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The connected baby: how buggies shape brains

By Carola Siksma-Ruiters, editor of BabyWereld, trade magazine member of Baby Care Magazines International (BCMI)


During a press conference of a leading brand in Naarden in The Netherlands, an extraordinairy speaker made an appearance. Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk has been conducting research on and studies about the baby’s natural ability to communicate with parents from the start. Developers of baby products should know about the findings of these studies before developing baby products, in Zeedyk’s opinion.

She studied at San Diego State University and she has been connected to Dundee University in Scotland as a developmental psychologist. Zeedyk is fascinated by the emotional development in the first years of a child and how this development affects the child on the long term. This may affect the emotional safety, self-esteem and confidence in others and relationships.

How buggies shape brains

Or, to apply this to buggies and strollers straight away: ‘Neuroscience of strollers and buggies and how buggies shape brains and how this leads to the science of designing for babies,’ as Zeedyk states.

We, people, are evolutionary products and descend from apes, she says. When carrying a baby as a parent you don’t have your hands free, which leads to the development of products for carrying and transporting a baby. Think about the slings, cradleboards from the Indians and later on the baby carriers, strollers and buggies. These are all solutions to evolutionary problems.

Babies communicate from day one

According to Zeedyk, babies are natural social creatures and therefore they are capable to communicate from an early stage. A 10-minute-old baby is already capable of sticking his or her tongue out if the father or mother does so as well. Babies can also imitate quick finger and hand gestures very soon after their birth. Babies feel comfortable when communicated with them. Then oxytocin is made, which is a trust hormone. There is communication by eye contact, touch and the sound of voices. When there is a lack of communication it causes an increase in cortisol, a stress hormone.

So, Zeedyk states, carrying a baby around is more than just transporting the baby from A to B! A baby's brain grows explosively between the age of zero and three and after this it grows on at a slower pace. In the first years, brain connections are made at an incredible speed. This phase is crucial to a child’s development and therefore designers of strollers, buggies and carriers should take this into consideration, according to Zeedyk.

Research shows that you can never start too early with communication. For example during one study, a pregnant woman read the book ‘Cat in the Hat’ out loud, daily. After the birth the baby could recognize the rhythm, which was measured by the speed of sucking on an electronic nipple.

Research images show a mother who extensively talks to her baby and the baby reacts, until the mom goes silent. The baby then tries to make contact with the mother but when this is unsuccessful, the baby turns away his little head, disappointed. According to Zeedyk, one can tell from 16 months old that a lack of communication leads to a backlog in language. At the age of three, one can already tell if children will get aggressive in the future.

In 2008 the results of a study by Suzanne Zeedyk were published, which caused some commotion. Three thousand British parents, of whom the majority transported their baby or toddler with its back towards the parents, were observed. Children who cannot see their mother would have an increased chance of experiencing stress or even a trauma, as stated by Zeedyk. Unfortunately, this study was not received warmly by everyone. Zeedyk believes that to some extent, the data were misinterpreted.  What it all came down to, was that children who did face their parents, smiled more often, listened better and fell asleep faster. So baby products are important! And just like there should be good information about breastfeeding, there should also be good information about the importance of communicating properly with your baby.

Zeedyk also worries about the increase of covers for car seats and strollers. It’s nice whenever our baby is asleep, but not wanted whenever your baby is awake. These dark covers are bad for the development of the brain, as there is no possibility to make eye contact.

Find more information on www.theconnectedbaby.org

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