Shout out to family and friends. You get flooded with advice. You register. You get baby equipment. You give birth. You use the “awesome” baby equipment — then you get worried because baby isn’t meeting milestones.
I see this scenario quite often. My name is Monica Powers, and I am a physical therapist at Fisher-Titus Medical Center. I provide services to Huron County through the Help Me Grow and Early Intervention programs. I have been a physical therapist for more than 20 years, with a focus in pediatrics for about half that time.
I have seen many healthy babies referred to therapy because they are just not moving and meeting milestones, and I’ve discovered that many of these babies have what I like to call “Equipment Induced Delay.” When babies are not asleep or eating, they should be spending time on the floor.
Simply working against gravity helps to strengthen muscles. When babies are spending their play time in a Bumbo, Exersaucer, Jumparoo, Kangaroo, swing or bouncer, their bodies are being supported against gravity by equipment, instead of their muscles doing the work to push up, sit up, pull up and stand up against gravity. The place where baby needs to spend the most time is on the floor, starting with belly time.
Babies are born with innate reflexes that drive movement and development. Any equipment that inhibits natural reflexes from being used and integrated can lead to delays. When baby has no muscle tone or strength, equipment can place them in harmful postural alignment.
Floor time and belly time gives babies the opportunity to do what they are hardwired to do. Their use of reflexes helps promote head control and strength, core strength, crawling and protective reactions. Equipment can take away the valuable opportunity to play on the floor; it can also take away their drive to work against gravity to sit up and see the world in an upright position, because the equipment does the work for them.
Lack of floor time can lead to lazy and weak muscles. Baby loses the desire and strength to move. Now baby gets fussy when placed on the floor because s/he is communicating that s/he wants to see the world upright, and doesn’t want to work so hard to do so. The exact thing babies need — floor time and belly time — is the exact thing they hate.
No floor time limits baby’s exposure to pushing up off the floor to stretch his/her hands and strengthen shoulders. It also limits the opportunity to rock on hands and knees to strengthen hips and core muscles. If baby can’t rock on hands and knees, then baby can’t crawl. If baby can’t crawl, then s/he can’t get to furniture in order to pull up into a standing position. If baby isn’t standing, then baby isn’t cruising; if baby isn’t cruising, then baby isn’t walking. Development is a series of building blocks. These blocks are needed for a stable foundation.
Equipment can also rob your baby of cuddle time. Holding your baby warmly and securely will give him/her a sense of security to bring about independence when s/he is developmentally ready.
So what developmental equipment do you need?
• Crib: Baby needs a safe place to sleep
• Playpen or play yard: Baby needs a safe place to play, especially if you have pets or other children
• High chair: Baby needs a place to eat
• Stroller: Lets baby see the world without being held
What equipment is OK?
• Swings and bouncy seats: Used in moderation; make sure baby gets plenty of floor time
• Exersaucer: Use in moderation after baby can sit up on his/her own, and the whole foot can touch the floor
What equipment is not recommended?
• Bumbo seats: Act as a cast on baby’s pelvis and weakens their buttock muscles
• Walkers with a sling support: Use a push grocery cart or push walker instead
By Monica Powers is a licensed physical therapist for Fisher-Titus Medical Center and Huron County Early Intervention. Huron County Help Me Grow Home Visiting and Early Intervention are programs under the umbrella of the Huron County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which provides services to qualifying individuals throughout their lifespan. Call us at 419-663-4769 with any questions or concerns about your child under the age of three; for questions about services that are available to older children and adults, call 419-668-8840.