Do Spanish babies walk sooner?

MADRID -- Do new technologies in toddler development make babies live up to potential or parents less loving?

MADRID -- Human babies are simply slow compared to other baby animals. Maybe it's because we're smarter and our brains take longer to develop or maybe it's because we are flabby, bipedal creatures, but it can take tiny humans anywhere from six months to two years to learn to walk. For many animals, it's only a matter of hours. What if babies really have the ability much earlier? And what if there are ways to help them along?

Last year, Science magazine published the research of University of Rome's Francesco Lacquaniti, entitled "Locomotor primitives in newborn babies and their development." Essentially, by studying humans, rats, cats, monkeys and the guinea fowl, Lacquaniti's team realized that, while there are obvious morphological differences, the intuition and neural responses that help us all learn to walk are pretty much the same. According to, newborns' legs naturally will stretch out and their feet will be automatically drawn to the floor. Of course, baby legs aren't strong enough, but there's an overriding instinctive desire to want to walk.

Thus, if babies are evolutionarily-equipped to walk at a younger age, is it OK to push them to do so?

This all started when SmartPlanet saw a child "being walked" on Calle Fuencarral by an odd sort of harness contraption. Turns out, these "educational safety straps" were designed right here in Madrid at the Saro Baby research and sales center, for small baby care items.

The safety straps remind you of the swings at a carnival or a less-harrowing acrobatic routine. The padded support goes through the legs and pulls snug onto the chest and back, with four straps that come up to connect to a long, flexible parent handle. The Saro research results promise that it's very "safe and comfortable" and gives the child the ability to move more freely.

Saro marketing manager Irene Moran said, "The idea of having those braces is to help children learn to walk safely. It gives them [the babies] freedom to move, but also so that parents have control over their safety. They are caught, so to speak, and avoid many falls and bumps."

There are some obvious benefits to the technology. Children are going to fall and need to learn to fall well, but preventing that happening on Madrid's cobbled sidewalks could save some booboos and tears. People naturally walk swinging their arms, therefore, this integrates arm movement with the learning-to-walk process from the beginning, instead of the first steps coming with arms above their heads. Plus, it saves parents' backs.

Depending on the size of the child, these tools can be used anywhere from six months to four years; it could therefore be used as another kind of child leash, so they don't run off. These can also be used to strap a child into a highchair or stroller. Since only a small percentage of Madrid buses are equipped with car seats, this would be an easy way to help secure a child as you ride over the hilly city.

When SmartPlanet talked to moms on the street about if they would use the Educational Straps, the reaction was quite strong. "Freaky," "creepy," and "looks uncomfortable," were some of the adjectives applied, as all the mothers SP talked to would not use it, unless they had some sort of back injury. Their main arguments were that there's no rush and it's an important parent-child bonding moment to hold hands during the first steps. One man mentioned that it could lead to "brandy legs" where children don't develop their muscles well enough, if a parent puts too much effort into balancing their babe, using the straps.

Since Madrid isn't exactly handicap or stroller accessible, with the majority of metros not having anything but stairs to enter them and with most doors impossible to allow the double-wide strollers for the high propensity of twins, maybe a child's ability to walk sooner could save parental stress and backaches.

Or maybe babies should just learn the old-fashioned way. What do you think?

Photo: Saro Baby

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