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Friday, August 3, 2012

Rational Nursery - Part 2

As a rational person, you have no intention of turning out a future moron so it's important (and fun and fascinating) to spend a little time questioning why our nurseries are the way they are and whether or not they should be that way.

I am going to start with the "nursery must haves" listed by Babies'R'Us:

CRIBS

Unsafe! Approximately 50 infants each year are killed and another 9,000 are injured in crib-related accidents in the U.S. alone. Why do we use this piece of furniture?!

Once upon a time cribs served the purpose of keeping babies off the cold, damp, dirty ground... but the floors of our bedrooms are no longer cold, damp or dirty. Once upon a time cribs also served the purpose of keeping babies confined to a baby-proof area so their parents could work. Houses were much smaller then and a few square feet was all parents could offer their baby. Cribs were the size they are for practical reasons. Parents didn't sit down and decide that it was ideal to confine their baby to a tiny box.

Today, parents still need a safe place to keep their babies while they get work done, but they have a lot more space to offer. Many babies even have their own rooms! Yet parents continue to confine their babies to a tiny cage. Why is this? Babies don't need to be so tightly confined and it is actually detrimental to their development.

For the first few months, your baby won't be able to move from wherever you place him. There is no need to confine him. No wild animal will get him. You can place him on your bed, on a bathmat, on the living room carpet, on a towel on the kitchen floor--he can't go anywhere. All he can do is look around and putting him in a crib will inhibit that. 

For the next few months, until your baby is more than half a year old, he will spend his entire day just trying to move a foot or two. At that point the crib will be a frustrating, restrictive prison, preventing him from moving to the fullest extent of his ability. 

As soon as your baby can crawl and stand, the crib will be a dangerous place where your baby can trap his arms in an effort to get free or flip himself out and become one of the statistics mentioned above. At what point is a crib a good idea in this day and age?

As a Libertarian who is constantly expanding my vision of what is possible, I immediately rejected people's comments that "it just wouldn't be a nursery without a crib."  I refused to continue an irrational practice, especially a practice that inhibits freedom, so that I could fit in with an irrational society churning out adults who behave like children and think like slaves. I looked for a better way to keep my baby safe and simultaneously provide him with more freedom in which to move, learn and explore.

I found a brilliant solution written about by Maria Montessori. A hundred years ago, she started advising parents to put a mattress on the floor, childproof the baby's entire room and put a gate at the door. She advocated an entirely new kind of nursery--a child-centric one. Instead of having a few feet in which to be safe, the child can have an entire room. Instead of finding things to do in a tiny pen for a little while, he could find things to do in a large pen for a long while. Babies with longer attention spans are happier--and so are their parents. Montessori had a lot more ideas about nurseries, and we will get to those ideas soon, but for now on the subject of cribs--

A note on my personal experience of not having a crib: I LOVE IT; I love the simplicity of not having bumpers and crib sheets (such a nightmare to change); I love how much my son loves just laying there and looking around his room--he has such a great view from the floor and with nothing obstructing his view, he can see everything; I love that he has no bars to break his arms and would have to scoot across his entire room to cram his head into something, and even then it wouldn't be dangerous; I love that I don't have to "transition" him to a "big boy" bed in a few years since he will always have been in one; I love it because my favorite way to nurse is laying down and my baby's twin mattress is the perfect size for us to cuddle up and nurse; I love it because I can fall asleep there with him if I want to; I love it because I can lay with him in bed and we can make "ahhhh" sounds at each other before he goes to sleep.

I wonder if I would have even discovered the joys of nursing while laying down if I had had a crib. People with cribs usually nurse in chairs and they are so uncomfortable there is a whole pillow/chair/stool industry out there trying to make it more comfortable. But why nurse in a chair, putting strain on your shoulders and arms, when you can lay down and rest?

I found laying down to nurse so much easier on my body and so pleasant. It was also convenient at the times when I missed the window and my baby was overtired and I wanted to nurse him to sleep. All I had to do once he was asleep was slip my nipple out of his mouth. I didn't have to move him or lay him down and risk him waking up. I also loved, as he got older and squirmy, just laying there with my breast out and making it his job to get his food. He would roll over and find my breast on his own, feeling so capable and proud. 

CRIB MATTRESSES

Toxic! All mattresses (and clothes and many other things) are soaked in formaldehyde. In Australia, mothers wrap the crib mattresses in plastic to prevent the babies from being exposed to those chemicals which they blame for SIDS. Whether or not baby mattresses are the cause of SIDS, your baby will spend around 2/3 of his life in bed. If there is one off-gassing poisonous menace to be super anal about--it's this one.

Companies will tell you that the formaldehyde prevents death by fire. This is inaccurate. In the best cases, formaldehyde-soaked homes take an extra five seconds to burst into flames. You will pay for that extra five seconds with cancer and other horrible health problems. Mattresses are really soaked in formaldehyde because it acts as a preservative and bug repellent during shipping and someone in government made it illegal for them not to be. Large doses of deadly chemicals for eighteen hours a day makes perfect sense if you are raising a future Epsilon but if you're reading this blog, I don't think that's your goal.

