Baby containers: Are we living in a culture of overuse?

Baby in a jumperContainers, by definition, are used to contain, store, and transport items. “Baby containers” have become standard in young American households.  Car seats and strollers are used to assist with transport. Bouncers and swings provide sensory input. And walkers help with ambulation. In general, baby containers limit movement, which can be regarded as a safety measure. They allow parents to take a shower, change the laundry, or do the dishes. We all know that babies can not be held at all times, but should this result in more time spent in a baby container? No matter what the manufacturer may tell you, containers are an artificial means to development and can be harmful with prolonged use.

Infants are spending extended time in baby containers, especially their car seats, going from one location to the next. The purpose of a car seat is to transport the infant within the car. Nowadays car seats are compatible in all environments. Just a simple snap and you can transport your baby to the grocery store, in the stroller, to a friend’s house — all without actually having to hold your baby. Infants yearn for close contact with their parents and baby containers reduce the amount of intimate touch our infants are experiencing. Not only are these infants being deprived of the human touch crucial for healthy development, research also suggests that prolonged use of car seats could decrease oxygen saturation levels impeding respiratory development. (Cerar et al. 2009)
Carrying and wearing your baby are other options for transporting infants that provide the nurturing touch our babies need for healthy development. When a baby is being carried,  they receive rich sensory input needed to develop the nervous system. They experience the warmth of another body, the frequent change in positions, deep pressure touch, head control, visual development, and muscle control used for holding on. (Heller, 1997)

Using ergo carriers, slings, and wraps also provides the infant with a rich sensory diet of movement and pressure touch that have proved to promote healthy development in infants. Baby carriers can also be used when taking a walk with your baby. When a baby is in a stroller, sensory stimulation from the environment is reduced and trunk movement is restricted. Being far away from the caregiver, the language the baby hears becomes garbled and drowned out by the noise of the stroller wheels screeching and scraping.
Another baby container, the walker, is misleading and often confusing for parents. Parents think they are providing their child with the skills needed to be successful walkers, however the research would disagree. Walking devices reduce and/or prevent babies from seeing their legs moving. This reduces or eliminates the visual feedback needed for the developing motor system. Infants who spend prolonged time in a walker have shown delayed milestones such as sitting, crawling, and walking when compared to infants who do not use a walker. (Siegel & Burton, 1999)

Baby containers also restrict movement especially in the trunk and deny the opportunity for sensorimotor development. Pat Wilbarger, who has done extensive work in sensory processing, explains that baby container use is a particular concern for children at risk of motor delay. She further explains that, if misused, infant walkers, swings, and jumpers can cause problems with muscle flexibility. (Heller, 1997) For instance, jumpers (hung from the threshold of a doorway) do allow the baby to stand more easily, but it comes at a price. The jumper can rotate the baby’s hips and force a slouched posture, which enables them to stand up before trunk control has developed.

Overall infants who spend increased time in baby containers demonstrate lower scores on infant motor development. In addition, baby containers decrease the child’s ability to move which limits their abilities to naturally explore the environment. Overuse of these devices can lead to delayed motor and sensory development.

Please think twice about leaving your baby in a container. Baby wearing is an excellent alternative that provides the motor and sensory stimulation needed for appropriate development, which leads to a happier, healthier baby.    

Heather Tweedie (right) is working on her Doctorate of Health Science at the University of Indianapolis. She is a pediatric occupational therapist living in Boone, NC. She offers a class called Sensational Growth for parents and their infants that covers infant massage, sensory system development and processing, and play activities to promote healthy brain development. She practices what she preaches with her own daughter, Nella Rosa, who was born July 30, 2013.

Cerar, L. K., Scirica, C. V., Gantar, I. S., Osredkar, D., Neubauer, D., & Kinane, T.B., (2009). A comparison of respiratory patterns in healthy term infants placed in car safety seats and bed. Pediatrics, 124, 395-403.

Heller, S. (1997). The vital touch. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.

Siegel, A. C. & Burton, R. V. (1999). Effects of baby walkers on motor and mental development in human infants. Developmental and behavioral pediatrics, 20, 355-360.

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Comment from Brenda Howard
Time: October 29, 2013, 2:39 am

Congratulations, Heather! It was a pleasure to get to know you in class. Glad to see Baby Nella Rosa is here! Best wishes in your work!