As we prepare for the arrival of our second kiddo, I wanted to talk about the reason we don’t use some baby items that are very common and why it is that we choose not to. I’ve seen first hand how these items can cause real harm to developing babies and toddlers. As always, you’ll need to do your own research into these items and decide what is right for your own family.
Click-Out Car Seats
At the absolute top of my list are click-out infant car seats, every brand and model. These are very, very, very, very common and I understand why. For busy parents on the go being able to lift your sleeping baby from the car, click the carseat in place in a stroller frame and keep right on going must seem like the ultimate form of convenience. But this particular form of convenience comes with a high cost.
Car seats are, be design, incredibly restrictive of movement. One of their most important functions is to stabilize the head and neck of our little ones in a way that will keep them safe in the even of a collision. And the primary way that they do this is with molded padding around that holds precious little heads in place. Now, don’t get me wrong– that is a GOOD thing. You want your car seat to be as protective as possible. The problem that occurs is this– your baby’s head and neck are still developing and taking shape. When you lay your baby freely on a soft surface on the floor and they stare up at the world, they turn their head back and forth from side to side and back again. This gentle turning motion creates the even rounding of the back of their heads! But when we place little ones in seats that restrict their head movement, it can cause the back of their head to flatten out and in severe cases even become what’s know as Flat Head Syndrome or “Positional Plagiocephaly”. Even worse, most doctors will simply prescribe helmets for this condition (they make a commissions on head-shaping helmets) instead of helping parents understand why the flattening of the skull is occurring and what can be done to correct it. I’ve seen this happen with children we know, watching their beautifully shaped heads begin to flatten out and change shape. There is no reason for it and it is tragic that Flat Head Syndrome is growing exponentially, due lately in part to our use of baby holding devices.
Does this mean we don’t want to use car seats? Absolutely not. Car seats are critically important to protect your little one. But think about what happens with click-out car seats– the baby goes for a car ride of say, half an hour. Then the car seat is clicked into a stroller and they go on an outing of two hours. Then back in the car seat to go home for another half hour. Altogether, babies can end up spending HOURS in these car seats that severely restrict their head and neck mobility.
What’s the Solution?
We choose not to use a click-out car seat (or any other seat that holds the baby in a position including rockers, baby bouncers and recliners, etc.) and instead when we arrive at our destination, we lift the little one out of the car seat and put her into a carrier. Even, and this is going to be the tough part for many parents, if he or she is asleep. In most cases with our first child, she quickly settled back to sleep in the carrier and we were able to continue on with our adventures with her sleeping soundly against us. Another option is to move the baby into a traditional stroller, which still allows for MORE head/neck mobility than a car seat. We found baby wearing to be the easiest and convenient solution that came with a bunch of other benefits as well.
If you want to read more about this concept, here’s a great article about it written by a pediatric occupational therapist: http://www.candokiddo.com/news/2014/9/21/part-2-whats-wrong-with-bhd
Okay. I find these things so annoying because there is just absolutely NO reason for them other than that they look cute. But really parents– why do we feel the need to stick our kids into so many things? When we finally get home from a long day out with our click out carseats, we walk in the door and we want to stick them in another contraption. Its so important to stop and check in with our basic parenting philosophy– how much do we want to interfere with our child’s natural development? Our babies are meant to be laying on the floor, rolling on their tummies, and held in our arms. All of our contraptions and devices can, without meaning to, offset the beautiful natural progression of their own inherent development.
Think of it this way– your child has a very specific sequence of development. They are born without much strength or coordination and they develop it over time. First their head and neck begin to strengthen, along with their core, their spine, their upper body strength. Soon they are able to hold their head up on their own, look around, push up off the floor on their tummies– it’s amazing! Left to their own devices, most babies won’t sit up on their own until somewhere around six to nine months old. But these days, it has become very popular to start propping them up in baby seats like the Bumbo. When we put our babies in these kinds of false situations, it causes the wrong muscles to over compensate and develop out of sequence. Their own core can’t hold them up yet, they’re own spinal column is not ready for this kind of positioning. This causes some muscles to overdevelop before they are ready and other muscles, muscles that should be being developed, to get overlooked. There’s nothing cute or funny about this. It can have long term implications in terms of coordination, symmetry and musculature. And your baby will be just as happy never knowing that a bumbo exists. I promise! When Mac was little, we left her lying on soft rugs on the floor to amuse herself and she was fine.
What’s the Solution?
Don’t buy bumbos! Don’t buy anything that causes your baby to develop in unnatural ways! (More on that below.) Don’t be afraid to let your little one spend plenty of unrestricted time exploring the world on their own, from soft blankets on the floor or grass, to plenty of time on their tummies and just as much time safely in your arms.
Want to read more? Here’s a great article by Mary Week, the clinical coordinator of physical development at Children’s Memorial Hospital about why therapists hate bumbos. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-03-15/health/ct-met-bumbo-posture-20120315_1_physical-therapists-developmental-benefits-babies
3. Walkers, Jumpers and Saucers
You probably already know where this is going– if you’re baby can’t stand up on his own, he doesn’t need some fake contraption to help him to it before he is developmentally ready. If she can’t jump, she doesn’t need to be left suspended from her groin and allowed to jump freely. If he can’t walk, he shouldn’t be propped up and surrounded by a plastic disc that allows him to roam freely. Why? Because he’s not developmentally ready for these movements which is WHY he can’t do them on his own. This is not just my opinion y’all, it’s the predominant opinion of every occupational therapist I’ve spoken to or read on the subject. Our babies need less gear and more free play, less contrived situations and more limitless movement of their own abilities.
What’s the Solution?
The overall solution is to embrace a simpler parenthood. I know it is stressful as moms to feel that our kids need to be entertained, to want somewhere to put them for just 20 minutes while we shower, to love the peace and quiet that comes with an automated rocker or the joy and delight that comes from time in a jumper. I get it. And if you’re someone who has used these devices in the past then letting go of them might feel really really hard, and I get that too. But even limiting their time in these sorts of devices will be an amazing start. So begin with cutting down as much as possible and let go of them if/when you feel ready. Plenty of kids have grown up using these items and never had noticeable outward effects. It’s not about one more thing to stress over, it’s about coming back to our essential philosophy as parents. What is that for you? Are you an intervention heavy parent who loves all the gadgetry and the conveniences available to us? If so, that’s okay just spend some time thinking about how to limit the impact of those choices on your kids natural development. Or, like our family, do you believe in a simple, innate design for parenting and motherhood– something less consumer-driven and distraction oriented? I really believe that our babies don’t need much more than our quiet, constant love and affection, good food, good rest and plenty of time interacting with the people and world around them.
If you want to read more, here’s a great interview from Anne Zachary, a professor of occupational therapy and a huge advocate for gadget-free parenting: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/06/baby-gear-gadgets/3288221/