Beware the Baby Bumbo Seat

I am delighted to welcome guest blogger, Rebecca Talmud, DPT! Rebecca is a pediatric physical therapist, and today she is here to enlighten us about baby Bumbo Seats.

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As a pediatric physical therapist I am constantly being asked about different pieces of equipment. What is best for children? What will help them develop, achieve gross motor milestones, interact with peers, and so on? We therapists try to keep up with new products on the market, reading up on the literature and, if necessary, trying out the equipment on our own before making recommendations and suggestions.

One such piece of equipment is called the Bumbo Seat.

bumbo with text “Bumbo”, as it is affectionately called, is a one-piece seat that is made entirely of a low density foam. As you can see, it has a deep seat with a high back and sides, plus there are openings for the legs as well a front support and a safety buckle.

The Bumbo Seat is marketed to help babies sit upright.

Beware the Bumbo Seat ~ Mama OT

Babies who are too young to sit on their own are propped up by the Bumbo Seat.

The Bumbo website states the following: “The Bumbo Floor seat was designed to seat young babies who can’t sit up by themselves yet. As soon as your baby can support their own head you can seat them in the Bumbo Floor Seat. The seat has many technical design features that supports the baby’s posture allowing them to interact with their surroundings. The Bumbo Floor Seat has received many awards from around the world for its effective and functional design but be aware of copy products that lacks some important features.” [Editor's Note: Babies typically can hold their head steady in supported sitting around 3-5 months old].

As a Pediatric Physical Therapist, I am always mindful of motor milestones, and I use these milestones to guide my treatment and the development of therapeutic goals.

  • Between 6-9 months we expect typically developing children to begin to sit upright on the floor for short periods of time, first using support from hands and later independently.
  • Between 9-12 months, we expect children will begin to gain more control in seated position. When seated on the floor, they will begin to turn their trunk to reach and manipulate toys placed around them.
Beware the Bumbo Seat ~ Mama OT

Natural progression of motor skills can be inhibited when babies are placed in Bumbo before they are developmentally ready.

When children are placed in the Bumbo before they are developmentally ready for sitting it can interfere with the natural progression of skills.

Babies rely on different developmental positions to promote activation and control of their various muscle groups, from head control to trunk control to control of the extremities. Children utilize the time first on their back, then on tummy, in sitting, and in standing to gain stability and confidence with their physical being in order to allow them to achieve stability, then mobility, and then gradual independence.

The Bumbo website claims the following: “The floor seat stabilizes the child into slight hip flexion, placing the pelvis in a slight anterior pelvic tilt which facilitates lumbar extension. This action, combined with the gentle curve of the seat back that matches the natural curve of the rib cage, facilitates the baby around the lower ribs and trunk for stabilization. The Seat allows for active practice of the head and postural trunk control. It also allows a child the pelvic stability needed to get the hands into the mid line for play. Upright positioning facilitates an improved visual field of the environment, improved respirations and breath control, assists a baby who needs to be upright after feeding due to reflux and many other benefits.”

Beware the Bumbo Seat ~ Mama OT

Bumbo Seats prevent babies from engaging in natural movements important for their development such as active trunk rotation and postural control.

If you actually observe a child seated in the Bumbo, there is no active control being achieved. The child is passively placed in position and then locked in. There is no room to build trunk control or pelvic stability because the Bumbo is fixing the child and thus not allowing any muscle activation or joint movement to occur. The child is basically wedged into the deep seat with his or her legs held at a higher angle then the pelvis. There is no natural weightbearing occurring.

The child has both hands and legs free, so they do not receive proprioceptive input to the joints and muscles. Babies rely on developmental positions (such as pushing up on their tummy or sitting while propping themselves with their arms) to allow for weight bearing across the joints, which provides that proprioceptive input. The access to sensory input from the world around us, be it proprioceptive (body awareness through muscles and joints), tactile (sense of touch) or vestibular (sense of movement) helps create the sensory integration babies require in order to make sense of their bodies and the world around them. By positioning babies in an unnatural posture without access to the sensory input they require for development, we are really doing a disservice and interfering with an important and natural progression of development.

