Everywhere I go I see babies looking at the world from the five-point-harness of a car seat. These car seats are truly incredible! They snap right out of their base and transform into a carrier in a stroller, a carrier in a shopping cart, even a high chair by flipping a restaurant high chair upside down and snapping that car seat right in! I recently observed a young mother push her baby into the park in a car seat attached to a stroller, remove the car seat from the stroller, then place the baby still in the car seat onto the play equipment! Babies can leave their house, ride in the car, go to the grocery store, “play” at the park, and go out for lunch and never leave their car seat. What ever did our mothers do without them? Car seats protect babies in cars and they certainly are convenient, but at what cost?
A recent research study replicated a study done in the 1940’s in which researchers tested children ages three, five, and seven for motor skills and coordination. Startling results: today’s five-year-olds tested at the same level as three-year-olds from 60 years ago. They found a two-year delay compared to 60 years ago across the board! Researchers delved a little deeper. 60 years ago the norm for walking was eight to ten months, now it is 12-15 months. This has left a lot of scientists scratching their heads. I too was shocked, until I took a look around, that is.
What else happened in the past 60 years, besides the “removable car seat craze”? In 1992 researchers discovered that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) could be prevented by placing babies on their back to sleep, and in 1997 the “Back to Sleep Campaign” was launched. In subsequent years babies began falling an average of six months behind on their milestones and early developmental skills, but experts say back-sleeping has reduced the incidence of SIDS by more than 50 percent. Are we trading milestones for safety? It is 2011, can’t we have both?
Of course we need car seats, in the car! let’s leave them there. I watch my 5’2” sister struggle to carry her 15 pound six-month-old around in the ten pound car seat. No wonder she is seeing an orthopedist for her sore shoulder.
The other issue researchers think contributes to the lost skills over the past 60 years is all the bouncy seats, swings, and vibrating chairs out there. Babies are spending more time than ever in “containers” and they are losing important skills because of it. There is even a term for it. Babies requiring therapy because of the flattening of the back of their heads are called “container babies” or “bucket babies”, but nobody seems to be taking notice because it is the new norm. Babies with flat heads who are always strapped in something is the norm?!? Are we really okay with this? If we are changing the shape of babies skulls, what is happening to their brain inside?
Of course we need to keep putting our babies to sleep on their backs, but what about play time? During awake, alert play time babies should be spending a minimum of twenty minutes per day on their tummies from day one, and by six months, babies should be on their tummies for at least two hours a day. Tummy time is when babies develop neck and trunk strength, begin to roll and crawl, and improve their vision skills and motor skills. It is so vital to early development, and yet a lot of babies never get tummy time anymore.
My children are 12 and nine, and my sister’s children (whom I often take care of) are six months and two and my brother’s baby is just three weeks old, so I am not that far removed. I know sometimes when a baby is sleeping it is just so much easier to keep them in the car seat instead of waking them up and we need two hands to make dinner. I understand the need for these items to get through the day. So what is a busy mother who needs to run errands and cook dinner to do? How can we keep our babies safe and also make sure they reach their milestones?
How about we use slings instead of car seats to carry babies around in public? Our hands are free, we are not injuring our shoulders, and babies are safe and close to our bodies, but still have free movement. Use vertical slings for older babies and horizontal slings for newborns, but lower the fabric so they can see out of it. As soon as babies have some trunk support, we can use those handy germ-free cloth inserts in shopping carts and place the baby right in the cart. That way babies can practice trunk stability and head control while we shop.
We can make tummy time a priority during play time and replace the bouncy seat in the corner of the kitchen with a pack and play. Put your baby on her tummy with a few toys around her while you make dinner.
Let’s liberate the babies! Building awareness is half the battle and when we know better we do better. Help spread the word, leave the car seats in the car as much as possible, and allow tummy time several times throughout the day.