It’s hard to walk through baby stores without feeling like you need absolutely everything on the shelves. But, when it comes to devices that restrain your baby, less is probably best. Today we’re learning all about the concept of “container babies” and the potential harmful effects it could have on your child’s development.
Container Babies: The Danger of Infant Restraints
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WENDI MCKENNA: What is a container baby? Why are containers so popular? What alternatives are there? Why should I have floor time with my baby or even wear my baby? I'm Wendi McKenna, pediatric physical therapist and this is Newbies.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Welcome to Newbies broadcasting from the Birth Education Center of San Diego. Newbies is your online, on-the-go Support group guiding new mothers through their baby's first year. I'm your host, Kristen Stratton. I'm also a certified birth doula, postpartum doula and owner of In Due Season Doula Services.
If you haven't already, be sure to visit our website at www.newmommymedia.com and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. You can also subscribe to our show through iTunes so you'll automatically get new episodes when they're released. Sunny's here to tell us about the other ways you can participate in our new show.
SUNNY GAULT: Okay. We'd love to hear from our listeners and there are some great segments that you guys can participate in. We'd love to hear from you. We have people already submitting for our Ask the Experts segment. That is a segment that you can send us your questions. Anything you're experiencing with your new baby and questions that you have and we'll have our experts answer them. And then we'll include them in future episode so you guys, everyone can fully benefit from the question that you asked. We have a fun segment where we talk about our Baby Oops. The funny things that we've done with our newborns and our babies through that first year. Maybe it wasn't funny when it actually happened, but in hindsight it's really funny. So we'd like to share that with our listeners. Those are just a couple of our segments. You can go for our website in the Newbies section and see all the different segments that you can submit for. If you're interested being part of those segments, you can go to the contact link on our website and send us your story that way and we'll work it into a future episode. Or if you'd actually like to tell the story yourself or you'd like to ask the question yourself, you could call our voicemail and that number is 619-866-4775 and we'll include that in a future episode and you can actually tell your own stories as opposed to me or Kristen being your mouth piece right?
KRISTEN STRATTON: Yes. Alright! Let's go ahead and meet our panelists. We have two in the studio and one on the phone. Let's start with Ruthii.
RUTHII SLATTUM: I’m Ruthii Slattum. 28 years old and I have a 5 year old boy, a 2 ½ year old girl and Pfeiffer is 3 months old and she's in the studio too. So you might hear from her a little bit.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Julie?
JULIE SCHMIDT: I'm Julie Schmidt. I am 55; I am a birth doula, postpartum doula and a mom and a wife. I have 10 kids and they range in age from 9 to 33.
KRISTEN STRATTON: And you're a grandma too.
JULIE SCHMIDT: Oh yes. I'm a grandma.
KRISTEN STRATTON: And we have Natalie calling from Texas.
NATALIE TAYLOR: Hi I'm Natalie. I'm 28 years old. I'm from a big family. I have 11 children now. I have twin fraternal 4 year old, 2 year old identical girls, I have 1 year old identical boys. I have a 10 month old baby girl and I just delivered a set of quadruplets who will be 3 weeks old tomorrow.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Alright. Well thanks for joining us.
SUNNY GAULT: Okay so before we start our discussion today on container babies, we are going to talk about a story. It's a nice heartfelt story because sometimes we need that as new moms. We need to hear really good stories. I don’t—one thing as a new mom what I was dreading was getting on a plane with one baby, let alone with four babies now. Trying to get on a plane is kind of crazy. Natalie, I don’t know how you would ever get on a plane with 11 children.
NATALIE TAYLOR: It's not possible.
SUNNY GAULT: Yes. I know right? I don’t think—let alone the cost of handling something like that.
NATALIE TAYLOR: I need a private plane.
