I am so excited to have pediatric physical therapist Chanda Jothen here today! Chanda has a passion for empowering parents to promote their babies’ physical development. She has some great information to share about how car seat travel systems can influence babies’ health and development. I hope you find it helpful!
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As parents we put a great deal of research into finding the best infant car seat and travel system for our babies, and rightfully so. We want the best and safest seat for our babies. Oftentimes parents will decide to buy a travel system package that includes the car seat, base, and baby stroller (such as this type of travel system). With a travel system parents can snap their baby onto a stroller and go, without ever taking them out of the car seat. The car seat also serves as a baby carrier, so parents can carry their baby in their car seat and place them on a shopping cart or a sling. Just look around Target or a restaurant on any given day and you will see how parents utilize the car seat outside of the car.
However, there is more to think about than just safety and convenience when it comes to buying a car seat and travel system. Understanding how too much time in the car seat can affect your baby is an important aspect to consider when making your purchasing decision. This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
In 2008, a survey of 400 pediatric physical and occupational therapists was conducted on behalf of Pathways Awareness, a non-profit group dedicated to early detection of motor delays in children. The survey reported that two-thirds of therapists surveyed say they’ve seen an increase in early motor delays in infants over the past six years. Those polled stated that babies’ lack of time on their tummy while they were awake was the number one reason for increase in delays. Another study out in July of 2013 in the Journal of Pediatrics found that, of 440 infants assessed between the ages of 7 to 12 weeks, 205 of them had some form of plagiocephaly (otherwise known as a flat head). That is 46.6% of the infants!
So what does this all have to do with car seats and travel systems?
Car seats and travel systems provide the convenience of carrying baby from car, to store, to stroller, and back to the car without ever having to remove the baby from their seat. There is no doubt that it is convenient, but unfortunately what is convenient isn’t always best. In this situation babies are stuck in one position for a prolonged period of time, limiting their ability to explore their environment.
We need to consider that when babies are transported in this manner the amount of time they get to spend on their tummies is decreased. Tummy time is so important to the developing baby! In fact, lack of tummy time can result in developmental and motor delays. Tummy time promotes development of core muscles and builds the connection between baby’s inner core muscles and outer core postural muscles. Tummy time also promotes baby’s awareness of where their body is in space through the input that they get from the floor. Tummy time also helps promote the foundational skills needed for fine motor, oral motor, and visual skills!
Another thing that we have to consider when utilizing car seats and travel systems is the amount of pressure placed on the back of the baby’s skull. This pressure on the back of the skull can lead to the flattening of the skull, which therapists refer to as positional plagiocephaly. In some cases babies with flat heads end up having to wear helmets to gently guide the baby’s head into a more normal shape.
There is also the concern of decreased oxygenation levels with too much time in a car seat. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2009 compared oxygen levels of 200 full-term newborns in a crib, car bed, and car seat. It found that oxygen saturation levels were significantly lower in the car seat and car bed versus a regular crib bed. Therefore, we are also dealing with decreased oxygenation levels when there is increased time spent in a car seat.
ALTERNATIVES TO OVERUSING CAR SEAT TRAVEL SYSTEMS
There are other options available to parents that promote an increased amount of time on the tummy and limit the time spent continuously in one position.
- Baby carriers: These are an excellent option for transporting your baby. They place baby in a developmentally appropriate position and limit any extra pressure from being placed on the skull. As a physical therapist I would recommend that you look for a baby carrier that puts baby in an optimal position (Moby Wrap and ERGObaby are two examples) instead of using the “crotch dangler” baby carriers on the market. You must also take safety considerations based upon which carrier you choose.
- Bassinet stroller option versus travel system: This is an option that I personally used as I found that I had a baby who wasn’t as big of a fan of the baby carriers as I hoped. I ended up LOVING my bassinet (this one in particular). I was able to place my baby in tummy time when I was out and about as my bassinet provided a surface where I was able to do so while still monitoring him.
- Spread out errands or share the errand duties with a family member: I know this isn’t always the easiest or most efficient option. I totally understand. However, it is beneficial if you could arrange your day to spread out errands and let your baby change position and get in some tummy time. If you have someone that could help out with running errands this could also limit the time you need to have your baby in the car seat.
- Work tummy time into your routine: Be diligent to make sure that your baby is getting sufficient tummy time when you are able. Always aim for tummy time after diaper changes, naps, and feedings for as a starting point. The more you can fit it into your day the better. You can find several creative ways to make tummy time easier for your baby (especially if he or she is the type of baby who HATES it!) by clicking HERE.
- Avoid any extra time spent in the car seat that is not necessary: Do NOT have your baby sleep in the car seat or sit in the car seat when in your home. It’s best to keep the car seat in the car!
Car seats are essential for safely transporting babies in the car. Optimally, car seats would be used only in the car and travel systems would be used on a very limited basis. Too much time spent in the car seat results in decreased position changes, decreased tummy time, decreased oxygenation, and increased pressure to the back of the skull. Being diligent about tummy time and limiting your baby’s time in the car seat is best for baby!
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Chanda has been a physical therapist for the past 6 years in the area of orthopedics and pediatrics. She currently is working in the public school system in pediatrics and still dabbles in orthopedics here and there in the summer. She blogs over at her blog Pink Oatmeal, about her time as a new mom, projects around the home, recipes and of course ideas to promote motor development. She loves shopping, blogging, re-doing rooms in her home (over and over), and trying to make her garden grow.
Stop over at http://www.pinkoatmeal.com for more from Chanda!