Raise your hand if you’ve ever found yourself hauling home enormous baby contraptions after being lured in by the packaging’s marketing claims. Insert sheepish hand-raise here.
There are swings, seats, and walkers aplenty, all promising to delight, entertain, and encourage baby toward the next developmental milestone. And what parent wouldn’t want to support growth and learning — especially if all that was involved was an easy item purchase?
Lori Grisez, a board-certified pediatrics clinical specialist and developmental therapist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, wants parents to reconsider their purchases.
“From a movement and developmental standpoint, there is no benefit to using container equipment in order to help your child achieve new motor skills,” she said. According to Lori and the research behind her, any item that restricts baby’s movements is not only void of developmental benefit — but it can also lead to delays.
Take infant chairs, for example. These seemingly harmless contraptions allow baby to have a seat at the table, practically sitting upright with the rest of the family. However, when young babies are placed in infant chairs, they are not learning to sit. As the packaging claims, they are passively positioned in a way they are simply not ready for — never having a chance to strengthen their trunk muscles.
To Lori, this is the harmful side of our baby devices. When we rely on containers, our little ones are missing out on a critical opportunity — the chance to use many of the muscles they need to try to learn to sit up, roll around, and move.
“Movement is the start for all the other learning activities. So, when a child can roll over, they then have the ability to access their own toys. As they start to crawl, they move across the floor and explore their environment,” Lori explained. “Babies may hear communication from you that no, they’re not allowed to get into that toy, etc. So, movement is definitely important in and of itself, but it also drives a lot of cognition and communication that is critical for babies.”
What’s more, overusing such equipment not only prevents normal development, but it may also lead to plagiocephaly or torticollis — conditions that result from baby maintaining the same head and neck positions.
Use Containers for Safety
Are you ready to take your baby contraptions out to the trash? No need to get that extreme. According to Lori, container devices can have a place in baby’s life, just as long as we reframe our understanding of them.
“The biggest thing is recognizing the need to use equipment for safety,” Lori said. “So, if your choice is between holding your child while making hot food or having her in some sort of position where she can remain safe, then the appropriate decision is to contain your child for a few minutes.”
But be mindful of how much time baby spends in these devices and offset it with enough free exploration down on the floor. When it comes to equipment use, Lori encourages parents to lead with a simple question: how much time is your baby not spending on the floor because he or she is contained in some fashion?
To Lori, this floor time is key to supporting growth and development. All it takes is a few minute sessions several times throughout the day. Time spent on the floor allows babies to wiggle, explore, stretch, and kick, all simple actions that support healthy development. If your home is not suitable for floor play, Lori recommends popping baby in a pack ’n play or portable play yard — anything that allows for freedom of movement while still keeping baby safe from older siblings or pets.
And this explorative floor play is not just for older babies. As soon as our little ones come home from the hospital, they’re ready to practice through tummy time. Lori recommends placing baby on his or her belly for just one or two minutes four to five times each day. That way, she reassures, baby starts strengthening muscles early on and tummy time is more manageable as your little one grows.
“Tummy time allows babies to develop the head, neck, and trunk control they need to then perform all of their other motor skills. So, lifting up that head to move around for rolling and eventually sitting up — all of those muscles are strengthened to allow them to complete those next activities,” said Lori.
A Smarter Way to Support Development
So, if baby contraptions don’t live up to their marketing claims, how can parents help nudge their babies toward their next milestone? Aside from allowing babies freedom to move and explore on the floor, Lori said that practice is key.
“As babies start approaching 6 months, for instance, they will want to sit up,” Lori explained. “You can start by holding them in that sitting position for a few seconds at a time. By holding them, you allow them to use their head and trunk muscles to maintain the position. Parents will notice that baby is able to sit more and more on their own and will need less help.”
The same holds true for standing, crawling, and walking. All of these will come as babies are down on the floor investigating and interacting with caregivers and siblings.
The bottom line? The growing trend in parenting is toward simplicity and how baby spends his or her day should be no different. Walkers, chairs, and bouncers can serve a smart purpose, keeping your baby safe when you can’t be within arm’s reach. But when it comes to encouraging motor skills? Container devices are not the answer.
There are no blinking lights or bouncing chairs necessary — just a safe place for your little one to roll, crawl, and explore.