We’ve all seen it: commercials of the new Mom and Dad beaming with pride and adoration for their little one, gazing into their baby’s eyes as soft, playful music fades into the background. It all looks picture-perfect. Mom scoops Baby out of the newest, high-tech car seat and directly into the…Stroller? Bouncer Seat? Exersaucer? Or maybe the Bumbo Seat — a nightmare for your PT! With the strong influence of the media pushing advertisements for these “baby containers,” it can truly be challenging as a physical therapist when it comes to educating parents on limiting or even avoiding these devices as much as possible.
But, why? The baby in the commercial seemed to love her bouncer seat! That new baby carrier can be used both as a car seat and also to carry baby around while Mom is shopping — how convenient! Why wouldn’t a new parent invest in these devices or include them on the baby registry? In the world of pediatric therapy, it turns out there are a number of reasons why babies’ time in these devices should be kept to a minimum. Just because they are the convenient option, this does not make them the best choice for your baby’s development.
When a baby spends too much time in a “container” — anything that limits the baby’s movement or applies constant pressure to one side of their head — this can often lead to restrictions in range of motion, especially of the baby’s head and neck, which can progress into torticollis. It can hinder the development of gross motor milestones, like rolling from back to tummy or from tummy to back. Furthermore, too much time inside baby equipment can lead to plagiocephaly, flattening of the head that can lead to facial asymmetries and deformity. Even from other disciplines’ perspective, too much time in a container can cause social and cognitive delays, as the baby has limited opportunities to explore and interact with their environment.
While therapists do understand the need for car seats and carriers, these devices should be used for just that: riding in the car and when the baby needs to be carried from place to place. Parents often forget that “back to sleep” does not mean the baby should be on their back all day long, or left inside a carrier to stay in a “safe” position. Once inside the home, as long as the environment is safe, the baby should be placed on the floor on a blanket or mat and given the opportunity to move around.
Tummy time — placing baby on his or her stomach to work on head control and shoulder strength for pushing up — should begin as soon as the baby arrives home from the hospital, while supervised. Tummy time allows the baby to spend time in a position that applies no pressure to the back of their head, unlike containers which constantly apply forces to the same areas of the head. Parents should slowly increase the amount of tummy time their baby works on from week to week. It is helpful to work on tummy time after each diaper change to maintain a schedule.