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Baby containers – why they need to be limited

Baby containers – why they need to be limited

Let your baby have lots of free play on the floor

Article by Dr Lin Day

The next time you put your baby in a bouncer, walker or strap-in chair, think carefully. Studies show that too much time spent in them can prevent them babies from getting the exercise that they need for healthy development. 

If a rocker, bouncer, car seat or other restraining device is to be used, confinement should be limited to short periods of time only. Babies need plenty of opportunities to exercise their bodies and their brains in order to move on to the next stage of development. They also need to spend time in close contact with a loving adult. 

It makes sense to put your baby in a car seat when travelling, but use should be restricted to car journeys only. Head control can be delayed in babies who spend too much time in car seats and other restraining devices.

A baby walker may give your baby a sense of mobility and freedom, but it can delay the development of muscles in the upper body. Your baby may also miss out the crawling stage, which is a crucial developmental milestone. Baby walkers allow babies to move very quickly, but if unsupervised, they may crash into furniture, fall over steps or tip over into a heater or fire. Walkers are responsible for about 24 thousand reported accidents every year. In some countries, the sale of baby walkers has been banned.

Most babies enjoy the exhilaration of exercising in a doorway bouncer.  However, overuse can lead to spine and back problems in later life. Babies can also develop foot and joint problems from pushing up on their toes. Babies need to develop essential balance and stability skills by themselves. 

Containers that hem the baby in by enclosing their legs are also potentially dangerous. Some babies react by arching their backs and by throwing themselves backwards or forwards in an attempt to escape. Serious injury to the head may be sustained if the baby falls out of the seat and on to the floor. 

High chairs are permanent fixtures in most homes. Unless safety straps are used, babies are at an increased risk of sustaining skull and limb fractures when they try to stand up.  Brain concussion or even death can also occur if the baby falls out of the chair.

What are the alternatives?

Some containers are less restrictive than others. An old-fashioned pram or a play pen can keep your baby safe during busy periods. A wearable sling carrier or wrap offers a useful alternative to a conventional container. The carrier keeps your baby close to your body where he or she feels safe and secure. Your baby will also benefit from the extra stimulation of looking around and seeing the world, and you will benefit from being able to get on with daily chores. 

The consequences of spending too long in a container are only just beginning to emerge. Problems such as clumsiness, poor posture, eye problems and delayed motor skills have been linked to their misuse. 

Babies have an in-built drive to be mobile from birth. Through exercise, your baby’s muscles grow strong and the brain becomes increasingly proficient at controlling complex actions. Freedom of movement improves sleep patterns, reduces stress and frustration and boosts the immune system. Exercise also helps to protect against heart disease and obesity in later life.

To keep your baby’s body and brain healthy, a container should only be used when absolutely necessary. If your baby appears uncomfortable or starts to fuss, then close physical comfort should be provided. Alternatives, such as a wearable sling carrier could be considered during busy times. However, the best solution is to get your baby out of the container and on the floor to encourage mobility skills and overall brain development. 

Further reading:

Day, L. (2008). In praise of tummy time. Early Years Educator 10 (1): 36- 38.

Day, L. (2009). Solitary confinement (baby containers). Early Years Educator 10 (12):


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Tummy Time – Top Tips

Tummy Time – Top Tips

Article by Dr Lin Day

Tummy time is an essential aspect of development from birth.

It promotes:

  • Healthy development of the central nervous system and brain
  • Strong neck, back and upper body muscles
  • Balance, coordination, stability and postural skills
  • Flat hand development, which increases precision finger and thumb
  • Rolling over
  • Visual development
  • Crawling – an essential developmental milestone not to be missed.

If your baby finds being on his tummy physically uncomfortable, introduce tummy time gradually, two or three times a day for a few minutes. It will eventually become part of your baby’s daily routine and he will learn, play and practice essential head control movements in this position. Make sure your baby is safe and attended.

How to make tummy time fun:

  1. Keep your baby company on the floor. Coo, sing or make funny sounds to encourage him to lift up his head.
  2. Roll up a towel and place it under your baby’s chest. Extend your baby’s arms forwards over the towel. This supported position allows your baby to lift up his head and look around, which improves focusing ability and strengthens neck muscles.
  3. Place your baby on his back. Slowly pull your baby up to a sitting position (hold your baby under his arms). Hold him there for a few seconds and then ease him back down again.
  4. Place a safety mirror or favourite toy in front of your baby and draw his attention to it. The object will encourage your baby to lift up his head to get a better look.
  5. Shake a rattle or bell to one side of your baby to  encourage him to turn towards the sound.
  6. Encourage creeping movements by placing interesting toys out of reach.
  7. Lie on your back and put your baby on your tummy or chest. Say your baby’s name to encourage him to raise his head to get a better look at you.
  8. Place your baby on his tummy across one arm. Your baby’s head will rest in the crook of your arm, but his legs will dangle free. Rock your baby in this position.
  9. Place your baby across your legs and pat his back. Patting will encourage your baby to lift up his head and straighten his legs.
  10. Place your baby on your lap facing your knees. Draw up your knees so that he can see what’s going on. He’ll probably love the new view.
  11. Put your baby on the edge of the bed and sit on the floor with your face next to his. From this position, you can interact and play together.
  12. Put your baby on his tummy over a beach or gym ball and hold him firmly while you gently rock the ball back and forth. Your baby will learn to shift his body weight, which improves balance and coordination.
  13. Roll a ball over your baby’s back, legs and arms. It’s a great way to stimulate his skin and relieve tension.
  14. Place a ball in front of your baby and within easy reach. As soon as he touches the ball, it will roll away. Your baby will either ‘swim’ or on his tummy or lift himself up on his forearms in an attempt to reach it.
  15. Exercise or massage your baby while he lies on his tummy.
  16. When your baby can sit up unaided, place an interesting toy in front of him. He
    may end up on his tummy when he tries to grab it. In this position, he make may
    crawling movements, which is good for his brain development
  17. Avoid putting your baby in a recliner or restraining device unless absolutely
    necessary. Your baby needs to be able to move and coordinate his movements
    without restriction.
  18. Spending time with your baby and giving plenty of praise and encouragement will
    soon make tummy time a pleasurable habit.

Tummy time is an essential aspect of development because it leads on to crawling. Crawling fires groups of neurons (brain cells) in different parts of the cortex responsible for visual processing, sensory perception, conscious planning and prediction. It also activates eye-teaming, a crucial skill in learning to read.

Crawling is a key period in your baby’s physical and intellectual development and it only takes a few minutes of daily tummy time to start seeing results.

Babies who spend most of their waking hours on their backs may experience delays in developmental milestones. If you have any concerns about your  baby’s development, see your GP.

Further reading:
Day, L. (2008). In praise of tummy time. Early Years Educator 10 (1): 36- 38.
Day, L.(2009). Solitary confinement (baby containers). Early Years Educator 10 (12): 41-43.

Article by Dr Lin DayBaby Sensory © 2011 (updated January 2018)

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