SUNNY GAULT: This story though is really nice and heartwarming. There's a mother. She actually posted this to Facebook and I love that she did that. She was planning this flight from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Fort Rucker Alabama to surprise her husband who is a member of the US army and she just had a newborn baby. And again, she had all this kind of anxiety about getting on a plane – what are we going to do? As a new mom, I'm sure she was very sensitive to all the eyeballs that were watching her.
She was getting on the plane. She made her way back to the back of the plane which by the way, why do they always put us at the back of the plane. The bathroom? But they do usually let you on early. So if you’re going to the back of the plane, at least you getting on early. So we’re back to the back of the plane with her daughter Riley. She's making her way towards the back and she noticed that people were kind of giving her these eyeballs. There was another person that was sitting right next to her and she said in her words that she turned out to be a godsend. So basically this woman, her baby started crying and she just didn’t know what to do. And this woman next to her just took her baby and held her baby for this long – the entire flight which it doesn’t say how many miles that is. But if you think about Michigan to Alabama, that's pretty far right? Just to have that kind of help and support is just so amazing. It is just such a nice little start. What do you guys think about this?
KRISTEN STRATTON: I'm so relieved to hear a positive baby airplane story because in the last few months, it's been either problems with airlines not supporting breastfeeding, people getting annoyed, or moms having to make little goody bags for the people sitting next to them just so they would not get upset with them. I'm so relieved to hear a story where someone flew and had a positive experience with their newborn.
SUNNY GAULT: And that mom that took the baby, it says here that she's a mom of three. And she just remembered. She remembered what it's like to travel with babies. What do you think?
RUTHII SLATTUM: Oh I think it's amazing. Finally a good story.
SUNNY GAULT: Right? I know. Julie? What do you think?
JULIE SCHMIDT: I think it's great. I think a lot of times I’ve been in a situation when I’ve been in a plane with new mommies and daddies and try to engage with them and talk to them. Try to see if there's anything I can do. Well, of course, they're not willing to give you the baby because they don’t know you.
SUNNY GAULT: She must be desperate.
JULIE SCHMIDT: I got to hand it to her for that. But it's fine. I don't mind babies on a plane.
KRISTEN STRATTON: My dad used to travel all the time and I know for a fact that he's helped a baby or two. Because babies just love my dad for whatever reason. He has four children of his own. He's held a baby or two so moms could go potty or whatever. Held a crying baby. They just love him. So it was just really nice to hear that.
SUNNY GAULT: I know.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Just stick out for each other more often.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Today on Newbies, we're discussing container babies. What are they and what impact is this having on our children? Our expert Wendi McKenna is a pediatric physical therapist, owner of Strides Physical Therapy in Solana Beach, co-creator of a baby wellness program called Move, Play, and Grow. Thanks so much for joining us Wendi and welcome to the show.
WENDI MCKENNA: Thank you so much for having me back.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Wendi, what is a container baby?
WENDI MCKENNA: Okay. So a container baby is fondly referred to those babies who are frequently in various types of containers. The gear that we have, that you see from floor to ceiling when you walk in to those big box baby stores.
NATALIE TAYLOR: Or my house.
WENDI MCKENNA: Or your house. When you have eleven, you have got to have a few of those. Oftentimes, babies are placed in containers rather than doing other things that they used to do before those containers existed.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What are some of the more common items you see with parents with newborns and infants?
WENDI MCKENNA: Definitely, the car seat is the big one. People believe that car seats are one of the safest places for babies to be because in the car, they are. However, you're in a car that's a moving vehicle that can crash and roll over. So in the car, yes they are. But if you actually get out of the car, the car seat is one of the least safe places for babies to be. The incidence of sleep apnea and the incidence of desaturation of oxygen levels is higher in a car seat than in any other place. So they really are not that safe. But because they've been marketed as such in the car, people assume that they are also safe elsewhere.
And then you have these great travel systems where you can click things in and out. And it's very convenient for people to just do that especially with a sleeping baby. When you have sleep-deprived moms and finally the baby falls asleep in the car, the last thing you want to think about doing is waking them to transfer them somewhere else. Really, that's what we should be thinking about doing instead.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What about all these swings?
