I know–this sounds very normal. It’s because we grown-ups learn new skills consciously, by practicing the thing itself, like skiing or playing an instrument.

Babies learn differently, though. As babies move in their natural environment, their brains travel through “windows of opportunity”—times during development when the brain/body/self is ready to do something new. In motor development, this is reflexes and movement patterns. As babies interact with gravity in their natural positions, new reflexes kick off that lead them into milestones, such as pushing the head up, sliding backwards, belly crawling, sitting, hands-and-knees crawling, and… standing and walking.

So—babies learn unconsciously. Typically-developing babies will wriggle and play and act on their motivations and end up in sitting, standing, and walking! They’ll do this without having been propped upright in those positions.

In the process, they’ve gained these benefits:

  • They understand “I can do this myself” vs “I need someone else to do this for me”
  • Reduced compensations and excess tension
  • Back, hips, knees, and ankles truly prepared for upright weight-bearing
  • Easier access to their natural reflexes and their highest chance of not skipping movement milestones like crawling
  • Healthy sensory integration
  • True functional independence
  • Excellent lifelong learning skills
  • Confidence and joy in crazy abundance
  • High level of self awareness and a tendency to get hurt less
  • Feeling of belonging and safety in this world: we communicate “I accept you where you are, I will meet you at your level”; they don’t have to do something they’re not ready for in order to please
Pic from goodjobandotherthings.com

Notice how the baby on the right is able to move freely and dynamically, as well as to coordinate sensory perception with movement–very different from the picture on the left! Pic from goodjobandotherthings.com

Next, the care provider’s environment

When do you tend to use propping devices? I most often hear for “safety,” convenience, or entertainment, especially when there is more than one child present.

Families following natural development do a lot of floor time. Placing Baby lying down on her back, side, or tummy, on the floor, becomes an easy and comfortable habit, and it allows her to move freely at her own pace. Family members often lie down or sit on the floor with Baby.

But this can be “easy” for families in their own homes. If you’re a caregiver who’s “always done it” a certain way or you have multiple children to look after, here are some ideas for shifting your environment.

  • Start with thinking “reduce” if “avoid” seems too much of a leap. Reduce the amount of time your babies spend propped upright.
  • As much as possible, place babies either lying down on the floor or in a seat that inclines backwards (like a “bouncy chair”) rather than upright (like a Bumbo seat, standing activity center, jumper, or door swing). High chairs for short amounts of eating time are okay!
  • For crawlers, a sizeable contained space can provide freedom of movement (such as a medium or large baby-safe room or area, rather than a small playpen or jumper)
  • Carry Baby with you, in a sling or carrier that allows Baby to sit, rather than hang from her crotch, while you assist other children

Note, if you’re providing an “unpropped” environment to babies who are propped at home or have been propped up to this point, you may encounter some frustration from babies used to being placed into position up higher, as they figure out how to move and get what they want. The way adults handle babies really does pattern them, both physically and psychologically. So it’s best when all of Baby’s main caregivers are on the same page, and you may find you need to educate families on this issue.

If you’re a caregiver who’s explored this or you have ideas, please leave me a comment! Thank you for helping families support their child’s development!

For more on natural development, see my “Natural vs Propped” posts, including:

  • 5 Tips! What to Expect When Raising an Unpropped–and Brilliant–Baby
  • How Independent Sitting Happens
  • Being On Baby’s Level
  • Exersaucers and Seats for Babies–What’s Best for Baby’s Health?
  • The Psychology of Sitting
  • and an interview in which I talk about this!

Lastly, for Parents: I’ve created a flier for parents raising babies “unpropped” to give to childcare providers to help them understand your requests. If you’d like a copy of this, please contact me.

Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator® (work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen), Aware Parenting Instructor (Aletha Solter, Ph.D), Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and trained Feldenkrais® Practitioner.

© Eliza Parker 2015, All Rights Reserved, links welcome

About Eliza Parker

A certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, spiritual counselor, and trained Feldenkrais® practitioner, Eliza respects babies as whole people who enter the world knowing how to communicate, learn, and self-heal. Her Conscious Baby practice employs a unique approach to natural “I can do it myself” milestone development and attunement to non-verbal cues and crying. Eliza’s life-changing perspectives and respectful solutions toward common parenting questions transcend “typical” parenting advice. Her work addresses babies on the “well baby” spectrum and those experiencing challenges such as motor delay, difficulty in tummy time, and hip dysplasia.

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