What Does Unassisted Natural Development Look Like?

When babies are free to explore and develop unassisted at their own pace they perform beautiful dance from laying on their back to walking. For some babies, this process happens fast and is completed by 9 months! For most, it will take around a year and for some it will take longer. For parents, it is a joy to watch our children discover their capabilities and it is important to be patient and let this happen at your baby’s unique pace. As stated by Janet Lansbury in this post: Infant Development Experts Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler “both had keen interest in the physiology of motor development that was not restricted, aided or taught. Through many years of research, observation and experience, Pikler concluded that when infant development is allowed to occur naturally, without interference, there are not only physical benefits such as grace and ease of movement, but psychological and cognitive benefits as well…”

“The learning process will play a major role in the whole later life of the human being. Through this kind of development, the infant learns his ability to do something independently, through patient and persistent effort. While learning during motor development to turn on his belly, to roll, to creep, sit, stand, and walk, he is not only learning those movements, but also *how to learn*. He learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction that is derived from his success, the result of his patience and persistence.”Dr. Emmi Pikler

The Dance (As seen from a mother’s eyes watching her son)

Here he is brand new laying on his back, limbs moving as if underwater, freely and rhythmically while his eyes focus on the magic of the new world that I can no longer comprehend through my adult eyes. I enjoy watching this; watching him discover that he is here now and his body and world are his own. Eventually he finds his hands in excitement and confusion, his eyes focus on his fingers as his brow furrows at this spectacle. “Is this attached to me?” He lays and watches as he discovers that he has control over this hand, his own hand! Next are his feet, he sees them and then he grabs them with his hands! Like magic, he can make these things happen! He grabs them and begins to roll onto his side on accident. This is frustrating for him and alarming, his whole world view has just moved, he cries until he is on his back again where he feels safe. But this new thing that was scary has become fascinating and he begins to rock back and forth eventually lands on his belly! What a change! He sits in amazement and shock at this new perspective and slowly gets his arms out from under him.

He can now lay on his belly and push up onto his arms where he can move his head around to look at this new world. When he pushes hard enough, he rocks onto his knees, which is very exciting. He squeals in happiness as he rocks back and forth! Now he can see what is around him and what he wants. A toy sits a foot away and he grabs for it, but it’s too far and he cries. Fighting through frustration, he learns that he CAN prevail and eventually scoots on his tummy to the toy. Fantastic, more squeals of delight! He has discovered how to push himself onto his arms and flop himself forward on his belly. First he forms a circle of movement and then suddenly he is in the kitchen, 10 feet from where he began!

Later, he is on his hands and knees rocking and he reaches for a toy with his hand, only his knee follows suit! He discovers that when his knees follow his hands, he can move faster, and he is all about faster! First he tries moving his parallel hands and feet, then discovers that alternating is far more efficient. Now here he is, crawling about my house, going in places I never expected, like behind the toilet and under the bed. Oh how he laughs with me when I find him in these places. Next he learns how to sit, and oh how pretty he is. With one hand down and one on his hip he just looks so fancy. And oh what a place to be, where he can balance on his own and play!

Soon he discovers that if he grabs onto furniture that is taller than him he can become taller himself by standing! But he gets stuck here and cries and falls. Up and down he stands and falls and cries until eventually he learns on his own how to put his hand on the floor first or fall on his bottom, much to his delight. He now scoots all around the tables and chairs. One day, he grabs an object on the table and lets go to hold the object, what a surprise as he falls, but now he has learned how to trust his movement so immediately tries and tries to stand on his own over and over until standing becomes his own. He pulls himself up, lets go and looks at me with excited eyes that seem to say: “look what I am doing Mommy! All on my own!” “Yes, you are standing all on your own,” I say back to him.Now to go and get to the dogs, he falls down to crawl so fast to them, bear crawling now because it is faster. What? The feet move? He stands and instead of crawling after something, he takes one step, then two, then three! He practices, walking towards me with his eyes full of joy and excitement.

Watching him walk to me with those eyes and that smile, knowing that I let him do all of this on his own; I gave him his space and his walking belongs entirely to himself.  That thought fills me with complete joy and pride. He still walks towards me, all wobbly and full of joy, but soon he will walk away from me, out to explore the world on his own with complete trust in his body and his world.

