Kids Health

The Best Way to Use Baby Seats and Activity Centers, According to a Pediatric PT


Walking down an aisle of infant toys and devices can be very overwhelming for a new parent. There are options aplenty, and they all advertise happy little ones enjoying the features of these toys and devices. As a pediatric physical therapist, I frequently receive questions from new parents about the infant positioning devices (think walkers, jumpers, exersaucers, swings, etc). “When should I buy a walker? What kind of bouncer will be best for my baby? When can I put my baby in a swing?”

Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret—most pediatric PTs don’t recommend a thing! While these positioning devices are convenient when you need your baby contained for a couple of minutes, they actually hinder general development and gross motor skill acquisition.

If you’re thinking, “Wait a second, back up. How can a device that helps my baby sit and walk be hindering development?” then you’re definitely not alone! It seems counterintuitive to recommend against these devices. Read on for a little more about the problems with infant positioning devices and what PTs recommend instead. 


Why Devices Can Be a Problem


Time spent in a device is time away from your child exploring how his or her body works

When your child is placed in a device, that device hinders your baby from learning how his or her body moves without being contained in a device. When your baby is placed on the ground instead, your baby can explore how he or she rolls, scoots along the floor, and transitions between different positions.


Devices can contain your baby for brief periods when you need some time to warm up your coffee, answer a quick email, or grab a snack for another little one running around.


They find their toes quicker, they discover how their hands play together, and they learn how to use their body to explore the environment. When out of equipment, your baby also learns how to fall! Falling is a very important skill to learn in order to keep your baby safe. When a baby is always contained, he or she then doesn’t learn the appropriate protective reactions and skills needed to safely fall.


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Devices place your baby in poor postures

When your baby has external supports to rely on, he or she then leans back into that support and into poor postures. Your baby then learns to rely on something external to support him or her up. Additionally, if your child has a preference to tip their head to one side, these devices will emphasize those preferences. 


Devices delay gross motor milestones

Your child requires thousands of hours of practice to achieve new gross motor milestones. When placed in devices, he or she is not getting the practice to achieve new skills like independent sitting, standing, crawling, and walking. Your baby also learns to misuse some of his or her muscles, which can contribute to different issues down the line, like toe walking, back pain, or difficulty with more advanced developmental skills. 


Some devices can be dangerous

Some infant seats have been known to tip over from an elevated surface. Walkers can make your baby a little too mobile—allowing them to get near the stairs and potentially into things they would otherwise be unable to reach. And there have been some swings and positioners recalled due to the increased risk of injury while using them.


How can we keep babies entertained without these devices?


As stated previously, these devices can contain your baby for brief periods when you need some time to warm up your coffee, answer a quick email, or grab a snack for another little one running around. However, when you need your child entertained for longer periods of time and don’t want to take away from prime developmental time, the following are some ideas to try.


Play mats

If you’ve read any of my other articles, you know that pediatric physical therapists LOVE floor time for our babies. Supervised floor time is the best place for your baby’s development. Play mats now come in a wide variety of colors, patterns, and sizes, and by incorporating floor time early, your baby will quickly learn to enjoy their time there. And the floor is where your child will learn how to move independently!



Portable cribs

When babies need to be contained for safety, you can use something to keep them in one spot, while still giving them an opportunity to explore and move about. Pop-out a Pack n Play where you can keep an eye on your baby, while you’re still able to work, make dinner, or do other things around the room.


Play “gyms”

These don’t “contain” your baby. But they still allow your baby to enjoy the features that containment devices provide, while encouraging your baby to use his or her own strength to explore.


Use the infant positioning devices sparingly and while supervised

We know that it can be a strong ask to request that families ditch the infant positioning devices completely, so if you need to use them, use them sparingly. We all need a few minutes to ourselves every once in a while (now maybe more than ever), and these devices may give you the mental break you need. If using the devices, keep your child supervised to ensure his or her safety.


Read More: 13 Physical Therapist Approved Toys for Babies