Do babies move enough? What is the current situation and what could be done better at home and in childcare? In adults, the importance of exercise is clear: it ensures good health and has a positive influence on, for example, blood pressure and heart condition. In short: exercise is good for your health. In the case of small children, there is much more to it. By moving, a child exercises his musculature and becomes stronger and stronger, which is good for his self-confidence. But there’s something more: with movement a child also learns to discover his or her surroundings and his or her own body.
For this subject, we interviewed expert Marije Magito, director of the ‘Jonge Kind Centrum’ which organises various workshops for parents with themes such as ‘Sleeping’, ‘Playing with your baby and toddler’ and weekly activities such as the Baby Club, Toddler Fun and Toddler Steps. In addition, the Jonge Kind Centrum offers training programmes and workshops to professionals in childcare. We also asked Tineke van Westerop some questions. She is paediatric physiotherapist and expert in the motor development of children from 0 to 4 years of age.
How do things stand with the motor skills of babies and toddlers?
‘Babies don’t move enough, not enough attention is spend on this’, according to Marije. Baby clinics do keep a close eye on developmental delays and overweight, but parents are not so aware of this as to allow babies to move more and better. Parents need to learn to facilitate and support this, especially with babies. There are local workshops such as baby yoga, baby swimming, a Baby Club like the ones in Almere and Rotterdam and baby massage. Massage (touch) is more important than you think because it supports, among other things, the development of body awareness. Babies are born without any awareness of their body and this awareness grows as they get older and gain body experiences. Just think of the baby who discovers his hands for the first time. Then you see the amazement. By naming the experience, the baby begins to link words to those experiences and thus learns that his hand is his hand. During a massage, babies experience the sensation of touching their body and thus the awareness of their own parts of the body and therefore their musculoskeletal system. And you can only ‘control’ that musculoskeletal system properly if you know which part is suitable for what. This means that babies need to be able to practice a lot and they literally and figuratively need ‘space’ to do so.
If a baby is going to push himself forward on your lap by stretching its legs, he is just practising until he is strong enough to carry his own weight. Children must be given the opportunity to move and therefore learn. The Feldenkrais method assumes that babies discover themselves and the world around them on the basis of their experiences. In addition, there are the ‘SpeelRuimte bijeenkomsten’ [Playing Area meetings] according to the Emmi Pikler method, especially popular in the north and east of the country. Babies can play freely here and parents and supervisors can watch from the sidelines what their babies experience and learn’
Marije Magito, general manager Jonge Kind Centrum
Parents are impatient
She continues: ‘Babies naturally have their own drive to move, as a parent you don’t have to do so much about that. Around 8 months of age, children will be able to sit on their own and then they will be strong enough. But parents would like their children to be able to sit and enjoy some cozy time at the table in the highchair a little earlier. Children will then be secured completely and producers will develop all kinds of things to meet the needs of parents. The fact that a child cannot sit down yet, has to do with the fact that his body is not yet strong enough for this. Instead of supporting him in this by ‘securing’ him to something, it is better to give a child more room to move so that he can strengthen his muscles.
Activities offered to a far younger age group
I also see that activities meant for ‘big children’ are being offered to a far younger age group. There are sports clubs where children from the age of 1.5 years can play football for toddlers. Fathers who used to play football themselves, for example, would like their son to play football as well. Preferably as soon as possible. Resulting in 30 toddlers walking around in a group going all directions except the right one. They are just too young for that, both physically and mentally. Grass does not grow any faster by pulling it either, children grow into it on their own. It would be nice if parents and organisations could be a little more patient. In addition, the musculoskeletal system is stressed far too much on one side. Starting this kind of activity too early is not a good thing, and there is a good chance that parents will overcharge their young children and allow them to have negative experiences in something they want so badly. And this surely cannot be the intention.’
Do parents not know how to handle a baby?
‘Absolutely!’, Marije replies. There are many parents who do not know what a baby needs in order to develop properly. This is determined by a demographic history. The first baby held by young parents is often their own, whereas we used to babysit small children on a regular basis ourselves. Families used to be bigger, so there were always siblings to look after. And the mutual ties in the community where people lived were stronger. Now families live more apart, because you travel everywhere by car, with the result that families become isolated. At the Baby Club, we see parents coming in who do not know what else to offer a baby other than food, a clean nappy, cuddles and toys. It is also difficult to imagine what the life of parents is like now without help and with all the technology currently present’.