WENDI MCKENNA: Yes. And then inside the home, you've got the swings, you've got infant seats, you've got bumbo chairs, you've got jumpers, you’ve got standards—there are so many different types of devices that are made that prop babies in positions that they themselves cannot get to. The reasons why some of these are so popular is number one, marketing. They are marketed as good for baby's development when in actuality, it's more about parental convenience. And I’m not saying there's anything wrong with parental convenience from time to time. We need to take care of ourselves first. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, then we definitely can't take care of our babies. So if you need a break, yes by all means. But if you think that you're doing something good for your baby's social, emotional, physical, sensory development, it’s just incorrect. You're not. And so we just need to be more thoughtful about how we use them and what we’re using them for. Those are all the containers. Oftentimes, I go to people's homes and I’ll see—we sit them here then we put them on the swing, put them on the standards so they're getting all these exercise when really that's not exercise at all. And so we talk about all the alternatives that we could do other than having them in containers.
KRISTEN STRATTON: How does our current style of parenting differ from other generations? For better or for worse?
WENDI MCKENNA: Throughout the ages, we have had many cultures throughout the world and throughout time that have changed the way that we parent our babies, the way that we handle our newborns. Anywhere from separating them completely from the family and taking them out to the farm to attachment parenting. We’ve gone all through. And people from generations go and look at the way we parent now and think we’re crazy just like we think they’re crazy. So I think the important thing is to understand the importance of maternal instinct and to really dig deep into yourself and feel what’s right for you because what is right in our culture currently sometimes is good. Sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes it just blocks us from believing in ourselves and having confidence in ourselves and what we can really do for our babies. So right now our current style of parenting is—there’s definitely a wave of those who are keeping their babies close and tight to them more often. But then there’s also this culture that we have where we have to get things done. Everyone is on the go and you just need to be pulled in this direction and that direction. And so babies sometimes get forgotten in that mad rush. So we aren’t as present with our babies. Technology is one of the hardest things to put down. If everyone could just put down their cell phones and pay attention to their baby and just be with their baby, I think they would allow themselves to kind of think for themselves what they’re doing. And then you have the big box stores, the baby showers and all the gear and the stuff that everyone says that you need. “Why do I need all these stuff? My mom did not have all these stuff.” but it’s available now. So there’s a lot going against us in terms of really following our own instincts.
KRISTEN STRATTON: And panelists, how many of these products have you used and why did you feel like they were helpful or necessary? We’ll start with Julie.
JULIE SCHMIDT: Well I started parenting 33 years ago and some of those things were available. There were swings but they were crank swings. We had mad skills then. Because we push the swing back and crank it so it didn’t make noise and let the swing go so the baby would continue sleeping. But we did use those. But most of my kids were on the ground, on blankets, or carrying them. Front packs were not as prevalent either. Not until my last child. And then I wore her where she went everywhere in the front of me. But even still, she also was on the ground to the point where they would get to things I didn’t know they could. They would start to crawl when I didn’t think they were going to. So for instance, one of my kids—we didn’t have air conditioning, we had a fan, an oscillating fan. He crawled to the fan and it was almost getting his fingers’ end when I had to come back in the room. He was 4 months old. So I can see why people would lean towards putting babies in containers, knowing that there are things like that that happen. But that wasn’t my way just because there really weren’t a whole lot available. But I’m also a foster parent and have been fostering for 20 years. So keep abreast of all the new things that are going on and have used some containers, especially the bouncy seats. Just put them in there on the ground buckled up so I can maybe start dinner.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What’s your experience with containers?
