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Slings, Swings and Jumpers and Your Infant’s Development

In regard to the use of these devices I am of two minds, one as a clinician and one as a parent.  Let me present the evidence and then make my recommendations.

Slings:

  • The primary concern about them decreasing the oxygen that your child can breath or suffocating the infant have not been proven through the research. baby in carrier Babies do have a decrease in the oxygen in their blood when being carried in a sling, but the same phenomenon occurs when placing a baby on their backs in a stroller.  This occurrence primarily affects pre-term babies.
  • The other concern about them putting too much strain on your joints and back may be avoided by following the instructions, and ensuring there is support around your hips.

Swings and car carriers:

  • These devices, by design, decrease the child’s ability to move which can keep them safe and in one place, but overuse of these devices have been shown to slow motor development.
  • Due to the position of the baby and the weight placed on the back of their head, prolonged use may lead to brachycephaly, a flattening of the back of the babies head.

Jumpers:

  • Allow the baby to stand more easily by rotating their hips back and forcing a slouched posture which enables them to stand up before they have the core control to stand erect.  This rotation of the hips also changes the mechanics of their leg and hip joints.

With this information in front of me, as a clinician I can advocate the use of slings with very young babies who need that skin-to-skin contact, and with decreasing frequency of use as they get older.  I do not advocate the use of swings, jumpers and (outside of the car) car carriers as places to put babies.  Click here to read about the container baby “lifestyle”.

As a parent, I recognize the need for a safe place for your child while you do a sink load of dishes, or when trying to get a quick shower.  I can tell you that, at times, I have foraged like a ravenous squirrel for a place to safely put my daughter when making dinner, or a load of laundry that I trust she will be safe, and will prevent any screaming or crying (sometimes from her).  In these moments I see the need for a swing, or bouncy seat where she will be safe and contained.  I have used and loved slings and other carriers to keep her near me, and in emergencies, to assist her into that elusive state, sleep.

Overall, the BEST places for your child are: in your arms, or placed on their back or tummy on a safe flat surface.  Babies should be getting as much time on their tummy as they, and you, tolerate on a firm, safe surface.  Lack of time on their tummy has been consistently linked to slowed acquisition of gross motor milestones.

When you need a hands-free alternative, slings can be a great tool.  Regarding any other piece of equipment to put your child, my rule of thumb is: use as sparingly as possible, and the more concerns there are about your child’s development, hypotonia, torticollis, etc., the less you should utilize these pieces of equipment.

*Important safety note: Babies must always be placed to bed on their backs, and always use car carriers when in the car no matter how far.

Torticollis: Before And After Physical Therapy

What do you notice in the picture of two babies lying down? That they are two adorable boys?…Well of course!! They are my sons so I can’t help but agree. You may or may not also notice how both of their heads are tilted to the left. This is because they both had a condition called torticollis.

Twin Boys With Torticollis

Baby Boys Exibiting Torticollis

What is Torticollis?

Torticollis is derived from the Latin language for twisted neck, which makes sense but sounds pretty awful! As a parent it can be even more awful to find out that there is something wrong with your child. For me, even as a clinician who works along side children with torticollis, it was hard to believe that my young sons had a condition that required therapeutic intervention.

Physical Therapy Used To Resolve Torticollis

Twin Boys With Torticollis Resolved

After Physical Thereapy, Torticollis Is Resolved

Both of my sons received physical therapy under the care of a physical therapist at North Shore Pediatric Therapy for a few months, and the torticollis is now resolved. Overall, the process of receiving physical therapy was a great experience.

First and foremost, if torticollis is not treated and resolved there are several issues that can result, including issues with development of gross and fine motor skills, visual perceptual difficulties, and even facial and jaw asymmetries can present. Also, from a parent of small infant’s perspective, it was really helpful for me to have some structure to my week that included an “outing” (therapy) with my boys to force me to get dressed and leave the house Finally going to the appointments weekly and hearing about progress that an experienced clinician was observing every visit was helpful and encouraging!

The “Container Baby” Lifestyle

“Container Baby” is a relatively new term used in pediatrics to describe a baby that spends a majority of her time in some sort of enclosed space. These ‘containers’ can include car seats, bouncy swings, vibrating chairs, bumbo seats or other devices that ‘contain’ a baby’s movement. They can be used for any number of reasons, whether it be for safety or to give mom a few free minutes to cook dinner or fold laundry.

How “Containing” Your Baby Can Delay Motor Development:

Some babies spend many of their waking hours in a containing device and don’t get enough floor time to play. Floor time, where a baby is either placed on his tummy or back to play, is extremely important to help with strengthening his neck, back, tummy, arm and leg muscles. Floor time allows a child to explore her environment and provides essential sensory input, including tactile and visual information, that helps with development.

Plagiocephaly or Flatness of the Head:

Another direct cause of the “container baby” lifestyle is the increasing occurrence of plagiocephaly, or flatness of the head. Babies who are contained in the same position are at risk for developing flatness to one part of their head, which can lead to cosmetic deformities, facial asymmetry and torticollis, or the tightening of one side of the neck. Plagiocephaly often begins in-utero, Read more

Tummy Time and Infants

Tummy time is an essential activity beginning in the first month of a baby’s life. It is a way to develop strength and coordination and to give your little one a head start in gross motor development. tummy time

In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that healthy babies should be put to sleep on their backs. This resulted in a dramatic decrease in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and made many parents anxious about placing babies on their tummy at all. The American Academy of Pediatrics then launched the “Back to Sleep-Tummy to Play” campaign, which reminded parents that good gross motor development starts with putting babies on their tummy during supervised play time.

Below are some tips to introduce your infant to tummy time:

• Place the infant on your chest and encourage head lifting by using eye contact and singing to your baby. The higher you sit up, the easier it will be for your baby to push up.

• Get down on the floor yourself with your baby or use a small mirror in front of them to get your baby to interact with the environment at eye level.

• A rolled-up towel placed under the baby’s chest or a boppy pillow can be used to help shift weight from the upper body to encourage head lifting.

• As the baby gets older, playing airplane in different positions, such as over your legs or supporting the baby by holding on to their abdomen and hips, helps to strengthen the back, neck and shoulder muscles.

Tummy time is a very important step during a baby’s first year of life. Although healthy babies should be placed on their back to sleep, placing a baby on his tummy to play a few times a day is recommended.

Occasionally, babies will become fussy when placed on their tummy, so parents should increase the intervals the child in on their tummy to play and utilize the tips above to make tummy time fun. When gradually encouraged, most babies will learn to enjoy tummy time and will reap the benefits of better head control, arm and back strength and fine motor and sensory development.

Children who skip the crawling milestone and go directly to walking can have problems with their coordination, weight shifting during walking, and with fine motor skills. Healthy gross motor development begins early on in a baby’s life, and tummy time is an essential way to provide total body strength and coordination.

Click here to watch a 2 minute webisode about Tummy Time