What about making toys available?
Children are now lying in the playpen with so many toys and cuddles that they can hardly move. They look at a babygym and above it hangs another mobile, they experience sensory overload and will not be able to play anymore. Babies get fixated, cannot filter so they will not let go of this image. The problem is also that parents do not know what all these toys now mean for their child’s development. When parents join us at the Baby Club, we offer them a bowl and a ball and tell the parents: take a good look at what your child is going to try out himself. Then you will see that children discover a tray completely with their hands and mouth, put the ball in and discover that the ball can be thrown out. This way, parents learn what their child is learning. There are many beautiful toys available, but parents have no idea what exactly children learn with them. Manufacturers should be able to explain that much more clearly’.
Marije herself is a big fan of balls in all sizes, especially beach balls. ‘They are light and very instructive; if you push it, it rolls away; if you push harder, it rolls further away. They get to know the shape, the weight, the material, they just engage in arithmetic! You can roll balls, throw them, you can sit on them, you can do massage and balance exercises on beach balls so that children can train their muscles’.
Is there enough information available for parents?
‘I sometimes see parents who really don’t know how to pick up their child and what to do with their child. Parents no longer know where to get information for the care of their child. There are so many parenting questions. They read too little and sometimes too much. In addition, they often mirror themselves to role models on social media and this does not always make them happy. And this also includes highly educated parents. The problem is much bigger than we think’.
She gives an example. Parents no longer know how to teach their little one how to climb and don’t want to, afraid of falling and bruising. These are all risk-averse behaviours for which they can now buy baby helmets, knee and elbow pads and even a pillow-shaped backpack online. We have a layer of pyramid-shaped wooden furniture with a gangway. Instead of teaching the child to climb and clamber barefoot so that it learns to assess risks for itself, they hold the child by the hand and want the child to walk up on a slippery board with socks on. That does not work, of course.
What about childcare expertise?
Marije: In 2018 the law IKK came into force. This stipulates that only 3 babies are allowed to be under the supervision of a baby carer, that a mentor must be present to better monitor children’s development and there is compulsory further training for the carers working with babies. But that has made baby groups unaffordable. For practical and financial reasons, they are placed in vertical groups of 0 to 4 years and that’s a mistake. After all, babies cannot be placed on the ground between racing bicycles and there is often insufficient space for playpens on the ground, with the result that they are all too often placed safely in high playpens. Research data of the ‘Landelijke Kwaliteitsmonitor Kinderopvang’ (National Child daycare Quality Monitor) from 2018 show that the educational quality in the vertical groups for babies is lower than in a (horizontal) baby group. With the introduction of the Child daycare (Innovation and Quality) Act (IKK Act), there have only been more vertical groups. The big question is what this means for the educational quality of babies. Crowds in the group can cause babies to experience sensory overload and stress, but with the new act the risk of understimulation lurks because they receive less attention and care, especially if they are quiet babies. In doing so, the IKK Act is counterproductive’.
Ten years ago we interviewed paediatric physiotherapist Tineke van Westerop on the subject of babies and exercise. She expressed her concern about the many small children being stuck in bouncers, lounge chairs, child safety seats and highchairs, but also in strollers and buggies and the consequences for small children.
What is the current situation, do babies move enough?
According to Tineke, we have to distinguish between childcare and the home situation. In childcare, more attention has definitely been paid to dealing with babies. Employees are more aware that babies need room to move, but in practice this is difficult due to time pressure. An example: educational assistants are busy and for practical reasons they feed the babies while they are in a bouncer. Sometimes two or three in a row, that saves time. In order to prevent reflux, they let the babies digest their food comfortably in a bouncer for a while, while carrying out other tasks. Before you know it, the babies have to go back to bed or have fallen asleep in the chair without being able to move freely for a while. Educational assistants do want to organize things differently in the group, but they run into that time pressure’.
Has there been any change in the home situation?
Tineke van Westerop, paediatric physiotherapist
‘At home with the parents, little has changed in my opinion. It is certainly not unwillingness, but there is little knowledge of motor development. In any case, in today’s society there is much more interest in children’s cognitive development than in motor development. Also from the side of the government. Some children only get 1 hour of physical education per week in primary school, nothing has improved in recent years. Exercise physiologists see teenagers who don’t even know that their heart will beat faster when they start to exercise. Orthopeadic surgeons such as Piet van Loon have been working hard for years for more prevention, because they are worried about all those children with back problems… What’s more, all the fun of old-fashioned television is now available 24/7 on mobile devices via the Internet. You could not wish for a nicer sop. In short, from birth, children sit in a bent position for many hours. The back muscles are used far too little. This will certainly have consequences such as various musculoskeletal complaints at an increasingly younger age’.
