Modern parents already have plenty to worry about with ongoing debates on what’s healthiest and safest for little ones. But “container baby syndrome” is caused by everyday things that all parents do with their babies. It’s a serious problem that is cropping up more in recent years, and many babies wind up with head and face deformities, muscle problems, speech, sight, hearing, and thinking issues, and even obesity.
Physical therapists across the country are issuing recommendations for parents who are dealing with container baby syndrome, but it all comes down to prevention for new parents.
As much as we all want to purchase every cute baby-related item on the market, having too many “containers” for babies only leads to physical and cognitive challenges that can follow your baby throughout his or her life.
Babies are meant to move, explore, and learn about their environment. When they’re in a container all the time, those things can’t happen.
Parents mean well, but taking a serious look at how much time babies spend in enclosed spaces, and particularly on their backs, can help avoid potential dangers now and later in life. Here are fifteen everyday things that can actually cause container baby syndrome.
15 Baby In A Bucket
For most parents expecting their first (or second or subsequent!) baby, an infant car seat is high on the list of priorities. While most infants over five pounds can usually fit in a convertible seat that stays in the car, infant car seats are hugely popular because of their portability. Not having to wake a sleeping baby to get them in and out of the car is a convenience most parents aren’t willing to give up.
However, Move Forward PT explains that although car seats are meant to keep babies safe in the car, letting babies stay in their infant seats for more than just car trips can cause them to develop head and face deformities. Flat head syndrome is unfortunately common today, and overusing car seats as places for babies to nap and sit is one of the main reasons.
14 Bounce Baby Bounce
So many babies fuss and cry whenever someone’s not holding them, so bouncers are a lifesaver for parents of picky babies. Plus, eventually your arms get tired, no matter how adorable that bundle is. But baby bouncers are another container that can cause problems for infants who are in them too much. Improper spine alignment can mess with babies’ development, but staying at floor level while everyone else is up high doesn’t do much for their social development either.
Other physical concerns include muscle problems and coordination issues. Especially for older babies, being strapped in to a bouncy seat prevents normal coordination and muscle development. Of course, the older a baby gets, the more dangerous these seats become since little ones just want to explore and can wiggle out of a three-point harness system.
13 Toe To Toe Jumping
According to Livestrong, baby jumpers might be fun for little ones, but they’re not actually beneficial in any way. In fact, they’re bad for babies’ development. Particularly when they’re younger, babies have a hard time controlling their body movements while in a jumper. Also, the sling that baby jumpers use positions baby with hip, crotch, and under-arm support, which tilts them over.
In addition to potential muscle problems, jumpers also teach babies to push off with their toes to bounce. That can delay their first steps since they become used to toe-stepping instead of using both feet to hold their body weight. All of this can cause posture problems and developmental delays, so jumpers likely aren’t worth the risk. There are also safety risks involved with letting infants dangle in unsupportive containers like doorway or spring jumpers.
12 Sitting One Out
Bumbo seats have exploded in popularity, with the manufacturers claiming everything from social and cognitive benefits to improved posture in infants. But as the Chicago Tribune reported, Bumbo’s claims toward child development are seriously flawed. A physical therapist and director of developmental, rehabilitative, and child life services reviewed the company’s statements and had a bone to pick with their claims.
The physical therapist stated that the Bumbo chair puts undue pressure on the spine and neck, as the seat makes babies move their heads forward to compensate for the bend in their backs. It also forces infants into a position that they’re physically not ready for. Babies learn best by exploring and learning to sit on their own, and plopping them in a Bumbo or similar design chair only forces them to stay seated.
11 Carry On Mama
You might think that because you wear your baby in a wrap or carrier most of the time, you’ll avoid the dangers of container syndrome. But if your baby isn’t properly positioned in his or her carrier, you could be harming them. According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, the “frog” position is the healthiest for developing hips, and that requires that the thighs are supported without pressure. Hips and knees should be bent- and this is usually the position newborns naturally adopt outside the womb (unless they’re breech!).
Baby carriers without hip support, where baby’s legs dangle straight down, are the worst for hip development, the Institute notes. The best position for babies in carriers is similar to a seated position- bottom and hips supported, knees slightly bent, and legs open.
10 Say No To The Swaddle
We’ve heard all about the dangers of suffocation due to swaddling, and yet many parents swear by it as the best way to calm and soothe babies. But swaddling isn’t just dangerous if babies wind up covered by their wraps- it can also damage their hips. The International Hip Dysplasia Institute maintains that improper swaddling can lead to dysplasia, because straightening babies’ legs can loosen their joints and damage the soft cartilage in their hip sockets.
Babies’ hips should be able to flex within any sleep sack or swaddle system, although the Institute agrees that there are benefits to swaddling babies, just not their lower half. You can still swaddle while letting baby’s legs bend naturally, but strapping their legs down is just another way babies are impacted by container parenting from day one.
9 Stop Strolling At Night
We’ve all been there: you take baby for a walk to calm her down, or out of necessity, and when you arrive home, she’s sleeping. It might be tempting to leave her in the stroller for a nap, or even to sleep for a few hours at night. But Move Forward PT cautions against this, because it’s another contributing factor to babies developing flat spots and posture problems.
Especially for young babies who can’t sit up yet, some strollers don’t offer the right support or positioning for their floppy frames. Babies who routinely sleep in their strollers can have not only flat spots on their heads, but also neck or spine problems. The alternative- transferring baby to a crib or play pen- allows for older infants to roll over or change position. Plus, lying flat on their back for sleep is preferable for safety reasons anyway.
