Swings, jumpers, exersaucers, walkers, carriers, oh my! The possibilities for gadgets for babies to play in are endless. While these toys are a good tool for parents who need baby to play safely while they attend to tasks in the home with their hands free, extended times in toys that confine babies or “containers” can be detrimental to motor development delaying crawling, walking, and contributing to muscle weakness and lack of coordination.
It’s no secret that babies are usually fans of infant swings. The rocking and swinging can be soothing to a fussy infant. While a baby who is content in the swing for long periods of time may be a relief to parents as they tend to other things, excessive time spent laying at an incline in a swing can result in unfortunate musculoskeletal deficits. Laying on the back for a long period of time is one of the contributing factors to conditions such as plagiocephaly and torticollis. Infants need plenty of time to spend on the floor and doing tummy time to develop neck, core, and upper extremity muscles.
As infants grow, they enter a stage where they are curious about the world around them and want to see all that is happening. However, in the early part of this stage, they are not mobile or developed enough to sit themselves up on their own. During this time period, parents often turn to equipments such as exersaucers, jumpers, and walkers to help their baby play and be entertained safely. While these activities are fine in small, monitored amounts, long periods of time spent in these devices can result in gross motor developmental delays or even be dangerous.
Spending long amounts of time in equipment that keeps babies defined does not allow them to be down on the floor, exploring and developing critical core and upper extremity muscles that are necessary for development. While this equipment allows children to bounce, stand and walk, they do so without the necessary aspect of balance that is needed for further motor development and learning to perform those skills independently.
Not only can walkers contribute to delays in motor development, they can also be dangerous. Walkers can give a false sense of security that the baby is safe contained in the walker. However, there are many reported cases of infant injury such as falling down stairs while using infant walkers. Studies have shown that walkers can actually impede motor development.
While most of the latest gear for babies can be good in moderation, especially for exhausted parents looking to entertain their little one for a few minutes, excessive time spent confined without given room to play, explore, and test out those developing muscles can delay motor development during the critical first year.