Stayathomepapa.com explains his experience with the Bumbo: “Someone lent me a Bumbo to try out. I thought it was a really cool idea. I sat my child in it around 3 months, and I was thinking, ‘This is great. She can sit there while I practice piano or tabla.’ And then I took a closer look. She looked anything but comfortable. The Bumbo seemed to be almost forcefully holding her in an up right sitting position. My wife looked into it, and sure enough she found many sources that suggested this thing was potentially harmful for her posture, and is likely to delay her ability to sit up on her own. That was the last we saw of the Bumbo. You know, if we can just wait until she’s ready to do stuff, our child will develop just fine. Indeed, at about 5 months she was sitting up on her own.”

The Bumbo is a seemingly convenient option for parents, but is it really beneficial to your child? Why do we want our children to be sitting upright before they are ready? How can they interact with the environment around them, people or places if they are locked in one position, strapped into a chair with no stimulation?

Beware the Bumbo Seat ~ Mama OT

Development aside, Bumbo seats have proven to be dangerous. Babies may climb out and fall, tip over, or even tumble from raised surfaces, causing serious injury. Warning labels don’t necessarily prevent unsafe use.

Physical development aside, the Bumbo seat has been proven to be unsafe. The first Bumbo seat recall occurred in 2007, of nearly one million Bumbos manufactured from 2003 to 2007, after reports of at least 17 infants falling out of the Bumbo and suffering skull fractures. In August 2012, another recall occurred of nearly 4 million Bumbo seats after reports of 95 babies falling out of the seat and at least 19 infants suffering skull fractures.

A statement from Bumbo itself read, “Bumbo International Trust is conducting a voluntary recall to add a restraint belt and new warnings to the Bumbo Baby Seat. Infants can maneuver out of or fall from the seat, posing a risk of serious injuries. Working closely with the CPSC, Bumbo has determined that the potential safety issue can be readily corrected in the home by adding a restraint belt. In addition, Bumbo is providing a new warning sticker for consumers to attach to the seat to re-emphasize existing warnings against use of the seat on any raised surfaces.”

From examiner.com: “Rather than using a chair, parents looking for developmental benefits should play with their baby and encourage movement”, said physical therapist Colleen Harper, director of developmental, rehabilitative and child life services at Chicago’s La Rabida Children’s Hospital.

“No equipment enhances a child’s motor development; equipment is a ‘baby sitter’ so that a parent can cook dinner, eat dinner or take a shower,” Harper said. “A gross motor skill like sitting is achieved through movement and practice. Children fall out of Bumbo seats because they do not yet have the requisite strength, balance and coordination needed for sitting.”

In a March 2012 Chicago Tribune article, Mary Weck, the clinical coordinator of Physical Therapy at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago addressed the claims Bumbo made in relation to its product:

Bumbo says: “The seat stabilizes the child into slight hip flexion, placing the pelvis in a slight anterior pelvic tilt which facilitates lumbar extension.”

Weck says: “Actually, it does the exact opposite. It puts the baby’s pelvis in a posterior tilt, which facilitates lumbar flexion, not extension. That puts the baby’s chest behind the pelvis. Then the head has to come too far forward. It’s no longer positioned directly above the chest.”

Beware the Bumbo Seat ~ Mama OT

Despite Bumbo’s claims, the seat actually places babies in a hunched forward position.

Bumbo says: “The chair allows a child the pelvic stability needed to get the hands into the midline for play.”

Beware the Bumbo Seat ~ Mama OT

Baby playing with hands in midline.

Weck says: “Children don’t need a chair to get their hands in that position. At the age they’re using the Bumbo, they are able to do that in a variety of positions anyway.”

Bumbo says: “Upright positioning facilitates an improved visual field of the environment, improved respirations and breath control and assists a baby who needs to be upright after feeding due to reflux.”

Beware the Bumbo Seat ~ Mama OT

When babies spend time on their tummies it provides a strong foundation for the development of higher level visual skills, as opposed to when they are propped in sitting before they are able to sit on their own.

Weck says: “Studies show tummy time is good at stabilizing the visual field of the environment. Research also shows respirations and reflux are better when the infant is prone rather than upright, as long as the baby is in the proper prone position. One reason the chairs tip over is that babies need to move. This chair holds them from getting the vestibular motion they need to give them control of their eyes and other sensory issues. All the benefits you get from moving are inhibited in a chair.”

I hope this article once and for all puts the issue to rest. Bumbo is a no-go.

*Please click here to find out what you can use as alternatives to the Bumbo.

*Please click here to learn how to help babies become independent, functional sitters!

. . . . .