RUTHII SLATTUM: So my experience with my first, which is 5 years ago, you need one of everything. You need all these things and we had a very small space. I had mostly like a swing. I had a bouncer, I had a basinet. My folks had a jumper at their house. So with him I did use it quite a bit because first time mom, you need everything. And you’re just getting used to being a mom. And this sense of self has to be put on hold. So it’s like “Oh, I need time for me so I’m going to use this thing so that I could be just not touched for a while”. With my second one, I was so busy chasing my first that I actually used the containers that much. I discovered baby wearing and became completely smitten with that. And that was way more useful to be able to chase after my first. It’s like if you take the baby to the mall, the travel system, and your 2 year old bolts; do you go after the 2 year old or do you leave the infant by herself? So the wrap became a lot more convenient for me. And then it’s kind of funny because my first one, he didn’t walk until after a year and my second walked at 7 months.
KRISTEN STRATTON: That’s something that I hear from a lot of people who maybe are familiar with baby wearing and say you must not want your kid to walk on time.
RUTHII SLATTUM: No. She’s running. That’s why she’s on my back and I don’t want to chase.
KRISTEN STRATTON: I did the same thing. I had the bumbo, the pack and play, I had the swing, I had the extra saucer, I had the bouncer, I had the crib. I had everything. That was a ridiculous amount of money that I wasted.
RUTHII SLATTUM: We’re down to a swing with this one.
KRISTEN STRATTON: And with my second and third, I pretty much baby wear them all the time and that was about it. I still baby wear even when I have a toddler so.
Wendi, what kind of physical issues are you seeing in these container babies?
WENDI MCKENNA: The one that’s most agreed just at this point is plagiocephaly. Plagiocephaly is that dreaded flat spot on the back of the infant’s head. If it’s directly in the back, it’s actually called brachycephaly. If it’s to the side so it’s more of a parallelogram shape, that’s plagiocephaly. In the 1970s, one in 300 babies had a plagiocephaly since the Back to Sleep Program which also coincides with the increase of our container culture. And I think the container culture is more of a problem than the Back to Sleep in terms of this. Some research studies are showing as high as one in two, most of them one in six. So it’s going from one in 300 to one in six basically. So these babies that are walking—a lot of them have helmets on to help reshape the head. That is what you’ll see the most in terms of some of the more subtle things that many people don’t pick up on are the asymmetries in development. If there is a slight flat spot at the back of the head, you are also going to have asymmetry of muscle development which then in the head and neck, doesn’t allow for full range of motion or equal balance, side to side. So you’ll have just little subtle differences in the way that they look, the direction they look and how they look. And that falls down into the spine, the upper extremities, the hips and the lower extremities. It really affects the whole body. Oftentimes, I do get referrals for physical therapy for babies who are either experiencing plagiocephaly and or corticolis, which is the shortening of the neck muscles, sternocleidomastoid and all the others that are around it that contributes to asymmetries in development and developmental delays.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What kind of developmental delays have you seen?
WENDI MCKENNA: So the developmental delays that I’ve seen for the most part are that babies just really aren’t moving as well on the floor anymore. They don’t develop the front and the back muscles equally so when they start to try to move side to side and then rotation because that’s the order that it goes in. Because the balance is off, everything is thrown off a little bit.
And again, this doesn’t mean that baby is to going to crawl. It doesn’t mean that they are not going to walk or stand up. It just means that their balance is not there as well as it could be. So a lot of times, so many things don’t show up until a little bit later on in life as well.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Why do you think there is not more of a movement to change this culture of container babies?
WENDI MCKENNA: I don’t think a lot of people know about it. I don’t think a lot of people know what container baby is. I think that they don’t understand the importance of why babies should be out of containers.
So just very briefly, a container is a plastic thing that holds your baby in one spot and it doesn’t respond to your baby’s movement versus something like holding your baby or wearing your baby. They are feeling human movement. They are close to you. If they need help with their posture, you are right there to help them back with it.
