For a first time parent, standing in a Babies R Us equipment aisle is an overwhelming experience. With all of the advertisements and Consumer Reports, it’s hard to tell which piece of equipment to use with your child. There are bouncers, swings, Bumbo seats, ExerSaucers, and more. So, what do you really need?
The answer – nothing! Truthfully, most infants are happy simply being held and listening to familiar voices. When awake and not being held, infants are best on their stomachs on the floor, where they can explore their bodies and develop motor skills. But this is an unrealistic proposition. Parents still must have time for daily household activities like laundry, cooking, and dishes. You also deserve a shower, maybe even a relaxing bath.
So what do you do with your baby when holding them or placing them on the floor is not an option? This may be a very appropriate time to place your baby in their crib or playpen. You may think this would also be a good time to place your baby in special equipment, like walkers or Exersaucers? There are many different opinions…
Studies indicate the two leading causes of head injuries in babies are from the use of walkers and falling from baby furniture. Other studies indicate 40 percent of babies are injured during the use of a walker – falling down stairs, climbing out of the device, or tipping over in the device. In most instances parents were present and supervising their baby prior to the injury, but were unable to react fast enough to prevent the injury.
When placed in a walker or equipment that allows a baby to stand, the baby uses mostly the muscles in the back of the leg. This is especially true in the beginning as they will often push forward leaning their chest on the support surface and rise up on tip-toes to move the device using both feet together. This position does not allow the same use of the muscles at the front of the legs or the use of tummy muscles. Walking requires equal use and strength of both the front and back leg muscles. In these types of equipment, the baby’s balance point or center of gravity is lower and behind the normal balance point when leaning forward in equipment. Further, normal balance reactions and arms are not used in the same manner as normal walking.
You are now asking, what are the possible long-term health risks of what we just described? Without the proper development of leg muscles and balance there is an increased risk of muscle weakness and tightness which can lead to future surgeries and expensive medical bills. We treat children who develop into “toe-walkers” which causes the foot and calf to shorten and tighten, eventually requiring surgery to release the muscles and realign the foot. We also treat children with muscle weakness at the front of their leg, or at their hips and knees, causing many challenges with basic movements like dressing or walking up stairs. Not all children will develop these issues with the use of these types of equipment, but the possibility exists.
If you find you have acquired a myriad of equipment, our recommendation is to limit the time your baby spends in equipment. We understand you cannot hold your baby all day. The floor may not always be the best option with older kids or pets around. If you want to use walkers or ExerSaucers, the maximum amount of time per day in any piece of equipment should be 15 minutes. Please note: you should always supervise your baby closely in equipment to decrease the incidence of an injury. As always, encourage your baby to spend most of their “play” time on the floor sitting, crawling, cruising and perfecting other motor skill milestones.