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Free Your Baby from the Container!

When it comes to equipment and gadgets for baby, the possibilities are endless… but some options are not the safest or healthiest choice for the development of your baby.  When considering types of equipment to buy, register for, or use for baby, here is some useful information to keep in mind.

What is Container Baby Syndrome?

Container Baby Syndrome is a generic name used to describe a variety of conditions that may be caused by an infant being placed in a container too often1.  These containers can limit the infant’s development as well as cause additional problems which will be discussed below.

What equipment is considered a container?

The term container refers to any type of equipment that holds baby in position using a seat or external support, thus limiting their independent movement.  Here are some examples:

Exersaucers

Exersaucers limit development by providing support for baby’s trunk thus delaying achievement of sitting balance and trunk control.  They decrease leg muscle strength because the baby is held up by a seat.  They can also encourage toe walking because the baby pushes up onto toes to reach the bottom of the device, thus causing calf muscles to overdevelop and become tight.

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Jumpers

Jumpers have the same developmental risks as exersaucers, with the additional problem of encouraging an extension pattern of the legs and trunk when the baby pushes to bounce or “jump”.  This extension pattern can severely delay walking or cause an abnormal gait pattern.

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Walkers

Walkers also provide too much support for baby’s trunk, limiting the development of trunk strength needed for independent standing balance and walking.  Like the other devices, they can encourage toe walking which is an abnormal and inefficient walking pattern for toddlers and can continue through childhood and even adulthood, causing an array of orthopedic problems.

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Swings and Seats

While swings and seats do not have quite the same risks for leg development as the other devices mentioned, they should be used in moderation (very limited time) due to the risk of flattening of the back of the skull3 (brachiocephaly or plagiocephaly) and development of neck muscle tightness (torticollis) because the infant is unable to support their head against gravity.

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Miscellaneous Equipment

Any type of equipment that holds the baby in a position that they are not yet able to maintain on their own has a risk of delaying their achievement of important developmental milestones and independent balance and mobility.  These devices should be avoided completely or used in extreme moderation!

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What Does Research Say About Containers?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, containers of any sort present a negative impact on the infant’s development.  As described above, these types of equipment give the infant a false feeling of function, therefore limiting their motor skills in the future.  Negative effects include:

  • Decreased leg strength due to being held up by a seat

  • Decreased abdominal strength resulting in delayed independent sitting

  • Decreased proprioception (sense of where the body is in space) due to not being able to see legs and feet

  • Delayed future milestones due to the feeling of walking too early (before crawling)

  • Increased head tilt/neck muscle tightness (torticollis) due to difficulty holding head upright against additional gravity

  • Increased calf muscle tightness/toe walking

  • Can tip over if not properly attended

Published Studies suggest that infants who have high equipment use tend to score lower on infant motor development or that infants who have low equipment use tend to score higher on infant motor development2.

The American Academy of pediatrics has a helpful online tool for screening your child’s developmental skills here4: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/MotorDelay/Pages/default.aspx

If you already have concerns about your baby’s development, you can contact your child’s pediatrician and ask about a referral for evaluation by a Physical Therapist. 

So What Are the Alternatives?

The best choice for play time for baby is floor time and tummy time!  Babies should be encouraged to participate in floor time to promote development of functional mobility in proper sequence: rolling scooting, coming to sit, crawling, pulling to stand on stable objects, cruising on stable objects, THEN independent standing and walking.   There are equipment options available for floor and tummy time such as floor mats as shown here:

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But a much less expensive and easier option is a simple blanket on the floor!  Surround baby by his favorite toys and let him explore!  This will encourage neck and trunk strength, rolling, and eventually crawling.

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And remember, baby may not always be happy about your choice, but it will be worth it in the end!

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*Special thanks to my own sweet twins for modeling for a few of these examples… 13 years ago!

Megan B. Cheek, PT

Pediatric Physical Therapist

References:

1. Physical Therapist’s Guide to Container Baby Syndrome: https://www.moveforwardpt.com/SymptomsConditionsDetail.aspx?cid=53d90264-1846-4b86-891f-0facc63db3e8

2. Infant motor development and equipment use in the home: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-2214.2001.00186.x

3. Occipital flattening of positional origin: the increasingly common problem of occipital flattening among infants can be easily avoided by following a few simple guidelines:

https://search.proquest.com/openview/c69504a589a312d91f4b3b86c504388b/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=41610

4. Does My Child Have Physical Developmental Delays?

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/MotorDelay/Pages/default.aspx



Megan Cheek, PT
Physical Therapist, Pediatrics