The top 10 things you must do when bringing up baby
Parents can boost their child's development potential from the day that they are born
It might not look like they're doing much but your baby's early days are actually the most important in their lives.
On Saturday Early Childhood Ireland will host a Croke Park conference on children's well-being and development and next week sees MummyPages.ie, Ireland's biggest online parenting community, launch its new Expert Zone with guidance from online professionals.
Ahead of the events we asked the experts for their top 10 things that most parents don't know about boosting their baby's development.
1 Techno babies
It recently hit the headlines that entertaining babies with Smartphone and iPad apps could lead to them getting hooked on technology or developing a short attention span, but parents need to be wary of more than new screens.
A study by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) showed that children under the age of two who watched more television or videos than their peers have language delays and their recommendation is that children under two should be exposed to no television at all.
"In children under-three, TV watching is also associated with irregular sleep cycles," adds Teresa Heeney, CEO Early Childhood Ireland (earlychildhoodireland.ie)
"Unstructured playtime is more valuable for the developing brain than any electronic media exposure and if there is a TV on in the same room the quality of play has been shown to diminish."
2 Feeding fears
There can be a lot of confusion over when to wean. Mummypages.ie weaning expert, Siobhan Berry, managing director at Mummycooks Ltd, explains: "Until recently, parents were advised not to give babies any foods (like wheat, dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, soya, citrus fruits and foods such as bread or pasta containing gluten) that might cause an allergic reaction until the age of six months.
"But in January 2008 a committee of experts changed these recommendations saying there's no convincing evidence that these foods should be excluded or introduced late to a baby's diet, even when there's a family history of allergy."
There's also evidence to suggest that introducing new foods earlier than six months could be beneficial. "I believe that babies are less neophobic [afraid of new things] at this stage," says Siobhan.
"The evidence shows that by giving lots of new tastes early on, the child is less likely to be a picky or fussy eater. Start to wean at five-and-a-half months where the first two weeks are spent introducing runny purées."
3 Standing too soon
Teresa Heeney warns against baby play equipment that has babies on their feet early on.
She explains: "When held in a standing position babies often push right up on to their toes and lock their knees. It might look like they're 'very strong' in their legs and want to stand all the time but this extra extensor muscle tone is not the same as the controlled muscle power they'll need to actually stand and walk independently (usually around eight to 12 months corrected)."
Her advice is to steer clear of equipment that puts baby into a standing position, such as apparatus suspended from door frames because it doesn't exercise the real muscles needed for standing and limit time in standing activity centres, only using them at 4-6 months once baby has solid head control and upper body control and stopping use immediately if baby is pushing up on toes and arching back.
"Remember – babies do not really require much equipment for their play and motor development," she adds. "A soft section of carpet or mat on the floor and your encouraging presence is really all they need to get started."
4 Learning happy food associations starts young
Be wary of products that on the face of it make your life easier like pouches that squeeze food directly into baby's mouth or spoons containing the food, warns Siobhan. "The reason I'm not a fan is that babies should enjoy the experience of eating food, smelling, touching and feeling the food to break down the fear.
"From six months I advise mums to offer some of the food in a bowl in front of baby so they can touch and feel it and maybe get some into their mouth. Mum then has a second bowl with most of the food and helps baby eat.
"By giving control, baby will be a much happier eater with good food association."
5 Awake time
Studies suggest that wakeful periods with babies range from one to two hours from waking. "I find parents often hear the words 'two hours' and apply this regardless," says MummyPages paediatric sleep consultant, Lucy Wolfe.
"In my practice, I find that on wake-up in the morning the sleep wake period is actually really quite small and rarely the upper level of two hours."
6 Safe sleeping
"Putting baby to sleep on his or her back is still the safest way for your baby to sleep," says Mummypages expert and doula, Julie Halton.
Studies show babies who are put to sleep on their tummies when they're not used to it are 18 times more likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
7 The importance of Tummy Time
Whilst it's important for babies to sleep on their backs a growing body of evidence supports the importance of time spent on their tummies.
Research by the AAP shows that decreased tummy time could be associated with developmental delays and plays an important part in helping infants develop balance, strength and sight.
"With bouncy seats, swings and overuse of the infant car seat as strollers, we're seeing babies spend less awake time on their tummies," says Teresa. "Without tummy time babies are not developing the core strength they need to lift their heads, scoot, crawl and sit.
"A lovely way to introduce tummy time is to lie flat and place your baby on your chest," suggests MummyPages expert Jenny Branigan, physiotherapist specialising in pre and postnatal mums.
"Babies love faces and the closeness of this position will prevent the wails that can often turn mum and baby off tummy time in the early stages."
8 Rocking your way to sporting ability
Rocking your baby soothes them but it also plays a vital part in development, explains Ollwyn Moran from Creeper Crawlers, MummyPages Neurological Expert. "Simple exercises like rocking your baby stimulate brain growth and helps develop balance," explains Ollwyn.
"The balance system is located inside the inner ear on both sides of the head and consists of three fluid filled tubes. Every time the baby is moved the fluid moves in the tubes, sending feedback to the brain via the neuron, giving the brain feedback on where the body is in space.
"The more movement, the more information goes to the brain.
"If the balance system is undeveloped it can factor in travel sickness and later in life affect sporting ability, ability to sit still and learning."
9 Building brain development with one-on-one time
In a child's first two years, neurons inside the brain are connecting a more rapid rate that at any other time in their life, so emotional and sensory stimulation at this time is crucial. Consistency is important too as babies will only 'hardwire' connections made frequently in early years.
"New research suggests that babies respond to social cues just hours after birth," explains Teresa. "A baby's sense of their own importance, value and competence is created in the interaction moments between babies and parents or care givers so these interactions need time and full attention."
A ratio of three babies to one carer is the maximum that will allow for these interactions in crèche and child-minding situations.
10 Stimulate – don't overstimulate
With the number of classes, books and learning aids now available to babies, it's easy to feel under pressure to be constantly 'doing', but providing babies with a calm, quiet area where they can relax and make sense of the world around them is also important.
Teresa says: "Slowing down, paying attention and giving babies lots of time for uninterrupted play not only gives infants a good start in life and takes the pressure off harried parents."
Sleep consultant Niamh O'Reilly (thenursery.ie) also warns against overstimulation leading to overtiredness.
"An overtired baby may present with a reluctance to go to sleep so you may feel they're not tired at all. Being aware of their sleep cues – eye rubbing, 'zoning out' – will help you identify their tired spells as will being wary of overstimulating them with TV, music, mobiles etc that can throw them into a little disarray and find it difficult to cope."