My baby scientist

Many months ago I wrote a post declaring that, while Sophia was a small portable baby, before the hassles of weaning and nap routines set in, I would get out and about and explore London – museums, galleries, parks and more. That turned out to be slightly hubristic, as shortly afterwards I broke my foot, and spent the next two months basically unable to leave the house. By the time I had recovered, Sophia was eating solid food and, after so much enforced time at home, had settled into a helpful but fairly rigid routine which centred around naps in her cot. She is not a fan of sleeping out and about in the pram or sling (unlike her sister, who refused to sleep in her cot!), and although that generally suits me as it gives me around 90 minutes of ‘free’ time a day to indulge myself with cleaning the bathroom or making this delicious sugar-free banana bread for the children, it is a bit limiting when it comes to adventures outside Walthamstow!

However, every now and then I decide to brave a day trip, just to prove to myself that Sophia won’t spontaneously combust if she is limited to a couple of 20 minute cat naps, and also to try and expand my horizons fractionally.

Sophia is registered with the Babylab at Birkbeck College, part of the University of London. This centre carries out academic studies on babies and toddlers to try and understand various aspects of brain and cognitive development. I heard about it, and, as the studies are all totally non-invasive and the comfort and wellbeing of the baby is paramount, I loved the idea of Sophia being able to do her bit to contribute to the sum of human knowledge before she could even talk. Last Friday we went for our first visit as part of a new study on the effect of smart-phone/tablet use on babies’ sleep patterns and development.

I was fascinated to take part in this. My gut instinct is that screen time can’t be good for small babies – Sophia certainly doesn’t use any baby-apps, and Anna was at least three before we allowed her to use specific child-friendly apps under supervision for carefully controlled amounts of time.However, I would love to know if my instincts are right, or if I am simply a dinosaur reacting against something which had no place in my childhood but which will be a fundamental part of my daughters’. What better way to find out than through a proper academic study?

Sophia wore various monitoring devices which registered her brain waves, eye movements, heart rate and body temperature, and engaged in different activities – traditional play, watching video clips, playing with an i-Pad. We will go back and repeat the experiments in five months. In the meantime, if anyone lives in London and has a baby, do consider getting in touch with Babylab, as they are always after more baby volunteers. Your baby gets a super-cool ‘I’m an Infant Scientist’ t-shirt for their efforts, and it really is a very rewarding process.

S in PretAfter our scientific endeavours, Sophia and I went and had a light lunch in Pret a Manger (Pret sandwiches are one of the few things I miss from my working-nine-to-five persona), and then she fell into a completely exhausted sleep in her pram and I carried on the scientific theme of the day by visiting the Wellcome Collection. This is a fascinating museum, for ‘the incurably curious’, devoted mainly to exhibits on medicine and human biology. The exhibition on obesity had examples of healthy portion sizes which made me want to weep, but I also saw ancient Japanese sex-aids, far more pairs of obstetric forceps than I could cope with without crossing my legs, and a lock of George III’s hair. Analysis has revealed abnormally high levels of arsenic in the hair, giving a probable explanation for his madness but to my mind raising many more interesting questions.

I then walked the short distance to St Pancras, my favourite of all the many lovely London stations, and spent a little while admiring its gothic magnificence and giving thanks to John Betjeman who saved it from planned demolition, before getting the tube back to Walthamstow, school pick-up and day-to-day life.


  1. That sounds fun! Here’s to a 2016 of getting out and about in Londonium! I love the Wellcome collection – always guaranteed to find something creepy or quirky! One of those little known gems. Love the scientific approach and little Sophia being a scientist… particularly the t-shirt! Appeals to my inner geek! I think that although we’re arts grads we share a bit of inner geekery, you and I, too :-) Happy new year x


    • I like to think I have a relatively scientific mindset for an arts grad – but my scientist friends perhaps wouldn’t agree! Happy new year to you too. x


  2. A good read, as always, Helen. Got to ask though, do Babylab give feed back on their findings – I want to know if yours (and mine) gut feeling is correct?


    • Eventually I will find out the outcomes of the study, and no doubt blog about them (!), but I don’t think it will be for at least a year. So in the meantime I will just continue to go with my gut feelings!


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