A bouncer is handy, isn’t it?
Tineke: ‘Parents are convinced they can’t do without a bouncer and buy too much stuff for their baby anyway. While a baby’s real needs are very basic; love, attention and being able to eat and sleep at set times. If babies can rely on this, they will be able to develop optimally without our help’. She’s continues: It would care a lot if the children, including the babies, were lying on their stomachs while looking at the phone or tablet. In this way they train the back muscles and strong back muscles will give you pleasure for a lifetime. Put the baby in the playpen rather than in a bouncer, because the more exercise experience a baby is allowed to gain, the better it is for brain development!’
Buggies are ideal for short distances. They are small, light, have small swivel casters and are compact foldable. Besides functional models there are nowadays buggies on the market which, given their many extras, have evolved into mini strollers! As soon as children can sit up a bit and don’t want to miss out on anything in their surroundings, a buggy is a very convenient and additional option for them. In folded state, a buggy hardly takes up any space, which is convenient in public transport, airplanes and even on bicycles with special buggy carriers. The latest models can be folded into such a small package with their 3D folding technique that they even fit in a backpack!
The catch-up process of buggies
Functional buggies are inferior to full-fledged strollers because of the stiffer springing, narrower seat, less comfort, lack of a carrycot, reducer, foldable seat and fewer reclining or sleeping positions. For long walks in the forest or park, a stroller is usually a more comfortable alternative, especially if the baby is still very small. Buggies are significantly affected, because of a first, second and sometimes third child climbing in and out, groceries you can hang in and on the buggy and riding through sand and pebbles. Reasons enough for parents to make the choice for a little quality!
The latest buggies have really been catching up in luxury and comfort and approach the quality of a stroller. They can be set in different positions in no time, including a sleeping position, have a sunroof and place for small groceries. Most buggies can be folded with one hand and there are already buggies on the market with an automatic folding system.
Buggy designers speak
Lead designer and sustainability expert Aernout Dijkstra-Hellinga of bugaboo confirms that buggies have changed a lot in the last five years.
‘Where in the past the buggy was only bought as a second stroller, where the lack of comfort, ergonomics and ease of riding was taken for granted in favour of compactness, I see that nowadays people expect a lot more from a buggy. The trend is that people also want a buggy that steers and rides well, with good suspension, good ergonomics for the child, sufficient storage space, sufficient adjustment possibilities for the parent and a good building quality. A buggy can also be the first and only vehicle for many people living in larger cities. People also want a buggy that fits the style of the parent / carer, design has become much more important’.
According to Benoît Guillet, category manager at Dorel, the buggies are mainly lighter in weight (6 to 7 kilos), but also more compact and easier to fold into a package that can stand upright and be taken on the plane as hand luggage. ‘A buggy has to be versatile, which means: use from birth up to four years of age, on which a child safety seat or soft carrycot can be secured, good suspension and larger wheels’.
Easywalker’s design team also noticed the change that the two handles have been exchanged for a single push bar so that the buggy can also be controlled with one hand, and many folding methods have been developed for compact-fold buggies. ‘We see that with several buggies on the market, a number of features have been taken out of the design in favour of weight and compactness. For example, most buggies now have 4 wheels instead of 8’.
What are important principles for making a good buggy?
Easywalker design team: ‘With all of our products, the most important principle is that they are great to ride, even after prolonged use. Compactness, comfort and ease of use are also important principles. The buggy must be easy to fold in and out into a hand luggage size package that is easy to store both when travelling and at home. All our buggies offer the possibility to bring the seat into a full reclining position, so that the child can sleep comfortably in it and the buggy can in principle be used from birth’.
Aernout: ‘We always go for the best quality, both in construction and in materials, so the buggy can last at least 10 years. We are also thinking about how the buggy can be recycled . Partly because of this, we recently won the prestigious Baby Innovation Green Award. Ergonomics for parent and child is very important, we think carefully about where and how the child is positioned in the buggy. For example, a good back support and a correct upright sitting position develops good ‘core’ stability. It must also be possible to adjust the handlebar to the correct height for perfect riding behaviour, in combination with sufficient walking space. Because we want to give as much value as possible to the user, our buggies are usable from birth. The seat can also always be used towards the parent because contact between parent and child is essential. Finally, we pay a lot of attention to the appearance of the vehicle, looking at the smallest details such as the connections of the screws, but also what the vehicle looks like when folded up. A bugaboo product should look perfect in all positions!’
