Guest post by: Nicole M Sergent, MPT
As a new parent, I was there. Giddy excitement over the news of a baby on the way followed by showering love from family and friends in the form of gift, and gifts, and more gifts. At the time I was touched (and am still forever grateful for their generosity) but shortly after the baby came I quickly fell into a routine many new moms do. As a physical therapist, I like to call it, “the container shuffle.”
“The container shuffle” goes something like this. Sleep (crib), eat (highchair), play (exercsaucer), calm down (bouncer seat), sleep (crib), eat (highchair), play (positioning seat), calm down (swing) etc. As a mother, I related to the thoughts many of my patients’ parents have. Everyone buys us all this stuff…and baby likes them and is happy…so why not use them? As a therapist, I’d like to tell you why.
I can’t tell you how many children I have assessed with general motor delays without significant medical histories or orthopedic or neurologic impairments. These babies are very stable in an upright static position. They often even sit really well, without ever rolling, crawling, creeping, kneeling, or standing. After I have carefully assessed to make sure, nothing more significant is going on, I’ll delicately share my diagnosis: CONTAINER SYNDROME.
I realize it is not rocket science but think of it this way. When a baby plays on the floor, he/she has the ability to wiggle, squirm, and move. Each tiny movement that may seem insignificant is actually exercise. They are beautiful diagonally directed movements. And they are needed. Because our moving transitions from one position to another (floor to sit, sit to stand), require that motion. How can we expect a baby to be able to move and explore if we always have them strapped in a container? Research tells us that babies who spend less time on their tummies on the floor, have delayed motor skills in the first year of life.
In addition to the ability to practice motor coordination, allowing a child to play outside of a “container,” has additional benefits. Play on a baby’s tummy, aids in digestion, assists with hand eye coordination, and promotes typical skeletal development. The hips have the ability to develop into a more stable, mature position and the skull, free from pressure from resting against a surface, has freedom to develop typically. Did you know that 20% of all infants now have plagiocephaly (flattened appearance of the head/face)? While free play time may not prevent all of those cases, I believe the increase in “container syndrome,” plays a significant role.
I once attended a continuing education lecture, where the OT speaking suggested that infants should spend 80% of waking hours on the floor. As a therapist, I could see the benefit of this time well spent. As a mother, I felt myself slumping with guilt. My daughters did not spend that much time on their tummies, especially my youngest that had severe acid reflux. A practical balance must exist for families. And while I realize “containers” are helpful with a fussy baby and so that one can actually shower, I recommend promoting floor time throughout the day. I tell the parents of my patients, “If you find yourself going to put your baby down, choose the floor or pack-n-lay first.”
Many of those children I have evaluated that had delays with mobility and transition skills that I felt came from “container syndrome,” ended up catching up to typically expected gross motor milestones in just a few short weeks by allowing more free play time on the floor. It can be argued that it is not rocket science. My mother (and yours) might argue it is common sense and “what we did with you.” But in a commercialized world where more = better, maybe we do need a dash of common sense to help keep our infants happy and healthy as they develop and grow.
Nicole M. Sergent, MPT is a pediatric physical therapist and co-owner of Milestones & Miracles, LLC. She co-authored a unique developmental tool for therapists and parents that pairs detailed development with interactive play skills, called 1-2-3 Just Play With Me. It is available in digital and print and can be found at www.milestonesandmiracles.com, Amazon.com, and select retailers. Follow Milestones and Miracles online for developmental support & fun