As parents we are bombarded with all types of equipment that our baby “must have”; we are told that we must have a bouncy seat, a rocking seat, a baby swing, a baby jumper, a floor sitter, an activity stander and we definitely have to have a pushchair and car seat (we really do have to have these though!). All of these “must have” products have something in common. They all CONTAIN and HOLD our babies.
We don’t realise it but despite the fact that they all look different they mostly hold our babies in a similar position; semi reclined with hips and knees bent, a rounded back and head support from behind and they contain our baby’s free movements.
Why do we at Little Tots Therapy think overuse of these products has the potential to affect baby development? Well!
When we actually start to think about how many hours our baby may spend in their car seat, their pushchair, their bouncy seat, their floor sitter or standing activity centre we realise that the time quickly mounts up during the day and that our baby might be being contained and held a little too much in their first year. This means they may be missing out on lots of other crucial opportunities for development and may be spending too long in a semi reclined position.
Why might this affect development?
Being in a semi-reclined position with head support at the back of a baby’s head is a contributing factor to head flattening; we can’t do anything about the back to sleep campaign as the evidence for this supporting safe sleep is overwhelming but we can do something about the length of time a baby spends in a semi reclined position with support behind their head. Flattening of a baby’s head is called positional plagiocephaly or brachycephaly depending on where it has flattened and can lead to issues with development of both gross and fine motor skills including torticollis and hand asymmetries.
In the first few weeks and months a baby learns to move their body against gravity and needs to practice lots and lots of different positions and movements so that they can lay down the foundation for future more complex movements. If they are contained or held in equipment they are unable to move their body with as much variety or have as much opportunity to change and practice different positions.
When a baby is moving they are developing the way they interact with their environment and gravity which then leads to the development of their sensory and cognitive (learning) skills.
When a baby is in a piece of equipment such as a stander or baby jumper before they are able to hold their body up against gravity by themselves it can affect how they then learn to stand and walk. They are not building on the skills they need to be able to roll, sit, stand and walk by using these pieces of equipment.
Here are a few suggestions on how to support your baby in different positions during the day and move a bit more freely:
You want your baby to enjoy all these different movement experiences so they should be happy and calm before you start. Following your baby’s cues helps them feel secure and attached and this then enables them to learn. If your baby starts to fuss respond to their needs and change their position. It is important to build things gradually so it remains a fun time for them.
Use a baby carrier or sling for short periods of time rather than using a car seat or buggy to transport them when you are walking outside. When your baby is very young position them against your chest so that they spend equal amounts of time on either side of their head. This position also allows your baby to spend time on their tummy time whilst having you close by to help them feel secure.
If your baby falls asleep in a car seat or buggy and is still sleeping once you have got home, pick them up and move them to their sleeping area. We know this sounds nuts to move a sleeping baby but it really does help them get accustomed to it when they get a bit older and being in a flat crib/cot supports their future development.
Give your baby plenty of opportunities to play on a mat or blanket on the floor, when they are very young they may only be able to tolerate this for a very short time (less than 30 seconds) so little and often is a good rule of thumb. Your baby should spend time on their back, front and side when they are awake as this enable them to build up an awareness and internal picture of themselves.
Increase your baby’s time lying on their side when they are awake. Being on their side is a great developmental position that is often forgotten and allows your baby to bring both their hands together more easily and makes them aware they have a side which helps with rolling. If your baby is very young you can help support them on their side by using a rolled up blanket behind them (this is only when you are supervising your baby closely and when they are awake).
Increase your baby’s time lying on their tummy when they are awake. Tummy time includes putting your baby on your chest, across your lap, in a baby sling, on the floor with a small rolled blanket under their chest on being carried in a down carry position or tiger in the three hold. Tummy time allows your baby to not only develop their motor skills but is an opportunity to develop their emotional, communication and sensory processing skills. Babies love looking and interacting with their parents so use yourself to motivate them to look up. Look out for our Little Tots Therapy post on tips to make tummy time a bit more fun for you and your baby.
Our take home message is to allow your baby as many opportunities for container free and active movement in different positions when they are awake. If you need any further guidance please do not hesitate to contact us.