I often get questions about walkers, activity centers, jumpers, and seats for babies. These devices can be tempting and are often used as a temporary holding-spot so the caregiver can do something like cook dinner or take a shower. We all want the best for our babies—and ourselves. Here’s what you want to be aware of regarding these devices and Baby’s long-term health.
Many parents aren’t aware of this information. If you are using these devices, I share this not to pass judgment, but to spread the word. Consider, gently, ways that you can ease your family into less propping time and more floor time.
Any device that puts a baby into a position he can’t get into on his own yet will encourage compensation patterns. Even if it seems like he’s fully propped and supported, somewhere internally he still can’t support himself or he’d be doing the position on his own already. Often after prolonged use, arching (“extension”) takes over. This compromises integrated development of the lower back and hips, which makes a person more susceptible back problems later in life. Being upright before Baby’s body is ready also calls on his reflexes to be over-active because he is constantly responding as if he is falling. This prevents a natural progression of milestones because what would normally be natural movement is now perceived as falling, which can result in events such as scooting on the bottom or entirely skipping crawling on hands-and-knees (a very important milestone!).
Non-walking babies of all ages often can “stand” or take weight on their legs. This is a healthy sign, but it’s actually a reflex, not a choice! Babies “like” these devices because they bring Baby up higher perceptually so she can participate in the up-high grown-up world. However, Baby’s movement abilities do not yet match this higher perceptual/sensory state. So a split is developed: their bodies tell them to stay low, but we ask them go beyond what they’re ready for.
It is wonderful to carry Baby upright, to bring him up to face level for interaction, to sit her up for eating, etcetera. But it’s oh so beneficial to balance this upright time with on-the-floor time. Meaning—we go down to the floor with Baby! Yes, go on and lie down with Baby and enjoy!
Contrary to popular belief, babies actually learn how to sit and stand through rolling and belly-crawling, which build strength, balance, and coordination—not from actually sitting and standing. So . . . floor time (so they can move as they’re ready) and baby-wearing (so they can feel you moving) are great for Baby’s movement and brain development!
If you are alone and need a contained, safe space temporarily, I recommend these things:
- If Baby is young enough, there are soft, flat floor pads with short soft walls on all sides called “Baby Zabu.”
- Create baby-safe spaces throughout your house so that Baby can move freely rather than be confined. Some babies whose needs such as hunger and sleep are currently met and who don’t need to cry-in-arms will play happily while you do what you need to do
- Is there a way you can carry or wear Baby while you do your task?
- Always communicate to your Baby verbally what you are doing or need to do
- If you’re thinking, “that’s nice, but you don’t understand, I need a device,” use one that keeps the baby as low or as inclined as possible
- If you’re thinking, “whatever!” and you’re still going to use the walker or seat, use it for as short a time as possible.
Bern, professional Nanny in Seattle WA, recalls:
When I was growing up, it was before all the fancy furniture folks drag around now for the infant. When there was a family thing and a new infant was there, a space would be set aside on the carpet, a blanket spread, surrounded by pillows—stuff every house had. Seemed all of the relations did that.
And walkers—when the kid was ready, she prised herself up on the sofa edge and went back and forth for as long as the strength held, then plopped down.
I think children need attentive, loving caregivers, not things.