Katarzyna Marszałek, MSc, Paediatric physiotherapist, therapist of NDT-Bobath, Sensory Integration, CranioSacral Therapy
Nowadays there is a great deal of equipment and accessories on the market designed to make life easier for parents of babies and “help” their children’s psychomotor development. Unfortunately, many of them are harmful to children (e.g. baby walkers, toddler recliners, etc.). Fortunately, knowledge about the harmfulness of such equipment is reaching more and more parents. You can get confused, however, because if rocking is good for children, why is a highchair or a hybrid swing not the best idea?
It is all about body position, spinal loading and natural movement. This is what makes baby slings and ergonomic carriers different from rigid suspension type carriers. Let’s start with the basics. Cradles have always been known: however, the baby lies straight in the cradle, the body weight is distributed evenly over the head, shoulders, chest, pelvis and legs. In this position the shoulders drop, which allows the chest to expand and the diaphragm (the main breathing muscle) to work actively. In a bouncer or hybrid swing the weight of the body is mainly focused on the pelvis, the baby’s head is squatted and the diaphragm has a difficult task, it is difficult for the baby to change position. An additional aspect is the fore and aft movement which drives the nervous system into activity rather than having a calming effect.
When asked to try out the ohobohoo hammock I wasn’t sure what opinion I would have on it. Fate would have it that I was a mum to two month old twins at the time and I knew I would be able to test it with no time limit. It turned out that the distribution of body weight was really satisfactory, I could feel the pressure on my head, shoulders and pelvis. Nevertheless, due to the position of the body with the rounded back, the chest did not expand perfectly and the head could not turn freely to the sides – therefore, until the child is 3 months old, I would recommend using it only for calming, maximum 10-15 minutes. Once the baby has achieved head control and is able to cope with the choking, when the chest has passed the most important stage of expansion, then the other aspects are acceptable to me also for daytime naps. The weight of the baby in the hammock is distributed evenly, its positioning is ergonomic. It is important that during other naps and at night the baby sleeps on a level and firm base.
I know how important sleep is and what role it plays in the development of the nervous system. In my work with children with sleep disorders, self-regulation, colic, I always recommend rocking as a support and continuation of therapy at home. This is often very difficult for the mother, who usually takes care of the child alone for most of the day. For me, the naturalness of the movements provided by the ohobohoo hammock is important. They are similar to those that the baby remembers from pregnancy. It affects all the semicircular canals of the vagus and makes it possible to calm the nervous system and regulate muscle tension.
The vestibular system develops from the 9th week of pregnancy and together with the deep and superficial sensory systems are the most important senses of the human being. The course of pregnancy and birth influences the quality of their integration, called sensory integration. Without these senses working properly, the baby may have problems processing other signals from the environment that are necessary for development. This results in problems with calmness, sleep and irritability in newborns.
It is important to support the baby’s self-regulation processes. If a baby cannot cope with calming down, crying, there is always a reason for this. Only the symptoms change with age, but the problem does not disappear by itself. Children of a later age may have difficulties with, for example, concentration, planning their movements and controlling their emotions. It is worth seeing a specialist (craniosacral therapist, osteopath, neurodevelopmental physiotherapist) who can diagnose the cause of the problem and recommend the appropriate therapy.
But when the baby is awake, crying, irritable, it is a self-perpetuating machine. Mum’s tiredness doesn’t help, the nervous systems resonate with each other. The baby needs to be helped and given the stimuli it needs to calm down.
For these reasons I would recommend the ohobohoo hammock as a support for the baby and the whole family.