Rebecca Talmud bio pic Rebecca Talmud is a Pediatric Physical Therapist with her own practice, Dinosaur Physical Therapy, based in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy from New York University and works with children from birth to age 18. She enjoys working closely with children, their families and other professionals to ensure the best care for her clients. In her spare time she is a NY Giants fan who loves reading, writing, creating and spending time with her wonderful husband and adorable special needs French Bulldog. Learn more by visiting her business website (http://www.dinopt.com), checking out her blog (http://dinopt.tumblr.com), or following her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/DinosaurPT).

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Photo Credit 1: US CPSC, Photo Credit 2: Abigail Batchelder, Photo Credit 3: John Wright, Photo Credit 4: Joe Cheng, Photo Credit 5:Jeff Boulter, Photo Credit 6: Joe Cheng, Photo Credit 7: Dana, Photo Credit 8: Brett Neilson

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43 thoughts on “Beware the Baby Bumbo Seat

  1. THank you for this important information. I am the director of an early care and education program. We often find that parents rely on on qwuipment and think that it is best for their babies. It is the developers, manufacturers and marketers that lead parents to believe that spending money on equipment is better for their baby than simply spending tim eiwth them, holding them or playing with them on the floor. In our program we only use chairs for feeding and a buggy for taking children outside to paly.

  2. I used a Bumbo for my twin girls. I never had any issues with it because I didn’t use it as a fulltime option. My girls still had tummy time and I encouraged them to sit up on their own. In my opinion, the Bumbo is a great tool, but you still have to use it in moderation and under close supervision. My pediatrician was more concerned about how often they were in their carriers than je was about me putting them in a Bumbo.

  3. My masters dissertation topic was “The use of infant equipment and delayed onset of independent walking in healthy toddlers between 13 and 16 months of age”. Publication of the findings should be imminent. I am so grateful for the fair and objective way this article was written. I am committed to promoting floor time, and working against gravity to promote normal development, rather than all the contrations that are available for babies and toddlers these days. Awareness is key.

  4. A well written blog which I will be sharing with my other physio colleagues. Thank you for summarizing my thoughts.
    Tammy.

  5. I gotta say, I had a Bumbo for my last baby (I had three others and the Bumbo wasn’t on the market yet for them). It looked like a good idea, and we got it and used it later into her babyhood (probably closer to 6 months). She preferred to be on the floor rather than in the seat and I only used it sporadically. To be honest, she made more use of it after she was already ambulatory (she thought of it as “her chair”). They tell you not to use it after they can get in and out of it on their own but she seemed to like it at that stage much better than the age that it was intended for. We never had any tipping problems with it, and I have no idea who would think it was ok to use this on a tabletop, that seems like an obvious hazard to me. We never did get the modification for the seat after the recall, at that point it didn’t seem sensible since she was getting in and out of the seat on her own with no problem.

    • Same around here with my last two granddaughters. They still use it to play with dolls and sit themselves while playing. You can not have a small baby there for long periods, they will get very tired. It is mostly for feeding (after six months) or like running to rest room …answering a phone, anything if your baby is at sight. It is very easy to carry for a Grandma´s house instead of having big equipment. I strongly recommend following what baby can achieve alone. Thanks, Preschool Teacher and Granny, Costa Rica.

  6. Oh I meant to add, it only seemed useful to me when I wanted to keep her temporarily contained, ie. when I was dealing with the other children in the bathtub and didn’t want her to crawl off while I was doing whatever needed tending, just for a couple of minutes. That seems to be the extent of the usefulness of the product to me. In general, I would say that most of the baby equipment that we had for all of our children turned out to be seldom used. There’s a lot of stuff that’s marketed as giving your kid some sort of head start in life, that will supposedly make them more advanced than the other babies. The truth is, the thing that will help you baby develop the fastest is regular interaction with you and their siblings.

  7. My son, who walked very early, used the Bumbo once. Because he was so strong so early, he stretched back until the bumbo tipped backwards! He was about 4-5 months. I never used it again.

  8. It’s annoying to read articles like this and quotes like, “rather than using a chair, parents looking for developmental benefits should play with their baby and encourage movement.” Many parents (myself included) use a Bumbo for 15 min here or there when you need to cook dinner, care for another child, etc. You can’t hold your baby ALL the time, and many times babies want to be upright, seeing the world, instead of lying flat on the floor. Maybe Bumbos are not healthy for use hours and hours at a time, but that doesn’t warrant the kind of scare tactics used here.

