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Intro to Madge Gerber and Cara Wilson

For you new parents who just received AFTER BIRTH and wonder just exactly who Madge Gerber and Cara Wilson are: a brief introduction. Madge Gerber is an Infant Specialist of the Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, Calif., and Assoc. of Dr. Emmi Pikler at the National Methodological Institute for Infant Care and Education (Loczy, Budapest). Ms. Gerber has been guiding mothers and babies in special classes at the home of Carol Pinto – one of our mothers in the L.A. area. That’s how I met Madge. I watched her with my baby – saw how she carried through her philosophy of dignity, and respect for the child – listened to her gentle words that gave me strength and conviction to be able to let my child be to his fullest human “beingness” – and she won me over. I decided to write this column compiled from my notes and other mothers’ notes on what Madge Gerber believes. Madge and I have since held phone-call seminars, trying to meet late Thursday night or early Saturday, in between Ms. Gerber’s frantic commuting schedule to and from Palo Alto and around and around my boys, dogs, naps, and no-naps. We’re trying to answer your questions and center this column each time on a key point that we all wonder about. Madge will first answer some of your letters: 

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It is a pleasure to answer a mother with a “fantastic, delightful 11-month-old baby girl,” a real joy except that she makes early morning a bit bleary-eyed with 3 – 4 nocturnal nursings. If your baby is healthy and eats well (I assume your doctor discussed her diet and vitamins.) an 11-month-old should sleep through the night.  I usually advise having a light chamomile tea prepared for the night. It has a soothing effect, is healthy, and is given to babies and adults by doctors all over Europe. Babies are more often thirsty than hungry during the night (milk is food). So a very light tea or water can be given. It is important how you give it. Do not take the baby out of the crib – be kind, but matter-of-fact and sleepy (that will not be difficult, will it?). If she has learned to drink from a cup, I would prefer to offer the drink at night from a small plastic glass rather than a bottle. Offer the drink every time she wakes up. Most babies test or fuss for a while but soon learn to sleep through the night. You need more than 6 hours of sleep in 24 hours or you will find your baby less of a joy pretty soon. 

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Many parents are concerned about the hows, whys, and whats of toys. I plan to devote an entire article to this topic but for now, I’ll touch briefly on it. Toys should be sturdy but simple. I do not like busy toys. I like busy children manipulating their toys in many imaginative ways. Balls of all sizes, boxes big and small, wooden boxes and stepstools to climb on and off of, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, stacking toys, containers that objects can be dropped in or out of, open and close toys, dolls, picture books, pull and push toys, cars, and of course, water and sand and a climbing area in which to experience them. As far as educational books and toys – a topic I intend to elaborate on also – I feel that the best thing to teach is everyday life. “Are you thirsty?” “Where is your shirt?” “Where are my keys?” “The food is hot.” Babies have to learn the most important things in life, which are who they are, how to communicate, and what makes mommy and daddy happy and angry. Teach them about yourselves and they will learn about themselves. And now to our conversation about the great outdoors I believe in so much.

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Cara, you asked me to explain why I keep telling you parents how much easier you could raise healthy “happy” children if you would make outdoor living a regular habit for your babies. Why? Because babies thrive out of doors, they sleep better, eat better, look better, play better, and learn better. Fresh air, (I realize fresh is becoming staler each day) both soothes and stimulates. So, an ideal situation would be your house in a fairly smog-free area with direct access to a fenced-in yard with grass and trees. Make the best investment and buy (easily available second-hand) a duplicate crib and a playpen.

Question: Why couldn’t a mother not just take the baby out in her arms or carry a crib outside each time? 

 Answer: In my experience, when you decide to carry out a crib or playpen every day, several times a day, it just gets too much. Like most activities in daily life with baby, whatever gets done regularly, routinely, gives predictability and security to both baby and mother. 

Question: At what ages should we start this “habit”? 