8 Chair To Chair Swap
Mom Nicole Sergent at Starfish Therapies shared that with her first child, she accepted every “container” that well-meaning family and friends gifted her. As a result, her baby went from one container to another throughout their day. Crib, high chair, exersaucer, bouncy seat, crib, high chair, Bumbo chair, swing, and around and around again.
As a therapist, Sergent finally recognized that babies in containers aren’t able to wiggle, squirm, or move. Being confined causes many children that Sergent sees in her practice to wind up with huge motor delays. Babies might be able to sit up well, but they lack skills in rolling, crawling, kneeling, and standing. Sadly, this isn’t due to medical issues or neurological/orthopedic issues- it’s because they spend most of their time in containers. High chairs are just another culprit that babies spend lots of time in.
7 Walking Too Early
Did you know that in 2004, Canada banned the use of baby walkers? So many babies were getting injured or even dying because walkers allowed them to get to dangerous places, or trapped them before parents were able to come to the rescue. Beyond that, pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene told the New York Times that there is not benefit to baby walkers, and that they delay motor development and mental development.
These wheeled containers are not only dangerous because of how quickly babies can move, they’re dangerous because they let babies move beyond what their true abilities allow. Outside walkers, babies who use them typically lose about three days of development for every 24 hours total that they use a walker. That means only a few hours per day in a walker could result in serious delays lasting as long as ten months.
6 Positioning Pillows For Mom Only
Nursing pillows are a lifesaver for many moms, whether they’re nursing or not. These pillows help position babies for feeding time while giving caregivers’ arms a rest. But the problem with nursing pillows comes when mom or dad leaves baby propped up with one of those pillows. Many nursing pillows even come with built-in straps to position baby in a seated position, keeping baby’s spine in a curved position and preventing them from rolling.
For older babies, this is a serious safety concern due to their ability to wriggle out of the straps and become trapped. But beyond suffocation hazards, the same dangers exist with propping babies up in nursing pillows as with any other “container”. What’s best for baby is the freedom to move, especially when it comes to tummy time and practicing rolling over.
5 Swinging On And On
Consumer Reports cautions against leaving babies in swings for longer than thirty minutes, both for baby’s development and safety. Using this type of container for baby might help them get to sleep on their own in the beginning, Modern Mom notes, but later on babies can become dizzy as they try to focus their vision farther out as the swing continues to move.
Another drawback to containing babies in swings is the lack of movement in their bodies, apart from their necks and heads, and also the fact that they can’t see or hear caregivers when placed in a low-level swing that’s across the room from mom or dad. Babies are super social, so letting them be part of family life is positive for their development. There are also dangers like SIDS to worry about if baby sleeps in a swing, which new research cautions
4 Stop The Rocking
Baby rocking chairs are so cute and functional, whether baby enjoys gentle rocking or soothing vibrations. This is one piece of baby equipment most parents invest in, because it’s not always feasible to hold the baby when there are things you need to get done around the house. But baby rocking chairs are another container that can delay baby’s development and cause physical as well as cognitive issues.
Babies that don’t get to explore their environment experience delayed gross motor skills, Lifespan Therapies points out, like the ability to crawl, walk, jump, and climb. Babies with container baby syndrome can have delayed development of these motor milestones, but parents continue to contain them for convenience. A little rocking never hurt anyone, but if baby spends hours per day in his chair, it’s time to reexamine the daily routine.
3 Banning Babbling
Part of the problem with having babies contained so much is that parents are less likely to interact with them. Many therapists list speech disorders as a potential side effect of babies spending too much time in containers, and as sad as that is, that’s the result of parents getting too busy to spend time just chatting with their little ones.
Having some time to decompress is vital for both parents and kids, but if baby is left alone often when she’s awake and alert, parents are missing out on important developmental time. Babies absorb speech and social cues even in their first few weeks, and neglecting that part of their development happens more easily when they’re covered up in a car seat or on the floor in a bouncy chair.
2 Germaphobes On The Go
Most parents don’t like to take their infants to other people’s houses, or in public spaces, and let them crawl around or explore. Enter portable baby containers, like pop-up chairs or activity centers. Parents often take these containers on the go to keep little ones quarantined away from pets, dirt, or other unknowns in strange environments.
Society’s obsession with cleanliness (but what baby hasn’t eaten off the floor at least once?) causes parents to want to corral their kids rather than let them get a little messy. That has increased babies’ developmental challenges as they deal with being confined close to the floor while adults and older kids move about freely and interact. That’s not to say you should let your child explore in dangerous conditions, but making sure babies are always buckled in somewhere doesn’t help their development.
1 Don’t Put Baby Down
With the emergence of all types of baby carriers, slings, and wraps, more parents than ever are avoiding strollers and car seats for extended periods. While carrying babies close to mom or dad helps their social development, never putting them down to explore on the ground can still hamper their development. With younger babies, carrying them is preferable to using a stroller or car seat, but when there’s a safe place for baby to explore on ground-level, parents should let them have at it.
At a time when many parents are striving for healthy attachment to their babies, it’s hard to fathom that little ones need their own space or methods of exploration, but that’s exactly the case. Putting baby down isn’t bad for their development- in fact, it’s the way they’ll learn about the world around them and grow their bodies and their minds.