Experts say “container babies” can experience health issues due to a lack of movement.
Your friends throw you a fancy baby shower and you get some pretty impressive swag: a car seat, a stroller, a carrier, and a bouncy seat.
However, before you get too excited, here’s something you should know.
If you leave your precious bundle too long in any or all of these, you may run the risk of them developing “container baby syndrome.”
You may not find that term in a medical dictionary, but it’s been coined by physical therapists to describe what can happen if you overuse baby containers.
They say the trouble is because children are bouncing from one piece of equipment to another.
“The child is being held in an infant carrier by the parents, then placed into a bouncy seat, then moved into a car seat to ride to an appointment. Then it’s into a swing later in the day. The child is spending so much time in these devices that aren’t allowing their bodies to move,” Lori Grisez, PT, DPT, a board-certified pediatrics clinical specialist and developmental therapist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, told Healthline.
“One of the common issues we see is the diagnosis of torticollis, where the child has developed a tightening of the muscles in their neck. It causes the head to lean to one side or rotate to a specific side,” Grisez said.
“Another issue is the increased risk of plagiocephaly. That’s where the baby develops a flat spot on the back of the head or on the side of the head because they’re being held in that one position,” she added.
“When they’re not able to kick their arms and legs, lift their head, or move their muscles, that’s setting them up for developmental delays,” Grisez explained.
Grisez said physical therapists began seeing an uptick in container baby syndrome after a safe-sleep campaign in the late 1990s designed to prevent sudden infant death syndrome.
Parents were urged to follow these ABCs: Your baby should sleep alone, on their back, and in a crib.
What followed was a proliferation of devices that kept babies upright or on their backs.
“The equipment is very much marketed to families as a child-friendly device. It has bright colors and looks like something exciting for the babies to use,” Grisez said. “Because they have them, parents feel the need to use them.”
How much are they being used?
In a November 2016 report in the journal Pediatrics, experts laid out the stats. The report noted that “the average young infant spends 5.7 hours a day in a car seat or similar sitting device.”
Jean Siri Moorjani, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital in Florida, told Healthline that placing a child on their stomach is the best way to avoid container baby syndrome.
“Tummy time is exactly what it sounds like. It’s time for a baby to spend on their tummy,” Moorjani said.
“When the baby is on his or her tummy, they’re going to want to pick up their head and try to look around,” she explained. “As they get a little older, they may try to push up. That helps strengthen the baby’s core muscles and neck muscles.”
“This has to be done under direct supervision by a parent or a caregiver,” she added. “You can’t put the baby on their belly and walk away and come back. You are watching the baby the entire time.”
“Maybe start with ten minutes of supervised tummy time three times a day,” Moorjani said. “When it’s time for feeding, take them out of the stroller or carrier and hold them while you feed them. That alone can help.”
Moorjani said some parents are reluctant to take their kids out of the devices because the babies look so comfortable. Then when they put them on their tummy, sometimes the babies will cry.
“Not all babies like it. My babies didn’t like it, but I had them do it,” she said. “I gradually increased the amount of time they’d spend on their tummies. That helped them build the muscles they needed for the next steps — holding their head up, sitting up, and rolling.”
“There aren’t many diseases or conditions we can say are preventable,” she added. “But this is 100 percent.”
Be aware of how much time your baby spends in any kind of seating device.
Use containers such as strollers, car seats, and swings when you need them for your child’s safety. When you can, take your baby out and hold them.
Get in the habit of using supervised tummy time. The more time babies can spend out of these containers, the better it is for their physical growth and development.