 Answer: A healthy full-term newborn can be taken out at about 4 weeks of age. At first, only when the temperature outside is similar to the one in the child’s room. Keep the child dressed or covered the same way the youngster is indoors. Keep the crib in the shade and place the child in preferably after feeding and diapering. Most probably, the child will fall asleep. After about 15 minutes the first time, we can increase the timing so rapidly that in a few days the child can spend longer hours – eventually the whole day outdoors. At first, very young babies will sleep much of the time, but as they grow older, they learn to enjoy doing outdoors the same things they would do indoors (sleep, eat, play). 

 Question:  All this confined in a crib? 

 Answer:  Certainly not. When a baby becomes 3 months or older, most of the waking hours are spent in a playpen. Ideally, the child should have a very large playpen (small room size) in which to roll, crawl, and eventually creep. After 12-18 months, a small part (large room size) of the yard should be fenced around, and eventually, a safe, fenced-in yard will become the child’s territory. All playpens should have a bottom part made of wood, a mattress pad covered with plastic, and a cotton cover on top, tied to the bars of the playpen. It is not pleasant to have a naked body in direct contact with plastic. 

 Question:  Should babies stay outdoors in both summer and winter? 

 Answer:  It doesn’t matter what season of the year it is (especially in California). But of course, too much sun, too strong and rapid changes in temperature, extreme cold, extreme heat, dense fog, heavy smog, and strong winds should be all avoided. You must use your judgment, and of course, dress the baby appropriately. In many other countries, children do get accustomed and enjoy very cold weather. They sleep on terraces under protected roofs while it rains, and even snows outside.

Question:  I love to see naked babies in the sun. Is there a danger of too much sun?

 Answer:  To expose very young children to direct sun can be dangerous and has to be done with great caution. A baby sleeping outdoors should stay in the shade. An umbrella or a towel can be used to provide shade and adjusted to change as the sunrays move. It is best to expose the legs first and slowly move upward. Starting with one minute. By the time the baby plays in a playpen, which has shade and sun, the baby will move from one area to the other. And can be naked! The morning sun is the healthiest- the hot, midday sun should be avoided. 

Question:  Is it alright to leave the baby alone outside? 

 Answer:  While babies are outside, you should keep checking on them. Ideally, stay in hearing and seeing distance, but still, go on and do your own thing. If you start at an early age, your baby will love it and will want to stay outside – will be less inclined to be clingy, naggy, over-dependent, and constantly needing company or entertainment. Do not let a baby cry outside. Try and guess what started the crying in the first place. Try to eliminate it, stay out a little with your child and if the crying continues, take the baby inside. But by all means, try to take the youngster out again later. Probably it just was not the right time.

 Question:  But, what about boredom? Won’t the baby get bored outside? How about toys? 

 Answer:  The stimuli nature provides is unparalleled. Even the youngest infant becomes fascinated by listening to the birds, watching the movements of flies and butterflies, clouds, and leaves. Air circulation, temperature change, the playfulness of sunspots, and shade are strong stimuli to the skin, the eyes, the lungs, the metabolism. As the young organism learns to adjust and cope with constant changes, it becomes more resistant. Of course, the child can also have toys in the playpen or yard. But what a different learning experience your child will have watching nature over watching TV. I would like to hear from those of you who tried to organize your baby’s outdoor life. How did you do it and how did it work out? 

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Many of you have shown interest in Madge’s classes. They are not only in Palo Alto. She is still very actively teaching here in Los Angeles at the home of Carol Pinto. At present, Madge has room for more mothers (and fathers!) and infants or toddlers. Babies as young as a few months have a prime start with Madge! Also, something new: Ms. Gerber has expressed interest in acting as a consultant to your playgroups. At appointed times she’ll visit your group and offer advice, suggestions, whatever. If you or your playgroup would like to meet Madge Gerber call Carol Pinto – at 663-6093. It’s been good talking with you! If you have a specific question you’d like Ms. Gerber to answer, do send it in today!

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