I have spent a lot of time lately with expectant families and families with new babies, talking about RIE®. When I get to the part about lying the baby down on his/her back in a safe space to allow for free movement and not putting the baby in a swing, or bouncy seat, upright baby carrier, or any other number of devices that put babies in positions they cannot get in or out of on their own, or that restrict freedom of movement, I can physically feel the doubt in the room. So I've been trying to think back to when my first child was very young, because we hadn't heard of RIE® until she was four months old we already had a swing, a bouncy seat and an upright carrier. As a matter of fact we still used them for some time after our teacher told us it was unadvisable. So what was my reluctance? Why did I resist this notion?
I think the biggest reason was that I hadn't yet learned to be comfortable with anything other than a state of contentment from my baby. I didn't see crying or fussing as communication I only saw them as something to be stopped by any means possible. Often if the baby was trying to communicate a problem to me I would stick her in the swing or turn the vibration on high and plop her in the bouncy seat. Soon she would succumb to the overstimulation and fall asleep without every being able to express her problem or get her real needs met. This also led to some really messed up sleep habits for the first year, and an inability to self-soothe. My husband practically wore a path in the floor walking her around. I was up constantly in the night nursing when the baby clearly wasn’t hungry just to get her to stop crying and sleep. But the crying, and the need for us to do something more to soothe her, just got worse. Ultimately we all suffered.
Another reason I had trouble at first was because I felt like I had to have eyes on my baby every second she was awake. So if I needed to cook I brought the swing into the kitchen so I could see her. I even put her in the bouncy seat on the floor in the bathroom while I showered. I felt I had to have her near me all the time and these devices seemed like the best way to contain her in spaces that were not safe for babies. Gradually we transitioned. We broke the pattern of providing a distraction or stimulus and began to allow her to learn to self-soothe. It was hard. She cried because she had become accustomed to someone doing something to her. It was difficult not to do the things we knew would stop the crying and I have to admit with our first child we were not very consistent, but over time she showed us how much she enjoyed rolling around on the floor and exploring. Once I began to trust her in her safe space it gave us both freedom. She had freedom to move and explore. Freedom to develop her muscles with the hundreds of leg lifts and baby crunches she was always doing. Freedom to work on gross motor skills at her own pace in her own way. None of which she could do strapped into some device. I had freedom too. Freedom to walk away and have a minute to myself. Freedom to cook dinner or take a shower and know not only was she fine in her space, she was better and happier than before.
With babies two, three and four, we had this experience to draw on and we found with each child that we actually needed less stuff. Before the children could roll over they spent much of the time when they didn't actively need us to care for them in the pack-n-play. We had one inside and one outside. They particularly enjoyed their outside time under the orange tree. They were content playing alone for long stretches and slept better after being outside. When the babies were very young and not yet rolling over, I also found a Moses basket useful. It was portable. Though I would never recommend actually carrying a baby in the basket, once you got to where you were going a Moses basket with a firm cushion in the bottom is a great place for a young baby to play while visiting friends or instead of strapped into the car seat while waiting at the doctor's office.
As the babies got more mobile and started to roll over they needed more room. This is when we created the "Yes" space for our house. This space took many different forms over the year as we seemed to be in a constant game of Tetris with our furniture as our family grew. What didn’t change was that this space was a peaceful and completely safe place for our children to explore many developmentally appropriate items at their will.
The Educaring® approach emphasizes the physical benefits of allowing infants and toddlers free movement. Physiology is not my specialty, there are many other RIE® Associates who have extensive backgrounds in movement to whom you should look if you want detailed explanations of the many and extensive benefits freedom of movement provides to a child’s physical development. What I can tell you as a mother of four babies who were given the gift of the freedom to move, is that they all move with awareness. Awareness of their bodies in space and of their physical boundaries. I won’t say they are graceful, thanks to their mother they are at a genetic disadvantage in that regard. As they grow they continue to test the limits of their physical abilities and these explorations are sometimes awkward, but they very rarely hurt themselves, and for those minor injuries they do suffer they tend to use those self soothing skills they started to develop all those years ago to help themselves recover.
As I reflect back on my reluctance to accept my child’s need to be free and unrestrained, to move and explore at her own pace and in her own way, I think it all comes down to a lack of trust. I didn’t trust myself to know how to care for this small person. I didn’t trust my child to be capable of soothing herself and exploring her world. I didn’t trust that nature had a plan. That we humans are made to move, communicate, learn, and cope without devices. So I guess if I have any advice for these new, or soon to be parents who feel that doubt, it is to take that leap of faith and trust your child, trust nature and trust yourself.