Newborns—Right-Side Up or Upside Down
All newborn and tiny babies spend most of their time lying on some surface. For most of them this is a baby carriage, an infant seat, a crib, a walker, a swinging seat, a stroller, or a playpen; all of these are restrictive and prison-like. They either prevent the baby from moving at all (in the case of the carriage or the crib) or vastly restrict his movement (in the case of the playpen). Yet even this is the smaller of the problems we have inadvertently created for our babies. Even more important is the fact that we almost invariably keep them upside down.Newborns lying on their backs facing the ceiling are upside down. They are in a position of total helplessness.
The almost universal restriction on the newborn’s ability to move has resulted from some original errors. If one begins by making a basic error, one can then follow the error by all sorts of procedures which would be true if it had not been for the original error.
Most babies, beginning with newborns and going up to almost a year of age, spend all of their sleeping hours and a major part of their waking hours upside down and therefore in a position which is both helpless and useless. Human beings are the only creatures that make that mistake.
One sees it most clearly in a hospital nursery. Watch the newborns lying on their backs and notice the totally random, useless, and purposeless movements of their arms and legs. If the newborn has fingernails which are long enough he may scratch his face or even his eyes. Surely neither nature nor the baby intends this to happen. Then why does it? The answer is simple. He is upside down; he is as helpless as a brand new Rolls-Royce would be in the same position.
How did we make the original error of putting our children upside down? Let’s ask the nurse why these newborns are on their backs, face up. We will be told that the babies are on their backs so that the nurse can tell at a glance whether or not they are breathing.
Why would they not be breathing? It all begins with the original error. What is the original error? At the moment of birth, the baby emerges, having lived for the previous nine months in an environment which has a temperature of just about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We bring him into the world in a room which has a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the simple reason that this is the temperature which best suits us. This is the original error. The baby would, of course, freeze in this temperature which suits us. To keep him from turning blue in a temperature which is 30 degrees colder than the environment in which he has grown, developed, and thrived for nine months, we must wrap him up very warmly in clothing and blankets.
Now we have added the complication that he might smother in all the blankets we have wrapped him in to keep him from freezing. Now we must keep him upside down so that we can see his face in order to make sure that he doesn’t smother. Now he is helpless. Belly up is a classical position of helplessness. It is the position of exposure. It is the position of vulnerability. All because of an original error.
How might it be? Well, it depends to a large degree on what the word “nursery” actually means. If the word “nursery” means “a room for the nurses,” then we have got it right and we ought to keep it the way it is. If, on the other hand, the word “nursery” means “a room for the newborns and infants,” then we ought to make a room suitable for them.
A true nursery would have a temperature of about 90 degrees so that it would be natural to the baby. It should also be more humid so that his skin would not dry out. He could therefore be unrestricted by clothing and blankets and could be practicing movement by being right-side up, which is to say, prone. How would the nurses survive in such an environment? It would seem reasonable that since this room is for newborns that the nurses might wear bikinis. That would make the nursery even more attractive, at least for the dads.
It would also make it a lot happier and more productive place for the newborns to be. Human babies are the only creatures who are kept upside down. Has anyone ever seen a baby horse, pony, dog, or cat lying on his back with his legs up in the air?
How might things be with babies in mobility if we stopped doing cultural things which are stifling and started dealing wisely with our babies at birth? Do you want to see such foolishness as scratching his own eyes come to a halt? Fine, turn him right-side up instead of on his back and watch it all make sense. Now, lying in the prone position, with his soft underbelly protected by the floor and his back protected by his bony skeleton as nature intended, we will see the reasons for the arm and leg movements. Now, face down as he was intended to be with all his brain mechanisms right-side up, we see all the movements of arms and legs become great propulsive movements intended to move his body forward. It is as natural and sensible as what occurs if you take a turtle who is upside down, thrashing his arms and legs about, and turn him right-side up.
Was he really intended to be face down instead of face up? Put him face down and watch all those random and useless arm and leg movements become crawling movements. We may love to watch him face up, but he wants to get moving along the ancient road to walking, and that road begins here. It is also precisely the fact of being face down on the floor which gives him the need for, function of, and the structure required to hold his head up and see.
Are there any societies in which babies do have an opportunity to move freely at birth? Glenn Doman describes one such: I remember the first time that I was visiting Eskimos in the Arctic in the late 1960s. I was feeling just a bit adventuresome and a bit swashbuckling to be in a temperature of 54 degrees below zero. Then, for the first time in a number of years, I thought about my “Aunt” Gussie Mueller, who was my mother’s closest girlhood friend. In 1920 or 1921 Aunt Gussie had gone to Point Barrow, Alaska and spent several years there as a nurse in a hospital unit. I believe that it was as close to the North Pole as any non-Eskimo woman had ever been. I remember that until I was grown up, I believed that Aunt Gussie had long hair all over her body except her eyes, nose, and mouth. My only memory of her had been from photos of her at Point Barrow in a huge fur parka and huge fur mukluks which had seemed to me to be growing on her.
Aunt Gussie visited the Institutes in the middle 1970s and I was wise enough to make a tape of her telling about her nursing experiences with the Eskimos of Point Barrow in the early 1920s. This is the story she told: “Among this particular tribe of Eskimos it was common for the Eskimo women to have babies while on the trail. Igloos which were used on the trail while hunting were very warm inside,and when a mother had a baby she would do so in a kneeling position; the baby was born onto the warm fur rugs which covered the floor of the igloo.”
Primitive women the world over have their babies in either a kneeling, a squatting, or a sitting position astride a hammock. This is a far more sensible position in which to have a baby since the “civilized” position of being supine with legs cocked up is more painful and more difficult for mother and baby alike. This position hampers the musculature required to assist the birth process and does not even use gravity to assist.
“When the U.S. Hospital team had arrived we had insisted on stopping such ‘primitive’ practices and had insisted on the Eskimo women having their babies in the hospital we had built and in the usual civilized manner. The Eskimo women reluctantly agreed to this but absolutely insisted that at birth the newborn be placed naked and prone on the naked mother’s hip—at which time the newborn would find his way up his mother’s body by crawling and would find his way to the breast where he would feed.”
In our society the average infant does not begin to crawl until two and one-half months of age. We may now conclude that in mobility Eskimo newborns are genetically superior to other babies or we may conclude that we non-Eskimos deny our babies the opportunity to move early enough. We prevent them from doing this by swaddling them in clothing which makes movement difficult or impossible. We extend this error by putting newborns in carriages, cribs, and “playpens” which are, in fact, prisons. Most importantly (in a negative way) we put them entirely upside down so that movement is impossible in any event. What should we do? We should create an ideal mobility environment for them at each stage of their mobility development.