Are there any new materials and techniques you use?
Aernout: ‘For almost every stroller we design, we have to come up with a new way of setting and folding. Each stroller has a unique set of features in terms of functionality and appearance, so we have to brainstorm our ideas every time to make this combination perfect. We are always looking for materials that have less impact on the environment. We look at how we can execute our parts with less stressful materials, this requires a different way of engineering and construction. We are also looking at how we can use as many recycled materials as possible’.
Easywalker design team: ‘The fabrics of the Easywalker Miley are made of recycled plastic (including PET bottles). A small modification with great impact on the sustainability of the product. Also, the Easywalker Miley is our first vehicle with the ‘Unique Accessory System’. By means of a unique click system, accessories can easily be attached to the push bar and the bumper bar. The accessories we release for this purpose are a handlebar for the child, a cup-holder, an LED light for good lighting in the dark and a telephone holder’.
Buggy wishes for the modern parent according designers:
– riding nicely even after prolonged use
– good suspension
– easy compact folding, hand luggage size
– preferably with lying position
– good quality materials
– storage options
– nice design
– thinking about recycling materials
Do you want to read this article in Dutch? please see BabyWereld.nl
Disposable diapers are easy to buy and parents do not need to wash and dry anything. They offer a solution when children are raised by more than one person. But they are also enormously polluting and cause children to become toilet trained later on. Reasons enough to look at alternatives.
Disposable diapers absorb better and better, but due to suberabsorbers, children do not feel wetness and therefore less likely the need to sit on the potty. As a result, children in our western society are only becoming toilet trained increasingly later. Globally, sales of disposable diapers has grown from less than $20 billion in 2004 to more than $50 billion in 2017.
Children toilet trained at a a later age
In concrete terms, children are now toilet trained seven to twelve months later than about 30 years ago. A survey in 2017 among primary school pupils shows that 4% of the children who go to year 1, are not toilet trained. That’s one child per kindergarten class. Teachers don’t like this, of course. In addition, two children aged four to seven regularly have a ‘little accident’ in class. (Source: Nederland Centrum Jeugdgezondheid (Netherlands Youth Health Centre))
Psychological cause toilet training
In addition to the pleasant sensation of a soft disposable diaper, there may also be a psychological cause, causing children to have problems becoming toilet trained. Think of a divorce, the birth of a new baby in the family, fear, etc. But this is only a very small percentage. In 97 percent of the cases no physical cause is found, in other words it is a change in behaviour. If children are not yet toilet trained before they go to school, the Baby clinic offers help. It is also possible to make an appointment with the pediatric gastrointestinal clinic.
When to start toilet training
Due to the disposable diaper industry, many toilet training tips are lost while it is possible to toilet train children from the age of nine months! This is substantiated by a Swedish study by the Sahlgrenska Academy that followed mothers and their babies in Vietnam for two years. There they start much earlier with the toilet training, namely right from birth, where they work with a certain flute technique.
It is important to know that children need to learn that they experience their toilet routine as something normal and positive without developing fears. During this process, a good, relaxed sitting posture is important. In addition to the potties, there are useful aids: toilet seat reducers, regular toilet seats with integrated children’s seats and toilet trainers with a 3-in-1 function: potty, toilet trainer and a toilet seat reducer.
Durability of diapers
Children are now changed five to six times a day. This is far too often according to sustainability manager Bart Waterschoot. With today’s good diapers, changing them three times a day should be enough, he says. This also ensures a lot less waste. To study the sustainability of diapers, the science magazine Eos went looking for the most sustainable diapers. It considered the transparency of the manufacturers, the results and efforts in terms of sustainability. The private label diapers of Jumbo, Kruidvat, Etos and Albert Heijn came out best from the test. These manufacturers are actively committed to human rights and the environment, Eos reports. Other major brands and supermarkets did not want to cooperate in this study.
What about diaper recycling?