Over the course of a year or so all babies will make this progression, if left to do so on their own. When we put them in positions that they cannot get into themselves, it will interfere with their natural progression and cause frustration. Now it is said that a lot of babies skip crawling, I believe that this has to do with the rise of sitting babies up in unnecessary infant seats and the feeling that we must rush our babies into the next developmental milestone. As Ruth Ann Hammond states: “The inner drive to be upright is hard to turn off once it has been turned on, but when babies are allowed to “hang out” on their backs until they can do otherwise without help, eventually they can do so many things through their own initiative that they love being on the floor to play.”  When it comes to development, faster is not always better. Some children develop their movement fast all on their own and some wish to take their time. Patience is the key.

“I believe in giving your baby a safe space in which to play and letting her move freely and develop on her own without assisting her. Refrain from propping her up to sit or helping her roll over. She has an innate desire to move through these developmental sequences and has inborn knowledge of how to do it in a way that is “right” for her. She does this at her own pace and she gets pleasure from doing it.” –Magda Gerber

Natural Progression of Infant Development: Adapted from AAP and Baby 411

This is a chart I made that covers the natural progression of movement from laying on their backs to walking. Notice that I have left out tummy time and sitting baby up as some believe these are unnecessary.

Rolls onto tummy                                                             3 – 8 mo.

Scoots around on tummy                                               4 – 8 mo.

Crawls                                                                                  5 – 12 mo.

Gets to sitting without help                                           6 – 12 mo.

Pulls self-up to standing                                                 6 – 12 mo.

Stands alone briefly                                                         7 – 13 mo.

Cruises  around on furniture                                         7 – 14 mo.

Stands alone                                                                       9 – 15 mo.

Walks alone                                                                        9 – 16 mo.

Here is a great article by Emmi Pikler about the Natural Development of Movement that I highly suggest you read.

You can also look into Amazing Babies by Beverly Stokes and Your Self-Confidant Baby by Magda Gerber for more information on Natural and Unassisted Development during the first year. Please share your thoughts and stories on this topic as I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Grass is Greener on the Other Side: My Struggle with Postpartum Depression and How I Prevailed

I’m laying in bed on a Sunday morning while my husband gets ready for work. I can hear my son fussing and crying while my husband changes him and gets his breakfast ready. I know that in a few minutes I will be on duty as a mom and I cannot bear this thought. At this moment, I hate being a mom. The sound of my child’s fussing is like nails on a chalkboard and I want nothing but to be left alone. This is something I cannot have now, I must find a way to be a mother today, find a way to cope. I come out of the bedroom and my husband wraps me up in his arms while I sob and beg him to stay home from work. He cannot because he has already called in the last two days because of my sleep deprivation and sadness. He kisses me good-bye and shuts the door behind him and I crawl up in a ball and continue sobbing. My son watches me anxiously and then finally, tired of being ignored, cries out for me. I get him from his high chair and then we sit on the couch together while I cry…about nothing. “There is nothing wrong with me” I tell myself over an over; “there is nothing wrong with my life and no reason to be like this, I just want to be happy and enjoy my life and my child.”

This was me in January, February, March, April, May and June of 2012. I was battling postpartum depression, and loosing the battle. Everyday I would wake in fear for the day and every night I would battle sleep as my mind filled with every possible anxiety and worry. Everyone said I was fine, that life was hard with a baby, but was it supposed to be this hard? I never really told anyone how bad it was for fear of appearing vulnerable or weak. I used to be so strong and positive all of the time and now I felt like I was drowning in my own life with absolutely nobody to rescue me. I never thought of killing myself or hurting my child, but just mothered with a sort of apathy and intolerance for my son and his needs. I tried to trick myself to be happy; tried to train myself to think positively and tried to exercise to raise my serotonin. People said to balance my adrenals with nutrition and to cut out foods from my diet. For 6 months I battled alone and then finally, one sleep deprived day,  I had had enough.

I sought help! I went on medication! Within 2 weeks, I started feeling better!

