Are Australian babies living in containers?

The short answer? Yes. But that's not particularly helpful, and grossly oversimplifies some pretty neat information which may make you look twice at your highchair, pram, activity centre… or other ‘container' of choice. 


Motor skill development does not happen in the same way for every baby. A baby may gain motor skills in a different order, or bypass a major milestone like crawling altogether. There may also be subtle differences in the way a baby moves compared to other babies. For example, take two babies in sitting. Their muscle tone, their current state, or their past experience with sitting may manifest in how upright they sit, or how difficult it looks for each baby to balance in sitting. Their age, inherent motivation, or their level of practice may also influence how long they can sit, whether they can play with a toy in sitting, or whether they can transition themselves in and out of a sitting position.

 

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Across the globe, parents do different things with their babies. When this is studied, it becomes more broadly obvious that what you expect - and practice - is what you get when it comes to baby’s movements. Infants of African heritage have precocious motor abilities when compared to Western norms, which is attributed to the formal handling routines and upright positioning of these infants. In contrast, Chinese and Japanese infants have a general delay in the onset of motor milestones, thought to be due to cultural practices involving prolonged supine positioning.


These data show that there is an additional layer to the differences in the way your baby moves compared to other babies. Interestingly, what you expect of your baby - influenced by your own parents, your parents' parents, and the culture in which you are raised - has an effect on how your baby acquires motor skills.

 

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This is very powerful information for parents. In the West, it has become normal to strap young infants securely into infant seats, far longer than is recommended. Australian families are lucky enough to have a plethora of equipment (a.k.a. heavily-marketed containers) at their disposal. But what is sometimes missing, is the realisation that this very equipment often restricts - rather than broadens - your baby’s opportunities and desire for movement, which in turn effects how and when motor skills evolve for your baby. 


So, back to the short answer. Yes, there is the potential for Australian babies to spend most of their day transitioning from car seats, to high chairs, to prams, to seated activity centres, that collectively and directly effect the rate and sequence of motor skill acquisition for each baby. But does this mean - as a culture - we are raising a sea of two-dimensional children in Australia? I'm not sure. What I do know is that there are definitely a lot of unanswered questions as to what 'containers' mean for motor skill development and physical activity across the lifespan, and that in itself is food for thought.