But you put a baby in a container, in a position that they themselves cannot get to. The reason they’re not there yet on their own is because they don’t have the postural control to get there yet. In order to develop that postural control, they don’t practice that skill. They have to be on the floor developing it. Not like us, if we want to go play golf, we go practice golf and golf drills. It’s not the same thing. If we want our babies to learn to sit, we don’t sit them. We put them on the floor and let them develop their front muscles, their back muscles and how to bounce them from moving side to side, and rotating and that is all blocked in containers. And alignment is off because they don’t have the posture control. When you put your baby in something especially when it’s in an incline, you put them looking pretty and beautiful. And then within 30 seconds, they’ve slumped down and their head is off to the side. And their pelvis is over the other side. And they’re just kind of stuck there. And a lot of babies would tolerate this because their internal drive to be upright is so strong. And thank goodness that internal drive to be upright is so strong because they have to work their rear ends off in that first year of life to get up into standing and walking. They go from being completely helpless and having no voluntary control when they’re born to independent walkers in 12 months. It’s just an amazing transition that they make in those months. And by putting them in containers we are essentially blocking them from doing that very development.
KRISTEN STRATTON: When we come back, we will continue our discussion about container babies and talk about the importance of floor time. We’ll be right back.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Welcome back to the show. We’re talking with Wendi McKenna about container babies and the risk of infant restraint devices. Wendi, can you explain the importance of floor time and why this has become so necessary?
WENDI MCKENNA: Okay. So going back again to our culture and the way that many cultures throughout the world raise their infants and have over time, there are a lot of cultures who don’t let their babies touch the floor for years. And when they’re 4 years old, they’re often running. And so people try to talk to me about: oh it’s really not important. But you have to understand that in that culture, they’re in a developing country and once their child’s on the ground, they’re often running and they’re not stopping.
Our culture is different. We are in the technology age where the draw to our devices is so strong and we have an epidemic where we are becoming more and more and more sedentary. So it is important to start from day one, allowing our babies to move because if you don’t get that coordination and that desire and the foundation strong when babies are at their maximum capacity to learn it, then by the time they’re 5 years old, they’re not going to have the skills that are going to help them carry forward. So being on the floor versus being on a container allows baby myriad opportunities to make mistakes, to explore, to learn. Hi darling. I just got a good smile. To learn and to explore. I know. I’m talking to you. And really, there’s nothing holding them back. Again floor time; I’d like to differentiate between floor time and tummy time because tummy time is really important. Especially since the Back to Sleep program.
Before Back to Sleep, babies had cumulative 20 hours a day on their stomachs. Since back to sleep, we are now lucky to get 30 minutes. So you can imagine all of that development that’s missing from just that sensory experience of having deep pressure on the front side of your body and being able to kick and reach and drag your arms and legs and feet across the ground and get that rich sensory input from the floor against that side of your body. It’s not there when you’re on your back. So when you’re on your tummy and on the floor, it’s a great experience. But we all have 360 degrees around our body. So floor time is back time. It’s side lying. It’s tummy time and every degree in between. So you don’t need to always be on your tummy. And I do a lot of tummy time talks in classes because I know it’s a big deal and a lot of babies don’t like it. Being on the floor even if they’re on their back is better than being in a container on their back.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Sometimes containers might be necessary to keep babies safe in a busy household. What alternatives do parents have to some of the containers you have mentioned?
WENDI MCKENNA: The pack and play is definitely, can help contain baby and keep them safer from crawling over to the fan or being trampled by a sibling or licked by a dog. Exactly. So that’s definitely one thing you can do. And the panelists have already talked about babywearing. I think baby wearing is a wonderful alternative. You can’t always have baby on the ground because you’re moving around and you want to be close to your baby. And it’s the best way because even though babies not necessarily initiating their own movement and exploring, they are attached to you. They are feeling human movement. They are responding to human movement. They have the capacity to look at you in the eye and communicate with you. And you have the capacity to immediately respond. So if you can’t have them on the floor and with my baby, what I did is I have floor time mat that was the enough, right consistency that it was with me all the time. So it was my bath mat when I took a shower, it was next to me doing laundry, it was next to me when I was in the kitchen, away from the stove. Safety first.