There are two types of chemical free mattresses that I found--organic futons and latex or wool ones that are naturally fire-retardent. The futons run around $400 and you need a doctor's PERMISSION to obtain one and even then they sprinkle something else (borax maybe?) on it. Natural wool or latex crib mattresses run around $800. Twin sized ones are over $1000.

What I decided to do: I bought a chemical and dye free oversized yoga mat from Gaiam.com with measurements almost identical to a twin mattress. It cost around $80. I love it because my baby can roll off his bed onto the floor and there is no 6 to 10" drop like there would have been with a mattress. I love that the mat is nice and firm like baby mattresses are supposed to be yet comfortable enough for me to sleep on. I love the way it smells--like woven grass (this might not be for everyone). I love that I can roll it up and take it with me on trips. When my son is potty-trained I will spring for that expensive wool or latex mattress, but for now I am very happy with my organic cotton mat.

BEDDING SETS (QUILT, FITTED CRIB SHEETS, DUST RUFFLE, BUMPERS)

Possibly toxic! Whatever you use to keep your baby warm at night, remember that most bedding has been soaked in toxic chemicals. Look for wool, organic cotton and silk. Many things from Europe and Japan are formaldehyde free as well.

What I decided to do: by opting out of the crib I opted out of all of these things. A bedding set at Babies'R'Us runs around $200. I bought two covers for my yoga mat for around $40 and use a twin sized quilt that will fit the twin sized bed my son will have when he is older. Since the quilt cannot tuck into anything and be tight or constrictive and since it is so large, it would be quite a feat for him to tangle himself in it (though I will continue to reassess this as he gets older and more mobile). Because blankets are such a safety concern I want to make a few more things clear: the quilt is made of 100% cotton so it breathes; I spend a great deal of time observing my son and he is a very still sleeper; I have also watched how he plays with his quilt when he is awake and it has never appeared dangerous and he has great control over it; if this ever changes I will immediately switch to a cotton or wool sleep sack; in the mean time, I will trust my common sense over the "expert" advice that usually encourages nothing but paranoia and spending money.

WATERPROOF MATTRESS PADS & SHEET SAVERS

Toxic! These are always made of toxic things and since they don't breathe well they can make your baby hot and sweaty while he sleeps--which means in addition to an unnecessary dose of chemicals, he might not sleep well.

My solution: I did not purchase this item.

WATERPROOF MULTI USE PADS OR PORTABLE CHANGING PADS

Toxic for the same reasons mentioned above.

My solution: I bought three plastic, portable changing pads that can be folded up and taken with me wherever I go. I place one under my baby's butt at night in case his diaper leaks in lieu of an entire sheet that would off-gas near his head.

CRIB MOBILES

Philosophical issue 1: "Active toys make passive babies. Passive toys make active babies," wrote Magda Gerber in Dear Parents: Caring for Infants With Respect. Most crib mobiles move and play music making your a baby passive viewer watching an active toy. This is great preparation for a life of being passively entertained if being a good little consumer-slave isn't the future you dream for your baby, perhaps this is not the best way to start out.

Philosophical issue 2: Is it disrespectful to put something right in someone's face before he has the power to look away if he wants to? If, as a Libertarian, you hope to practice as little aggression as possible against your baby, this is a good place to start.

Philosophical issue 3: But don't you have to hang a mobile in your kid's face for educational reasons? This argument can only be made if your baby is stuck in a crib with nothing else to look at. If your baby has an entire room to look at... there is no need for a mobile in the first place.

Philosophical issue 4: Even pop culture baby-advisor Tracy Hogg, author of The Baby Whisperer, will tell you that one of the most common mistakes parents make is overstimulating their baby. Overstimulated babies are fussy, unhappy babies and unhappy babies make unhappy parents. Your baby's brain is such that the entire world looks amazing--like a crazy foreign country--all the time. Picture the overwhelming newness of a country that you have never been to (for me, I picture India). Colors, sights, smells, and sounds everywhere! There is plenty of The World for your baby to look at, he does not need an overstimulating toy.

A note on my personal experience: I did not buy a mobile. I bought a lovely palm plant that bends gracefully over my son's bed but does not hang in his face. The fronds move when the window is open and are still great things to stare at when the window is closed. Palms also improve the air quality of whatever room they are in. They are also part of the the natural world, the world I wish to expose my son to. As a newborn my son spent many hours staring at his palm tree. He also enjoyed staring at the post-it notes I made for him (with stripes and patterns) and posted to the wall near his bed. Thus, I gave him fascinating, passive things to look at that were not overstimulating and I always put them in places that gave him the choice to look at them or not.

To see the rest of the rational nursery picture, proceed to the next post!

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