LISA ROGERS CHARTERED PHYSIOTHERAPIST
As a physiotherapist for babies, I am always looking for new ways to get them moving and to boost their develop in a positive, enjoyable way. It was therefore incredibly exciting to discover the Baby Spa, where babies are given just such an opportunity to do so, in a calm and soothing environment.
Having worked with infants who attend the Baby Spa, I have been fortunate enough to see the positive affect it has had on them; and after observing a number of sessions, I have come to understand the wonderful benefits of letting babies swim freely in warm water.
In the UK today, babies are given fewer opportunities to move without restriction, and as a result, are developing a number of poor movement patterns which can lead to delayed attainment of developmental milestones; and reduced core strength. The best example of how we restrict our babies, is by putting them on their backs to sleep. Before explaining how this limits free movement, I would like to emphasise that, it remains the safest position for a baby to sleep in. ( Since it was launched, the Back to Sleep campaign has brought about a 60% reduction in cot death.) Sadly, whilst being a life saving strategy, babies are robbed of the opportunity to exercise their back and neck muscles in lifting their heads; pressing on their arms; stretching out their hips; and activating the core muscles to twist, pivot or roll.
Furthermore, there are currently many positioning and play devices on the market that, when used collectively or frequently, can also delay a baby’s development. The difficulty lies in the fact that these devices are often helpful in freeing up a parent’s hands, or placing a baby in an upright position to interact with their environment.
Whilst we can not change the position we place our babies to sleep in; or stop using these ‘helpful’ devices; we should strive to give our babies other opportunities to compensate for the restrictive environment imposed upon them.
The Baby Spa uses water to enable your baby to move freely and discover the enjoyment of activity without restriction. The flotation device allows the water to support the baby in a semi-upright position for enhanced stimulation – even before they have developed the postural control to do so. This gives them the opportunity to increase their back and abdominal strength, promoting overall development.
Being suspended in water also removes the effect of gravity – something that is difficult for very young babies, or ‘floppy babies’ to overcome. Often, these babies resort to using ‘bad habits’ (poor movement patterns) to work against gravity. Once gravity is eliminated by water suspension, babies become able to kick and move – encouraging better movement patterns; and general strengthening.
During physiotherapy sessions, I always work to achieve these principles, however babies can tire very quickly making them less inclined to ‘work-out’! This is due to the combination of intense exercise, noise, light and colour which creates an over-stimulating environment. The environment at the Baby Spa is perfect for preventing overstimulation – the water provides a calming effect; lights and sounds are dim; and the warmth makes for a serene sensory experience! For this reason, babies do not fatigue as quickly, and are able to exercise for longer.
Finally, the deep pressure and temperature of the water, together with the wonderful massage the babies receive after swimming, all contribute to calming the nervous system. Not only does this effect place them in a ‘zen’ state after swimming, but should also promote enhanced sleep/wake cycles.
Scientifically, there are so many benefits to attending the Baby Spa, but it must be added that the caring staff and the warmth with which the babies are treated makes it a fabulous experience for them, as well as their parents!