Slowly I noticed that situations that used to make me fall completely apart, were completely manageable! I noticed that I was happy and I enjoyed being a mother again! I felt like myself! I still got grumpy and sad, but it was a surface feeling and deep down, I was content and my old positive self. I cannot tell you exactly why I waited so long to seek professional help. I think perhaps I didn’t believe in medication. Or maybe I didn’t want to admit that I was actually depressed because of the social stigma. A big part of it was that people would tell me that what I was feeling was normal “because I had a lot on my plate and my stressed reaction was appropriate.” I can assure you now that THOSE FEELINGS ARE NOT NORMAL!

I am sharing this story with you because I feel it is important to know what postpartum mood disorders look like. It is important to know that this happens to 20% of women after giving birth. It’s important to know that you are most at risk 3-6 months after giving birth and after weaning. Mostly, It’s important to know that you can get help and that IT DOES GET BETTER.

The good news is that if you have Postpartum Depression, there is treatment available. In addition, here are some things you can do to take care of yourself:

  • Get good, old-fashioned rest. Always try to nap when the baby naps.
  • Try and take breaks for some “me” time.
  • Stop putting pressure on yourself to do everything. Do as much as you can and leave the rest! Ask for help with household chores and nighttime feedings.
  • Talk to your husband, partner, family, and friends about how you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to speak up as it will help immensely.
  • Do not spend a lot of time alone. Get dressed and leave the house – runan errand or take a short walk.
  • Spend time alone with your husband or partner.
  • Remember that babies are fussy and cry and that if you need a break from that, it’s okay. When they cry they are communicating and you are not failing.
  • Talk to your health care provider about medical treatment. Do not be shyabout telling them your concerns. Not all health care providers know how to tell if you have Postpartum Depression. Ask for a referral to a mental health professional who specializes in treating depression.
  • Talk with other mothers, so you can learn from their experiences.
  • Join a support group for women with Postpartum Depression. Call a local hotline or look inyour telephone book for information and services.

Here is a list of resources that will come in handy if you have PPD or another postpartum mood disorder.

If you live in Washington, this is an amazing list of support groups that will help.

Postpartum Mood Disorder Support provides warm, understanding, effective and private support and professional referrals for new mothers and their family members. 1-888-404-7763 (PPMD)

Best on the Web Blogs, a list of PPD blogs that could be helpful.

Postpartum Support International is dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression, the most common complication of childbirth.  1-800-944-4PPD

Pacific Postpartum Support Society provides telephone support, weekly women’s support groups, partner education sessions, community trainings and resource materials. 1-855-255-7999

Mama Eve writes that “bouts of depression are often associated with the post-partum period and the intensity of caring for a newborn, but I think the roots of it can definitely be found during pregnancy as well.” Here on her blog she shares her challenges with depression or “blues” during her pregnancy.

I had this worry that if I went on medication it would affect my son, but according to Thomas Hale, PhD LLL: “The effects of an untreated depressed mom on the infant are significant and hazardous; but the marginal effects of any medication usually are less hazardous than those effects. Treating a mom with postpartum depression (PPD) is much preferable to not treating, since a baby has a better outcome generally (as measured by Bayley scores, measuring interaction skills and speech and language development) when being cared for by a non-depressed parent.” According to this study, “Infants exposed to Paxil and Zoloft had undetectable levels of the antidepressant in their blood.” This needless worry of mine caused me 6 months of suffering that could have been avoided had I acted sooner with medication.

One thing to know is that 1 in 10 dad’s can experience postpartum mood disorders as well. The difference between depression in women and men is that men may be more in denial than women and refuse to seek help. In this article it states that “while Dad’s depression may take a different tone, with more irritable and angry behaviors, than Mom’s, it is likely to be just as detrimental to the child.” Here is a great resource for how to help your husband if you sense that he may be suffering from any postpartum mood disorders.

Now that I have sought help, I don’t feel that I “lost the battle” or “gave up” by going on medication. I feel empowered that I finally made the choice to care for myself, and in turn, care for my family.

I feel that this experience happened to me so that I can openly share my story and hopefully help other women suffering from postpartum mood disorders. This is a common challenge for new parents and we can help remove the stigma by talking about it openly as well as offering support to parents that struggle.

Please share your comments of your own experiences with postpartum mood disorder as well as other resouces you may have surrounding this topic.