If you have a great floor time mat that is good on a tile surface, on a floor surface, you don’t always have to worry about keeping them in a carpeted area. And then again looking back at our containers, there are straps in our containers that keep our baby strapped in. but they do nothing to align them appropriately. Especially with a newborn baby who has no postural control. When you put them in something in an incline, their top half slinks down on the bottom half and it puts extra pressure on the diaphragm for breathing. And if their head rolls over to the side, it cuts off their airway a little bit. So it’s no wonder that we have increased sleep apnea and increased desaturation of oxygen levels in these containers versus on the floor. But with baby wearing, you can have them close to you, you can check on them. Container is not necessarily a safe place for them to be either because if they get out of alignment, you’re kind of risking some of that breathing difficulty.
KRISTEN STRATTON: I liked Baby wearing just also for breastfeeding because you can pick up these really hunger blues and you’re not always feeding your baby because they’re screaming their head off. You’re picking up on that lip licking and that little turning of the head.
WENDI MCKENNA: Absolutely.
KRISTEN STRATTON: So I’m assuming you recommend baby wearing to everyone.
WENDI MCKENNA: You know what, babies really should not. You should not even consider a baby stroller until they’re at least 6 months of age because they need to be sitting up independently and having that postural control to be in a stroller. So definitely until 6 months, baby wearing. I just took my 2 ½ year old to Disney World 2 months ago and there are lots of kids who are 3, 4, 5 years old in strollers at Disney World. And mine walked. I definitely advocate for taking walks with your baby when they’re walking independently and just going slower on your walks.
KRISTEN STRATTON: I love that you are just such a proponent of moms listening to their instinct. Because we suppress that so much and it really is so important. I mean 9 times out of 10, mom’s instincts are probably right. So I really thank you for really encouraging that.
WENDI MCKENNA: Of course.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Thank you so much Wendi and our lovely panellists for chatting with us today about container babies and the risks of infant restraint devices. For our Newbies club members, our conversation will continue after the end of the show as Wendi will share some of her creative ideas for making floor time fun for the whole family. For more information about our Newbies Club, please visit our website at www.newmommymedia.com .
SUNNY GAULT: Alright. It’s time for our fun segment here on Newbies and it’s called Baby Oops and it’s where you guys shared your funny stories of fun things, interesting things, embarrassing things maybe that have happened with this first year with your baby and so this one comes from Rebecca. Rebecca writes: “Well when we got home, we were going to lay our little girl out on our bed and my husband put her on a pillow in the middle of the bed and she instantly rolled over and landed on her face. Just for a second of course. Then while nursing her like 3 minutes later, she was falling asleep and the nurses have told us to sprinkle a little water on her head to wake her up”. I totally remember nurses telling me that too. “All I had was a water bottle so I tried pouring a little bit but I had unsteady hands. And I poured it all over her. Well it woke her up for sure. We were pretty sure at that point someone was just going to come and pick her up”. It’s so true though. As first time parent, you’re like “who’s going to call CPS? Who’s going to be the first person that calls and takes my baby away from me?” So funny! Thanks so much for submitting this. If you guys have a funny baby story you want to share with our audience, you can reach out to us a couple different ways. You can go to our website at www.newmommymedia.com, click on the contact link. Send us a message that way. Or you we’d love you guys to tell your own stories. Use your own voice to tell your own story. And the best way to do that is to call our voicemail. That number 619-866-4775. Leave a message and we’ll include it in an upcoming episode.
KRISTEN STRATTON: That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Newbies.
Don’t forget to check out our sister shows:
• Preggie Pals for expecting parents
• Parent Savers for moms and dads with infants and toddlers
• The Boob Group for moms who breastfeed and
• Twin Talks for parents with multiples.
Thanks for listening to Newbies. Your go-to source for new moms and new babies.
This has been a New Mommy Media production. The information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts. While such information and materials are believed to be accurate, it is not intended to replace or substitute for professional, medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problem or disease or prescribing any medications. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.
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