When Bria was born I needed an outlet. I needed to work out. I needed some time to feel like the person I was before I became a mom. I needed to DANCE!
But I also needed to have my baby with me. I couldn't bare the idea of leaving her even for an hour. And despite my numerous attempts, my preemie baby despised the stroller fitness classes at our neighborhood recreation centre. She pretty much hated anytime I wasn't available to hold her. So what did we do? We danced!
Mom and baby dance programs just seemed like a natural fit for us. My daughter was happy to sway along to the music cuddled against my chest. I got to feel like myself again as I moved my body to the beat. Together we got to experience the bonding power of dance and music. Five years later I have shared my love of dancing with my babies (I started with Malia as soon as she was 6 weeks old!) with thousands of moms through our postnatal dance programs at J'Adore Dance.
While programs like Salsa Mama and Pump and Groove Mama are relatively new by historical standards, the practice of dancing with your baby is a safe and beneficial activity that has been practiced across culture and history. It is also a practice that is considered safe by current scientific research.
Women have been wearing their babies for hundreds of years. While recently the benefits surrounding baby wearing as a parenting practice have focused mainly on emotional development and relationship between mom and baby, in earlier periods baby wearing was a practical method that allowed mothers to continue with their day to day activities needed for survival while tending to infants and toddlers. Babies accompanied mothers as they cooked, cleaned, farmed, tended to older children and participated in community activities and celebrations carried in a variety of different positions and carriers depending on the geographical location and period in time. Dance being a large part of many celebrations, babies also learned about their culture by actively being included, strengthening their understanding of their environment.
Here is a link to a video that shows a group of women in Benin, celebrating their babies immunizations with a dance:
In cultures where babies and children are exposed to dance on a regular basis as a normal part of life, they become very good dancers at a very young age. Here is another favorite video of mine featuring a Brazilian baby dancing an excellent Samba:
Babies who are worn while dancing are in the quiet alert state (a state of alertness in which babies are primarily focused on receiving information about the world around them) or active alert state (a state of alertness in which babies are primarily focused on responding to their environment), allowing them to learn about and react to the world around them from a perspective they can not engage in on their own. While a baby may not be able to move their bodies to a salsa rhythm on their own, their brains develop and respond to the aural and kinesthetic (physical) stimulation they receive while dancing with a parent.
Here is a link to a video and article looking at how babies engage in active alert state when they are exposed to rhythmic music:
Many babies are so soothed by the similarity of being worn while dancing to their experience in the womb, that they fall into the sleeping state. My experience has been this is particularly common of babies who are under 6 months of age.
There is also more and more research pointing to the many benefits of babies being exposed to movement. An educator and mother whose work I find truly inspirational is Seattle's Creative Dance Centre Founder and Artistic Director Anne Green Gilbert. I had the opportunity to study under Gilbert at her summer dance institute on Brain Compatible Dance Education. Here is a link for an article she has written on the importance of dance for babies:
Safety is also a very important factor when dancing with your baby. Baby wearing is a very personal decision for mom and baby. It is important to choose a carrier and position you feel comfortable and confident with. Think about what activities you will be using it for and what period of time. Also be sure to check your carrier for signs of damage and wear according to the manufacturer's guidelines.
A few basic guidelines:
- Babies should be worn facing in chest to chest or piggy back style on your back with head support provided.
- Parents should always be aware that baby's airway is not blocked and their head should be upright. If their chin is resting on their chest this can cause airway obstruction. A baby that cannot support it's own head again should be worn face in with head support.
- Carriers should fit parents snuggly to provide the greatest support for both baby and wearer.
Dancing with your baby is a safe, low impact fitness option for moms that helps to fight a pressing and epidemic health issues facing many women, obesity and mental illness. In the article Preventing Postpartum Weight Retention, (American Family Physician, Aug. 1/02), the author demonstrates the correlation between increased obesity and the postpartum period, and the importance of exercise in postpartum weight loss.
The Mood Disorder Society of Canada claims that 15-20% of women suffer from Postpartum Depression (PPD). Common suggestions for women suffering from PPD are exercise, creating a support network, avoiding isolation, and taking time for themselves (www. emedicinehealth.com). Dancing with baby encourages moms to engage in a fitness regime that encourages the benefits of babywearing, bond with their baby, create a social network with other moms, and take the steps needed to be a fulfilled woman, in addition to being a mom.
For myself, dancing with my girls will always be some of the most precious memories I have of my girls first 2 years. It gave me a chance to share my passion for dance, music and culture from an early age. I believe through the classes my girls have attended they have seen the strength of community that women can share that sometimes I feel is lost in our western culture. I am hoping that one day my girls will dance with their own babies and continue this tradition. And you know what? I'll probably try to sneak in some grandma and grandbaby dancing time too!
** Originally posted July 2, 2010 on the J'Adore Dance Blog