    • Laura, thank you for taking the time to comment! I understand where you’re coming from, and I hope you get a chance to read Part Two of this post: Alternatives to Using the Bumbo Seat. It can be found at this link: http://mamaot.com/2013/07/17/alternatives-to-using-the-bumbo-seat/. You’re right, we can’t hold our babies all the time, that would be completely unrealistic! I address your concern in the post I just linked to, so please be sure to read it for additional information! Thanks again for stopping by.

      • Thanks for being gracious, Christie. I’m sorry for being overly negative in my comment; I think I was in a bad mood when I wrote this. I did read your part two.

  9. I agree with Laura. And I read your “alternatives” and most don’t help, however I did like ball pit in the pack n play. They reason we use a Bumbo is so we can have our hands free for a minute and the baby in one place. Tummy time is great but he has been like that half the day and is frustrated. His baby carrier is in the wash. And obviously I can’t dance with him if I am trying to make dinner.

    I think the information is good. But in reality your baby should be moved between the floor, your arms, a carrier, a swing, etc frequently. If I left my baby on his tummy on the floor all day long you would have issues with that as well. And I would hope that most parents are not stupid enough to put their child, in any carrier, on the edge of a table.

    • Thank you for your comment, Kara. Some other suggestions included in that post that may help you out are placing baby in the high chair with suction toys, letting your child play in a “yes” space, letting him/her play within the limits of a circular baby gate, using a bouncer seat and, yes, like you said, putting ball pit balls in the pack ‘n play! I hope these are useful alternatives for you…I have used many of them personally to complete the types of tasks you mentioned and they have worked out great. Please let me know if you have other questions, and thanks for stopping by.

  10. Everything in moderation. I used them for my boys while I kept a close eye on them, and they loved sitting in their bumbo! If you do a variety of activities with your child, sitting them in a bumbo seat every once in awhile is not going to hurt their development. And why were these children having skull fractures from falling out them? They obviously were too high up and not being watched. It’s called parenting, it avoids many accidents.

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  14. And interesting post that will certainly temper my use of a bumbo after our first child is born in March (although, as mentioned the wording in the article is a little intense).

    A bumbo was suggested to me by a friend as a helpful tool while showering our baby. We don’t have a standard bathtub, and when he/she gets too big for the sink, a secure place for him/her to sit in a normally slippery space sounded like a great idea. Are there alternate suggestions? Thanks!

  15. So just wondering, my son is almost 7 months old, and he’s sitting up completely unassisted. He’s also not using his hands to stabilize himself either. Would it be ok to use if they’re already sitting up on their own?? Not all the time of course. Also, would it be ok to use it for feeding time?? We don’t have one yet, I would just like to know. So if you could please answer my questions, I would greatly appreciate it :)

  16. Both my little girls had a bumbo. It was a terrific addition to my toolbox of must haves. I regularly took it to the airport so my little one could sit up on a table and watch her daddy come through the doors . Both girls have hit every milestone and exceeded expectations in every way.

  17. In the above post you mentioned the potable highchairs, can they be used on the floor or do they have to be on a chair? She loves being upright and i would like to put her in something when i cannot hold her, plus at 12 weeks old she weighs over 13lbs and gets heavy. Already has great head control as well but she doesn’t like the bumbo as her legs are chunky ;)

    • I wouldn’t recommend putting a portable high chair on the ground and placing your baby in it. Those chairs are meant to be strapped to an adult chair for stability and are not designed to prevent tipping when placed on the floor. At 12 weeks old, I also would not recommend placing baby in a sitting position. You could consider baby wearing with something like a Moby Wrap (read more here: http://bit.ly/1eu0ULj). And here is a post that describes how babies develop the ability to learn to sit on their own, without using “sitting devices”: http://bit.ly/IH0iqt Hope this helps!

  18. I have to agree with you on this. I have a similar seat: the BeBe Pod, and I used it once my kids were able to sit but not keep from going backward. It saw little use but my kids did enjoy playing with the toys on it’s tray. However, I have seen various kids sitting in the Bumbo at very young ages. They looked like bobble head dolls and pretty uncomfortable to me with their backs in a C position because they can’t yet hold themselves up. I didn’t think it was recommended for that age group but it seems to be used that way more often than not.

    I’d be interested in the assessment of other products … I know sit in walkers are a no-no but I have wondered about the activity centers and jumperoos.

