Development Series: Part 1 – What Your Child Doesn’t Need

The majority of my posts have been related to my status as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner but as I am branching my focus to empower ‘moms’ through all stages of motherhood I have a strong desire to start discussing topics related to my “day job.” I have been a pediatric physical therapist for 7 years. While I have worked in a variety of settings and with a variety of ages and diagnoses, my true passion lies in working with the babies and their parents. Empowering parents to support their child(ren)’s development.

That is what brings me to today’s topic – what do you need to support your child’s development? The answer is next to nothing. Before you stop reading, hear me out. I’m going to start this two part series by telling you what you really don’t need and why. Then, in Part 2, we will talk all about the things that are nice to have and can really add to your (and the baby’s) enjoyment of achieving milestones. These two posts are not ones to miss if you’re trying to figure out your baby registry!

What you don’t need: ‘play devices.’

Everything that props your kid up for ‘play’ in sitting, standing, in a reclined position (unless kiddo has reflux) or that swings to and fro. You know your prime real estate of floor space? These devices take up SO MUCH of it. And to top it all, then you have no floor space left for baby to actually explore and PLAY. Let’s delve a little into why you don’t need these things. Now, I promise you, this is a no judgement zone and I’m not telling you to get rid of all of these devices you might already have. You are not a bad parent if good marketing sucked you in! We will talk about when you can use them and how to limit it.

Swings, Reclined Rockers, etc
  • Of the devices, I believe these to be the most understandable of them all. Swings and fully supported reclined devices don’t foster many bad postural patterns or movement patterns. However, they really don’t allow for any movement. Babies from birth can wiggle quite a bit! (Have you seen those youtube videos of newborns literally crawling to their mother’s breast? It’s astonishing – google it!) This early wiggling can gradually turn into rolling and then all future movements. Kids might sleep better in these devices because they are secured and cocooned and might not even need a swaddle. Early reflexes that cause babies to startle often wake them up is sometimes limited in swing style objects but a strong swaddle can too! If you’re child has reflux, your physician may recommend a swing or reclined rocker for sleep to help with digestion. If your baby needs it, go for it! However, I recommend that you don’t buy any of these devices until you need them. If you’re child doesn’t know what a swing is, you don’t have to worry about them outgrowing it and needing to wean them out of it at 4 months old. I really only want your kids in these when they are sleeping, and honestly maybe just naps and not overnight. Don’t waste the space or the money if you don’t have to.
Sitting Activity Chairs, Bumbos, anything marketed to “help your baby sit”
  • These devices allow you to put your kiddo into a sitting position and ‘lock’ them their before they are sitting on their own. In order to keep your non-sitting kids safe, they lock the pelvis into a rounded position. Picture the position that a bored teenager sits in on the couch. Completely slouched and rounded from bottom to shoulders. Now I know that your baby doesn’t look like that in a bumbo or activity chair but this type of ‘sitting’ doesn’t help and may actually hinder development of appropriate postural muscles. The other thing that I’ve seen happen with these devices? Kids LOVE them. So now they don’t like belly time or back time. They love seeing the world at this new view. Sitting devices don’t allow room to learn how to move. The ability to move when the desire strikes can be everything! A child who wants to move but is locked in a Bumbo may just get frustrated. In part two, I will discuss high chairs – and I love them! So stayed tuned for more on that.
Exersaucers, Jumparoos, Walkers, Etc.
  • The marketing of helping your kid to walk is motivating, but I can honestly tell you that these devices will not support your child in independent walking. Independence is really what matters. I have had many clients who are so frustrated that their child loves to sit and can sit on the floor when placed but if he/she falls over, it’s tantrum central. Now imagine the kid that loves to stand – but also can’t get there on their own. In isolation and in typical development, being able to be stationary in these positions, but not able to obtain them, does nothing for your child’s independence.  All it does is lead to a lot of frustrations on everyone’s part. “But it strengthen’s their legs!” (Common Response) There is a reason that development happens from head to toes. (I’ll have a post about this later). Typically developing children have no need to ‘strengthen’ their legs in a standing position until they are actually standing by themselves.  Ideally, we want them to strengthen their necks on their backs and bellys, then their core gets stronger as they play with their toes and start moving on their belly. After they start getting into hands and knees – their hips start to strengthen and THEN they pull to stand and start to develop lower leg and foot strength. Nature meant for it to happen in this pattern for a reason. A walker who has not spent enough time in the other positions might be less safe during falls than one that went through the stages at their natural – unpropped – pace.
So can you ever use these devices?\

Yes. If you’re child is on the floor for the majority of their awake time, then 20 minutes of any of these devices shouldn’t hinder development too much.  I get it. The laundry needs to be folded, dinner cooked, other kids cared for, etc. You need your child safe and secure at all times. In the second series of this topic I will discuss ways to support development and keep your child safe but for now, don’t beat yourself up over occasional use. If your child can already get into sitting on his/her own, then go ahead and use one of the sitting devices! Same goes for standing. If your child can get into standing then you can use a standing/jumping devices. Remember though, that the point of these devices are to contain and that your child will not learn how to move while in containment.

What about childcare settings?

This is a tough one. As an early intervention (ages 0-3) provider, I have experienced the good, bad and ugly with childcare centers. In general, they all mean well! They are there to keep your kids safe, happy, clean(ish) and well fed. Developmental stimulation is on the list, sort of. But think about this, infant ratios are typically 4 to 1 or 5 to 1. Imagine having quintuplets. You’re going to have to do things differently. Now imagine that 2 of your kids are crawling and starting to walk, 1 is rolling and learning to crawl, and 2 pretty much just lay there. That’s the daycare setting. You have 11 month old babies climbing on top of 6 week old infants and that just can’t happen! So what are their options? Put little baby in a swing and/or older baby in a jumparoo. Do I like it? No, but I get it. The providers I have worked with have always been supportive when I discourage use of X, Y and Z for my child or my clients. I always give the caveat of “safety first” but as long as it’s safe put my baby on the floor. Honestly, I rather baby be awake in the crib (a nice flat surface to wiggle around) to be kept safe over a device. Have the conversation, educate your child’s provider. You will still see them in devices from time to time but it will be okay.

For the home setting, I encourage avoidance of devices for at least the first year of life. Honestly, most kids grow out of them by 4-6 months and then you have to figure out how to get rid of or store them. All your child needs is some floor space and a couple of motivating items. Toys, kitchen utensils, pets, YOU. That’s really it. But me, I still like stuff, so in part two, I will tell you about all the things that I like to have so as to not hinder my child’s development.

Leave a question or comment! Would you like to see more posts like this?

Part 2 Coming Soon!

Beth