Article #1: Exercise for Baby by Dr. Herbert M. Shelton
It is unfortunate that we have so long depended upon physicians with their drugs, their condoning and encouraging of bad habits, their fear of exercise and their anti-natural approach to all the problems of life and have not given more heed to the physical educator with his more natural approach to life. We are paying a terrible toll in suffering and premature death for our faith in the destructive agencies of physicians and our rejection of the constructive things of nature.
The physicians have established, for our guidance, a whole series of false (and low) standards based on averages of abnormals and, then, they have resisted everything that will assure true (and higher) standards.
To the everlasting credit of Sylvester Graham, Drs. R. T. Trall, Geo. Taylor, Chas. E. Page, and others who were the real pioneers in the Hygienic movement, they made a study of physical education and employed its principles in their care of both the well and the sick.
Beginning at birth with a program of physical education for the baby, Dr. Page insisted that babies should be placed face-down upon their beds and not upon their backs, as was, and is, the rule. He insisted that they developed better and faster in this position. When an infant moves its arms and legs in this position it does so against resistance. Merely kicking the air with its legs and waving its arms while lying on the back offers no resistance. I have watched an infant push its way across the bed lying face down, at only one week of age. Here is real exercise; exercise that calls for vigorous use of the muscles, especially those of the legs and thighs. The infant will raise its head, shoulder, hips and thighs backward, thus giving vigorous exercise to its spinal muscles. The beauty of the cords of muscles on each side of its spinal column is matched only by those of the strongman.
Suppose from birth, kittens, puppies, calves, colts and chickens were placed on their backs and never permitted to use their legs for anything more vigorous than merely waving or kicking them; would these animals ever walk? If young monkeys and apes were placed on their backs and not called upon to use their legs and arms, if they were not also forced to swing by their arms, what slow development we would logically expect! Why must we continue to hamper the development of our own young by placing them on their backs and keeping them there?
Dr. Tilden, after years of employing this plan, wrote in his Care of Children (1916): “Place the baby on its belly (Dr. C. E. Page’s method), and allow it to stay on the belly rather than on the back. The Page method works out well. Children walk and run much earlier.
The fetal spine is a flexed spine. To bring it into a position of extension and hold it there requires the development of the spinal muscles. The wiggling and squirming of the infant, while lying face-down, develops the spinal muscles as they cannot be developed if it is placed on its back.
When the baby with well-developed spinal muscles comes to sit up, and it will do so at a much earlier date, it will sit erect, because its muscles will be strong enough to hold it erect.
I have emphasized the development of the spinal, arm and leg muscles that takes place in the prone position. It is necessary that I mention that the side muscles and the muscles of the abdomen are also called into vigorous action by the movements of this position. The strength of these muscles also helps to hold the baby erect when it sits up.
Does this mean that the child should never be placed on its back; or, on its side? By no means. It needs the vigorous, spasmodic kicking of its legs and flinging of its arms to develop these. All of its muscles need and must have exercise in various ways.
Crawling, or creeping, calls for a certain amount of strength in the muscles of the arms, chest and shoulders. This strength is developed faster if the baby is placed on its face and allowed to use its arms against resistance. The baby will learn early to lift the upper part of its trunk with its arms. Also, it will early learn to draw its legs and thighs up and assume the knee-chest position. All of this strength and use of the muscles must be acquired before it can begin to crawl.
There is more involved in the exercise of the baby’s body than that of muscular development. There is also mental development. The baby learns to do things. It becomes conscious of its muscles and of its powers. Muscular consciousness is gained faster if the muscles are employed against resistance than if the limbs are merely flung wildly about. Neuromuscular coordination also is gained more rapidly if resistance is offered to the movements of the parts of the body than when no resistance is offered.
The period in which the infant crawls is one during which the trunk muscles and those of the arms and legs and thighs are strengthened. Especially the muscles of the abdominal wall, lower back and shoulder girdle are strengthened by the act of crawling.
Play pens, now popular with ignorant and lazy mothers, are an evil influence in the lives of babies. Babies confined within the narrow railings of these abdominal prisons have no incentive to crawl far, thus they miss this much needed exercise.
Dr. Page contrasts our methods of caring for babies with those employed in nature in caring for puppies, kittens and the young of other animals. We hold the babies, carry them, put them in baby carriages, coddle them and make of them little tyrants that are constantly demanding attention.
“The young of some species,” says Page, “are, upon occasion carried by their parents from one point to another; but beyond this they furnish their own transportation. Their parents roll and tumble them about, more or less, for mutual pleasure; but in the main they are from the beginning forced to rely upon themselves. Everywhere among animals we observe the same thing: the young are never overtended. They have no baby carts in which to spend a great part of their time, to their physical disadvantage; like our pampered baby aristocrats. They are not taught to sit down with a box of playthings in front of them to prevent them from being tempted to make their way to distant objects. If they chance to see anything they want, it never comes to them. It is Mohamet and the mountain every time; the creature and the thing never come together, except through the exertion of the creature! Hence they grow lusty and strong and healthy. They earn their diet, and therefore it is digested and assimilated. Their frames are covered with well-knit muscles—not a continuous fatty tumor, with scarcely any sound muscles beneath. In short, they are from the very outset, kept in ‘condition’.”
This emphasis upon exercise for infants needs to be re-stressed. They need to be rolled and tumbled about as do the other little animals, and they and their parents derive as much sheer joy from this as do the lower creatures.
In The Hygienic Care of Children I have emphasized the evils of toys. Babies do not need and should not have these playthings. They need opportunity for activity—for exertion.
The normal baby is able, at birth to grasp a pencil or other appropriate object in one hand and hang from this, holding up the weight of its body with but one hand. In “authoritative” works on babies we are told that they soon lose this ability. This is true, however, only if they are not permitted to use their hands in this manner.
Physical educators are agreed that hanging by the arms affords the best type of activity for the development of the chest, shoulder girdle and arms of the child. I can see no reason why this activity needs to be delayed until the child is three or four years old. It may be started at once—at birth. A good strong grip developed early in this way, will save the child many falls and injuries a little later. The infant of two months will delight in holding on to your fingers and by the use of both arms and legs, doing deep knee bends and squats.
We have an unfounded fear of permitting a baby to stand on its legs before these are “strong enough to support its body.” There is no better way of strengthening the legs than that of permitting the baby to use the legs against resistance in this way.
By the third month, the normal baby, will hold on to your fingers, stand up and raise up on its toes. Babies are not ‘ the frail little animals we seem to think and they are as fond of activity as puppies and kittens.
It is perfectly true that babies are more helpless at birth than most young animals and this period of helplessness lasts longer than it does in animals, but the principles of proper care for both groups are the same. Babies need exercise and they need to be permitted to do things for themselves. How are they to learn to do things for themselves if these are always done for them? I know a nineteen-year-old girl who does not know how to tie her own shoes, because, and only because, her mother or others have always done this for her.