    • Jumperoos are definitely off limits. Activity centers are not encouraged or endorsed by most therapists, though some will say a max of 15 minutes a day while you prep food or take a shower is okay. However, babies don’t NEED any of these pieces of equipment in order to develop age-appropriate motor skills. They will be able to develop them just fine with play time on the floor and interaction with their parents and caregivers. Great question!

  19. Thanks for the info. I’m curious as to how you feel about Fisher Price’s Swing N Rocker? The baby is in a reclined position so I am hoping it’s not bad for their development?? I put my baby in this 1-2 times a day just to get things done that I can’t do with her in her Boba wrap. I’ll admit sometimes she falls asleep and I’ll leave her in it because I don’t want to wake her…ugh hope this isn’t a super naive FTM move! Thanks!

    • Great question, Jessica. How old is your baby now? I completely understand your dilemma and am so happy to hear you wear her in a Boba Wrap. I recently read a book written by an occupational therapist and child development specialist called “Retro Baby”, and it talks all about infant development, baby equipment, and activities you can do with your baby from birth through age 2 that doesn’t require the use of baby equipment. In that book, the author suggested that swings be used no more than about 30 minutes per day. She suggests that, if baby falls asleep in a car seat or swing, you should do your best to transfer her out and onto a flat sleeping surface as soon as possible. She shares that this is for two reasons: 1) Babies have a greater risk of developing flat spots on their heads when they sleep in equipment such as swings and car seats and 2) Being left to sleep in equipment can mess with a baby’s ability to sleep deeply. There have definitely been times where I have left my newborn in the car seat to sleep because it took him so long to fall asleep and there’s just no way in the world I want to ruin that! But I have had to be very conscious of only doing that in extreme cases as opposed to on a regular basis. You definitely have to be realistic in order to maintain your sanity, but just be aware that are some downsides that placing baby in there on a regular basis as well. Here’s a link to the book if you want to learn more: http://www.amazon.com/Retro-Baby-Development-Time-tested-Activities-ebook/dp/B00F21VXWG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389247008&sr=8-1&keywords=retro+baby

  20. I think it’s great that people are writing things about these “baby traps” and letting people know that these are not safe or beneficial for our babies. However it does annoy me that it mentions about babies being trapped and unable to explore developmentally but then goes onto say that we need to put our babies into sitting positions to help them to learn to sit. We don’t. All babies if just left alone will reach this milestone by pushing themselves up when they are ready. By sitting them up we are also making them stuck. They can’t get down or move around they are put into this position, usually before their wee bodies are ready, muscles and so on, and then left there to “learn”.

  21. Thanks for this post! I was given a second hand bumbo and did not know any of this information! It’s crazy how companies make tons of toys and things that are actually damaging to our children.

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  23. I was looking into the Bumbo because my 3 mo old is developing a flat spot on the back of his head. During the day I want to try and get the pressure off his head so I’ve been using a carrier, doing tummy time (which he only lasts a few min before crying), and other things.. Any other suggestions?

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  27. I’m a pediatric physical therapist as well and I actually do recommend the bumbo in some cases, such as children with plagiocephaly who need some time off the flat spot on their head to help things “round out”! I prefer the bumbo over worse things like walkers and jumpers.

  28. I have 4 month old twins and sometimes I struggle with what to do with them all day. If experts agree that all baby equipment is bad for them, what actually IS recommended, realistically? What would an expert’s ideal day be for my twins? For example, would they say for me to carry and hold one for 20 minutes while they other “played” on the ground? And then switch? What are the other approved activities according to experts? Because this is something I struggle with. Obviously, as a SAHM, I have to get things done around the house and cannot always have one on one time with my twins but I try my best. So I would love to know all of the approved activities they say are ok. I know there is another link about alternate activities so I will read that now too. I apologize if maybe that one will answer all my questions, lol. But wanted to type this out before I forgot.

    • Kacey, thank you so much for your honesty and, guess what, you are not the only one who wonders what in the world to do with their baby/babies all day! I have found a book that is incredibly helpful. I revieved it here on the blog a couple months ago and it has helped me even with my own baby. The book is called “Retro Baby” and it realistically addresses the question you asked: what exactly CAN I use?? You can read my description of the contents of the book (plus how to find a hard copy or digital copy of it) here: http://mamaot.com/2014/01/26/cut-back-baby-gear-boost-babys-development/. Hope this helps you out a bit!

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