Are baby jumpers & other 'containers' safe for your baby?
Baby containers. Are they good? Bad? Or is it more about how we’re using them? Dr Ainslee, chiropractor and parent educator explains...
What do baby jumpers, prams, bumbos, capsules, high chairs and baby walkers all have in common? They all fall into the category of 'baby containers'.
The phrase 'baby container' is typically confusing – people hear it and either think it means a small Tupperware container, or if they are familiar with the phrase they consider that baby jumpers are 'terrible' and will 'deform' your child. For people who think the latter or those new to the conversation around baby containers, the considerations around them are complex.
A baby jumper isn’t inherently bad. They generally clip in to a door frame, and have a spring and a harness for a baby. What determines whether the baby jumper is 'good or bad' is the impact the jumper has on a child’s safety and development, and this is dictated by how it is being used. The baby jumper isn’t the problem, the problem lies in the lack of education available for parents on how to use baby jumpers. This extends to all baby containers. It’s important for parents to know how to use them in a way that optimises and facilitates development rather than creating safety and development risks.
WHAT EDUCATION ARE PARENTS MISSING AROUND THE USE OF BABY CONTAINERS?
In some countries it is illegal to sell baby containers. This is due to the high injury risk combined with the negative impact on the child’s development (for example, from sit-in walkers). Here in New Zealand we are none the wiser and don’t seem to be taking any initiative to change this. So what can we do to protect our children? The answer is that we need to provide education for parents on how to use baby containers appropriately.
It is impossible to move through life without using baby containers and there are some absolutely incredible ones such as car seats and capsules that are literally saving the lives of our children. The thing about baby containers is that they are on a spectrum, much like everything else in life. The use of baby containers isn’t as black and white as some people make it out to be. By making sweeping statements like "Baby jumpers are terrible" or "Baby jumpers are amazing" we are actually fuelling the fire of mistruths and judgement on parents in a world where there is already enough of that.
HOW CAN PARENTS USE BABY CONTAINERS APPROPRIATELY?
There is always a time and a place for baby containers provided they are used appropriately. It is important to remember that the companies who make them are unregulated in New Zealand (unless they are a life-saving device). This means anyone can make and sell anything, and profit may be more of a motivation than your child’s development. Also, the instructions accompanying baby containers are sparse and state generic one-liners that cover them from a legal standpoint, such as "Never leave unattended in this device". Baby containers often come with little information on how to use them in a way that fosters and supports your child’s development, and fail to mention that when used in the wrong way can be unsafe for children from an injury and development perspective.
SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US AND WHY DOES BABY CONTAINER USE MATTER?
We have reached a point where baby containers are considered the norm. Every household has them and the marketing is impossible to get away from as a parent. Baby container culture is embedded in our society, it shows up on our Instagram feeds, in our TV shows, at our toy libraries and at our friends’ and families’ homes.
Human beings are amazing, we’ve been learning to walk without the aid of baby containers in their various forms for millennia. We don’t need baby containers to teach babies to walk, or to strengthen their legs. In fact, research has shown us that facilitating milestones (such as walking) before a baby is neurologically ready, will not help a baby complete that motor skill.
There are many other types of baby containers and there is definitely a way you can use all of them safely. Let’s take one baby container – the baby jumper, and discuss it further...
THE BABY JUMPER
Consisting of a bracket that clips into a door frame, a spring, and a harness that the baby sits/stands in while they bounce, baby jumpers were marketed well and busted onto the retail scene in the 1950s with an overarching claim of being ‘the world’s leading baby exerciser’. Additional marketing statements have included:
+ "Practise pre-walking skills” – We now know that babies don’t need to ‘practise’ walking to be able to walk, and 'practising walking' can take time away from learning other important skills such as rolling, crawling, sitting, pulling to stand, etc.
+ “Baby will sleep better and have a better appetite” – Baby sleep is physiological, lots of babies need to wake up to feed, regardless of what you do with them throughout the day.
+ “Scientifically designed” – They may have been 60 years ago, but we now know that this design isn’t ideal for the age they recommend use for (from 3 months of age).
+ “Make a wise investment in increased freedom for yourself (the parent)” – This plays on parents' emotions in an unfair way and also implies you can walk away from the baby while in the baby jumper, when in fact a child in a baby container should always be closely supervised.
+ Some instructions state: "Use from 3 months of age, dangle so toes are just touching the floor for maximum control over the jumper” – More about this point below.
All of the above instructions for using this baby container do not keep baby development in mind. These are the guidelines they were sold with and which helped the item become a household staple. Arguably we are still riding the wave of that marketing campaign nearly 60 years on.
Taking what we know today, let's break down the development of a baby at 3 months old. At 3 months of age:
+ Reflexes in that child will be triggered, so they look like they want to jump, but actually have zero conscious control over it to begin with.
+ The baby is unlikely to have good enough head control to reliably say that their airways wouldn’t be put at risk while jumping when they get tired.
+ A baby isn’t weight bearing yet, they don’t have the physical strength, coordination or bone formation to be able to pull to stand yet. So why would we place them in a position that could potentially risk their natural development progression?
SO HOW DO WE USE A BABY JUMPER IN A WAY THAT IS SAFE FOR DEVELOPMENT?
Wait until a baby can pull to stand by themselves and use the window of development between pulling to stand and learning to walk. For some babies this is a short window of time, for others you will get a decent few months. We would use the baby jumper for similar durations that a baby can stand themselves, most of the time babies will pull to stand for a few minutes and then move back to the ground, ideally we would mirror the natural movement patterns of the child when using baby jumpers.
Ideally, we would also position the baby so their feet were flat on the floor rather than toes only on the floor so that they have a stable base and can work on their stabilisation muscles and balance while in the baby jumper. Keep in mind that double foot jumping is a milestone for around two years old, so maybe they will stand there and booty drop or squat, but jumping isn’t necessarily the goal. Simple changes that align motor development with baby container function can make a big difference between a baby container facilitating and optimising development vs being an injury risk and potentially compromising structure.
Dr Ainslee is a chiropractor, baby development educator and mother. Ainslee lives in the Manawatu with her two year-old son, husband and dog. Find out more about her other passions at brainunderconstruction.co.nz or @ainsleechiro on Instagram.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 59 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW