What does it feel like for an infant to be in a high chair, exersaucer or Bumbo seat for long periods of time? What is the intent behind using this type of equipment? Is it helpful, beneficial, or—goodness forbid—harmful?
Confining equipment is furniture that, in any way, limits the way an infant can move their body. Some of these types of equipment can be helpful. For instance, a high chair can be used for meal times or for a sensory experience. Caregivers may find a swing helpful when they do not have enough hands to rock a baby that likes it and hold another child while she takes a bottle at the same time. Sometimes these pieces of equipment are used just because they are there or because they are thought to provide entertainment to infants. Why else would they exist? They are made for infants, right?
Marketing has led us to believe that certain products can “promote” development. Bumbo seats are supposed to help “aide” children in learning how to sit up but they can have a negative effect on children’s posture. Exersaucers are thought to help a child learn how to stand but this standing position is unnatural for infants and can cause misalignment to their spine. If you are looking to promote an infant’s motor development, they will benefit most if they are given freedom of movement.
The floor is your best free resource! That, with some classic tummy time can greatly impact a child’s ability to learn all they need to know about how to move their bodies. As infants become more aware of the world around them, they naturally become curious about how to get to the people and objects that are around them. They begin by finding their own hands and feet. They suck on them and watch as they move their fingers and hands. They eventually learn that they can hold a finger, a rattle, their bottle. Eventually, infants find a way to roll, scoot and wiggle to get around, which leads to crawling, cruising and walking.
The truth is infants need very little help from us to learn how to achieve these milestones. Infants are hardwired to move! But—there are some things that caregivers can do. You can prop a book next to an infant on the floor or place a toy just out of reach for an infant that is beginning to reach, roll or scoot. You can also refrain from rescuing an infant when they are stuck in a “compromising situation.” Instead, let them know that you are there for them when they are ready for your help and encourage them to figure out a way to solve the problem. You will not only be promoting their motor development, but also their cognitive and social/emotional development.
In my perfect world, programs would get rid of confining equipment like swings, bouncy seats, exersaucers and Bumbos, or at least limit their use. Until then, I encourage caregivers to think about these questions: What is the intention behind using confining equipment? What research is out there that can help you determine if any one type of equipment has any long lasting effects on a child’s development? How long are infants spending time in confining equipment? How can you support an infant’s freedom of movement?