Ecological diapers with biodegradable materials are on the rise. Yet no diaper can really be called durable. This is because used diapers are difficult to recycle due to the plastics they contain. After two years of testing, there is a diaper recycling plant at waste processing company ARN in Nijmegen. Diapers and contents are heated after which the substances can be separated into four new raw materials: green gas, plastic, biomass and fertilizer. It is the second time they have tried to recycle diapers. About ten years ago, the first diapers were collected and processed at Knowaste in Arnhem from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, but the project had to be stopped. The plant suffered from rising energy prices and falling prices for the incineration of waste on which American shareholders pulled the plug on the project. The big problem with diaper recycling is to make it profitable. The technical process in the plant costs more energy than it generates and the costs do not outweigh the revenues.
Meanwhile, experts wonder to what extent toxic substances and disease processors such as bacteria, viruses and drug residues including antibiotics, hormones and radioactive iodine are actually broken down during the recycling of regular and incontinence diapers. The National Institute for Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM) has been researching this since 2017.
Washable diapers: the alternative
Parents that are even slightly environmentally conscious, consider whether or not to use washable diapers. Washable diapers are soft, they breathe and are comfortable. The materials of which the diapers are made, are according to the current environmental standards. There are diapers made of bamboo, synthetic fibre and ecological cotton. Handy, biodegradable wipes collect stools and, depending on the brand, may be flushed down the toilet. A washable diaper is durable, it reduces the diaper pile and ensures that children become toilet-trained at an earlier stage, because they feel ‘wetness’ sooner. Milieu Centraal calculated that the average cost of a disposable diaper is 1310 euros, while the cost of a washable diaper is 830 euros (with an initial investment of 400 euros). These amounts are calculated taking into account that the disposable diaper and the washable diaper are used an equally long period of time. Children are more likely to be toilet trained with washable diapers, so the benefit can be even greater.
Are washable diapers really better for the environment?
Milieu Centraal investigated the extent to which washable diapers are now better for the environment than disposable diapers. The use of water, air and water pollution, greenhouse gases and land use were taken into account. Cotton plantations take up seven times more land for disposable diapers than the land for washable diapers. Both the washable and disposable diaper cost a lot of water to produce. Even organic cotton needs a lot of water to grow and this also goes for making wood pulp and plastic from petroleum for the disposable diaper. In addition, washable diapers still need to be washed. And then there is the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides in the cultivation of cotton. So far the diapers don’t differ that much. Only with diapers made of organic cotton and the EKO and GOTS quality mark, you can be sure that no chemicals and artificial fertilizer have been used.
But if you look at energy consumption and greenhouse gases, there are big differences. Producing disposable diapers costs more energy. Even without using the dryer it takes 2.5 times more energy. It is also possible to save energy by washing at 40 degrees instead of 60. And the environmental benefits continue to grow as more children in a family use washable diapers.
Washable diapers tested by municipalities
The use of disposable diapers generates 140 million kilos of dirty diapers annually. That’s about 260 kilos a year per child with five diapers a day. So it’s not surprising that municipalities are looking for alternatives. In 2015, the municipality of Hengelo conducted a research into the matter and made washable diapers available to 50 parents; the parents had to do the washing themselves. The results were positive: 67% of the users thought it was a positive experience, 14% wanted to go all the way and 53% wanted to participate only part-time. One third (33%) of the participants decided to quit. Parents see the potential savings (500 to 700 euros), but more can be done to improve the image of the washable diaper, this research showed. In the meantime, trials have been carried out in Heerenveen, Rotterdam, Schiedam and Hoogeveen.
Turning the tide
Melanie Weidner of Kaatje Katoen reports the following about the experience with washable diapers: We notice more and more that people have heard of washable diapers or know someone who uses them. However, there are still a lot of people with a lot of prejudices who don’t want to have anything to do with it. The main reason parents state why they want to use washable diapers is because it saves waste. The cost will be taken into account but is not actively mentioned as a reason. Maybe this is related to the large investment made at the beginning of the baby’s life’? To really turn the tide so that people become enthusiastic about the use of washable diapers, we still have a few things to do according to Kaatje Katoen: We think that politicians should actually take measures and do something about waste and the use of disposables. Now people aren’t stimulated enough to try something different. In addition, we believe that municipalities should also provide subsidies, because the waste problem is also their problem and even set an objective for municipalities in 2020. We are happy to enter into discussions with municipalities to help them think of solutions to the waste problem. Where waste tax is introduced, we see that residents also start thinking about alternatives themselves’.