I’m not sure that’s what it’s called.
I can’t find anything about the Motherland Philosophy online, but that’s what I’ve been calling it ever since I heard a mama-friend say it. It’s based on alleged research that too much clothing and constantly covering baby and toddler feet with socks and one-piece footsies might be a contributor to the increasing diagnosis of childhood sensory issues. I say “alleged” because I’ve never actually seen the data and do not know who funded any related studies (the first question I often ask when “science” is referenced); however, what my mama-friend calls the Motherland Philosophy is aligned with (again, alleged) science-supported advice handed out by Elliott Cortez, Ph.D., a child psychologist, former gymnast (see #ElliottsClasses), and baby guru of the Upper West Side. I simply liked the concept and trusted both my mama-friend and Cortez enough to accept it without diving into medical journals.
While composing a blog review of Honest diapers on STWFU, it led me down a path of digression as I referenced Sydney’s frequent diaper-only attire within the safety and comfort of our home, from birth through the early toddler years. Naturally, I discovered no shortage of clothing-related opinions when I perused the interwebs for data supporting or denying the Motherland Philosophy before actually trying to write about it myself. Of course, my search was confronted with plenty of conflicting points of view — some of which were hurtled with the conventional tone of mom-on-mom judgement. One such post harshly criticized the “underdressed baby” in today’s society. Although the author’s tone could be perceived as quite judgey, it was not necessarily ill-intentioned. What mattered was that she cared enough to present her opinion into the vulnerable void of the internet, I reminded myself. Nonetheless her reader comments section lit up with some level-headed opposition that further aligned my own position with Cortez’s advice:
It should be noted — before any moms come after me — that Sydney’s diaper-only ensemble is implemented strictly within the indoor confines of our Manhattan apartment, which — thanks to her Hawaiian-raised, live-in grandmother — is generally kept to a balmy 73 degrees year round. However, Cortez gravely warns his Elliott’s Classes attendees of the dangers of overheating while outdoors in the winter. His advice, similar to the blog comments of those who chimed in above, includes the following:
- Despite old wives’ tales and grandma’s well-intentioned advice, baby’s hands and feet are not an accurate gauge for determining body temperature.
- If baby is sweating in the stroller, it is too hot (short of subzero temperatures, there is little-to-no need for the simultaneous use of a baby ski suit, a stroller muff and a plastic rain cover; in fact, plastic rain covers can contribute to heat exhaustion, even on extremely cold days.
- Cold-Weather Rules of Thumb:
- no stroller = ski suit or winter coat (as appropriate) + hat, thick socks, winter boots or shoes
- in stroller = stroller muff + winter coat, hat, light socks, shoes (if necessary)
- in stroller in freezing rain = add plastic cover, but either remove hat and coat or unzip the stroller muff; use your best judgement, but keep in mind that babies will rarely protest when they’re too hot (see next bullet); however, they will definitely let you know when they’re cold
- According to Child and Adolescent Community Health principal nursing advisor Isabel Redfern, as a baby’s body temperature increases, their ability to communicate their discomfort lessens. Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is reported to have occurred when a child is experiencing thermal stress. Researchers even warn against covering baby strollers with thin blankets to protect from the sun’s rays due to the greenhouse effect. (I know; it feels like there is always something for moms to get wrong. But because of this data, I regularly check the temperature whether using our stroller’s rain cover in the winter or summer.)
- Allowing infants to sense various textures with the bare soles of their feet as often as possible supposedly enables more surefooted development as babies learn to stand and walk.
- Exposing as much of baby’s skin as possible within a safe environment (e.g., comfortable temperatures, out of direct sunlight) — especially the feet — might potentially alleviate some non-genetic sensory disorders; there may be a correlation between the overwear of socks and premature use of shoes (e.g., crib shoes) and the increasing diagnosis of some developmental sensory issues.
- Kicking in the womb is an ostensible part of the fetus’s natural reflex for seeking footing and developing their instinct to learn how to stand and walk post-birth; covering baby’s feet with socks reputedly mutes the nerves’ messages to the brain.
- Have you ever noticed that when you undress your newborn, they generally becoming more active and squirmy? Cortez believes that newborns and infants are often responding to the sensations of the open air and surrounding textures on their bare skin, and he encourages mothers to allow their babies to experience those sensations as much as possible. When indoors, he recommends solely a diaper or just a diaper and a short-sleeve onesie at most.
In opposition of the constantly evolving field of childhood development research, there will always be the “back in my day” rebuttals concluding with the “we always did x-y-z and you turned out just fine” shutdown. Changing or expanding information can be perceived by some as a threat because it can be intimidating to realize that we may have done something potentially harmful based on what we thought or believed. Because of this, there is a tendency to dismiss new or different methods as nonsense just because the old way(s) didn’t hurt or kill anyone. There may be meaningful benefits to acknowledging and considering new philosophies of childrearing despite the traditions that many deem tried and true. The bigger threat, in my opinion, is in not trying to learn and do better simply because “we all turned out just fine.”
Ultimately, it boils down to the research to which one chooses to subscribe and what one feels is best for their own family. The only unsolicited advice I ever offer to other new parents is to listen to all of the advice, but only take what you want. Parenting is chock full of personal decisions that everyone must make for themselves. If we just do the best we can, we will all turn out just fine.
Yet inevitably, I’ll likely still find myself having the same conversation about the Motherland Philosophy with both my mother and mother-in-law every time they criticize me for Sydney’s feet being cold.