Childhood is not a race.
Every child has an in-build clock that triggers when a baby is ready to reach his physical and mental milestones. But some babies are held back by a lack of opportunity to move. And this may be more significant than first thought.
The latest research suggests learning to walk later may have long-lasting negative effects on the bones of children.
A study published last month shows a strong link between bone strength and the time babies started to walk and jump.
Researchers analysed data from over 2000 children born in the 1990s. The babies’ physical development was documented and compared with their bone density 17 years later. To their surprise, the researchers found that greater physical activity at an earlier age led to higher bone density and better muscle size in adolescence.
Lead researcher Dr Alex Ireland explains: “Being more active gives you stronger muscles which can then apply bigger forces to the bones as we walk, run or jump, helping to strengthen bones as we grow older.”
Earlier studies carried out by Dr Ireland showed that babies who started to walk early could have up to 40% higher bone mass in their shin bones compared to toddlers that still crawled at 15 months.
Babies usually start to walk spontaneously while they explore their environment and interact with their parents. The motivation to walk appears to be embedded in our human genes. All babies learn to walk; they do not need to be shown how to do it.
But before babies are in the position to learn to walk, they first need to be sufficiently mobile on the floor. All babies progress through stages of increasing mobility. It starts with rolling over, later progresses to rocking on all fours, then to crawling and eventually walking. Although some babies prefer to bottom shuffle rather than crawl.
These stages are essential in allowing babies to mature. Every effort should be made to encourage this natural development as much as possible by giving babies plenty of freedom to move.
The term “Container Baby” is now increasingly used by paediatricians to describe a baby that spends a majority of his time in an enclosed space. These containers are devices that stop a baby from moving freely such as a car seat, bumbo seat, swing chair or baby walker.
It might seem counter-intuitive but baby walkers don’t help babies to walk. This is because they reduce babies’ floor time, which deprives babies of an opportunity to develop muscle strength and control. It also denies them the opportunity to explore their environment fully.
Babies in walkers receive less useful sensory input such as visual and tactile information, which they require to make meaningful physical advancements.
Babies make better natural progress on the floor. A play mat or blanket can help to cushion the area as small falls and uncontrolled tumbles are unavoidable.
Outdoor play also helps babies by providing more varied experiences and allows babies to connect with the natural world. Babies benefit from improved awareness and motor skill developments, if they are allowed to engage in active outdoor play and exploration.
Whether inside or outdoors the floor is the best and most natural place for a baby to develop.