When you’re expecting, building your baby registry is so exciting. It can also be overwhelming. There are so many baby products on the market that it’s hard to sort out what you actually need. Here’s the good news: less is more. Babies develop best when they experience lots of playtime on the floor. That being said, sometimes you just need a safe place to put your baby to play so you can cook, shower, or sit on the couch for 5 minutes of peace. Here are my recommendations as a pediatric physical therapist to promote your baby’s development:
Avoid: Keeping baby in a car seat while indoors. This is not only unsafe (they can slip down if not bucked in) but it can cause a flat spot on their head due to prolonged positioning.
Better: If your baby is not rolling by themselves yet, you can use a bouncer seat (like the Baby Bjorn) or lounge pillow for short periods of time. Make sure the majority of their awake time is spent playing on the floor.
Best: A floor mat is the best place for your baby to hang out while they’re awake. They are completely free to move and explore how their bodies work against gravity. If your baby is rolling or has older siblings/ pets, use a playpen to give them safe boundaries.
Avoid: Seats that rotate your baby’s legs inward. One seat that shall not be named (*cough cough* rhymes with “dumbo”) is notorious for this. This teaches babies to sit with poor posture and can be bad for their hip development.
Better: Baby seats that have wide leg openings. The Upseat and the Fisher-Price Sit Me Up are pretty good options. Babies can use these from about 4-6 months of age until they are sitting well by themselves. It’s a pretty small window of time, so consider how much you are willing to invest in a floor seat if you do decide to get one.
Best: Place your baby on the floor with a pillow behind their back. I like to use the Boppy pillow so that they are supported on their sides as well. You can even sit them in a laundry basket lined with pillows! Your baby should be at least 4 months old before trying this. Once they are sitting well on their own you won’t need to prop them up anymore.
Standing and Walking
Avoid: Baby walkers and jumpers. I’ll admit: babies LOVE them. The truth is they’re just not safe. Baby walkers have been banned in some countries because they are likely to flip over. Jumpers can be fun, but it doesn’t actually make their legs stronger or help them develop. They give babies a false sense of security, causing them to be less stable on their feet, and can even cause babies to walk on their tiptoes.
Better: A standing table with adjustable height. If you want to use a standing activity center, make sure you can adjust the height so that your baby’s feet are flat on the floor when they are in it. Having their feet fully in contact with the ground is important for developing standing stability and balance.
Best: I am a BIG fan of push toys. These help promote standing balance, improve walking, and teach babies that their actions have consequences on the objects around them. When they’re ready, most babies will turn any household item into a push toy (mine certainly did!)
Moderation is Key
Baby equipment gets a bad rap in the physical therapy community, but the truth is that it can be helpful when used appropriately. I recommend that babies spend no more than 20 minutes per day in any type of equipment. It should be used as a “last resort” option when you need to have your hands free for, well, life. Some babies are more susceptible to having negative effects from equipment use. If your baby has a developmental concern, was born premature, or has limited mobility it is best to avoid using baby equipment all together. If you are worried about your baby’s mobility or development, be sure to talk to your pediatrician and schedule a physical therapy evaluation.