PREVENTING CONTAINER BABY SYNDROME
Recently, new parents have a plethora of devices that they can use to hold an infant while they are doing other activities. These include swings, bouncer chairs, nursing pillows, car seats, and strollers. While these may be helpful and seem safe to parents, they all provide basically the same positioning of the infant, not allowing for full muscular development and leading to what is now referred to as “Container Baby Syndrome” (CBS). If an infant never experiences the variety of positions needed to develop all muscle groups by only laying on its back, then developmental delays are more likely to occur.
An infant’s development is dependent on the variety of stimulations that he/she is allowed to experience. Those stimulations come in the form of visual, tactile, audible and positional cues. Visual, tactile and audible stimuli are relatively common in everyday life. However, many times positional stimuli are a lesser provided experience for infants. This has developed not only from all of the previously mentioned devices but also due to the guidelines for safe sleeping positions to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome(SIDS) now recommend that infants sleep on their backs.
Muscle control and development comes from learning and practicing movement of our bodies in different positions. We, as adults, think nothing of reaching forward to grab an item off the countertop, sit up from bed, hold our head straight when sitting or standing, or even rolling to our side in bed. But for an infant, these tasks are new skills that have to be learned and inspired by different stimulants.
Body movement occurs from muscles moving bones through space. Specific muscles result in specific movements. The muscles that lift our head up from our pillow are not the same ones that tilt our head backwards. Control and strength of each of these muscle groups is developed in a different way. When an infant lies on its back, development of the front muscles begins to occur, such as reaching up, flexing hips to bring legs up from the ground and engaging neck muscles to lift its head when being picked up. When an infant lies on its tummy, the muscles of the back are more targeted. Back muscle strength allows for lifting head upright to turn it to either side, pushing on its arms to lift the chest, kicking the legs in preparation for creeping and crawling, and even for the fine motor skills of grasping and releasing of the hands and fingers.
Container Baby Syndrome can not only inhibit muscle and movement progression, it can also result in delays in brain function, speech and skeletal maturity. Just as adults learn new skills through exposure and repetition, infants also need a variety of experiences to promote growth and motor development.
Guidelines for preventing CBS
* Limit your infant’s time in car seats or strollers to only when the infant is being transported
* Increase the time your baby lies on the tummy when awake, with adult supervision
* Hold your baby in your arms for short periods of time throughout the day, instead of just leaving them in a container
* Allow your baby to frequently play on a blanket on the floor, both on the tummy and the back, with adult supervision
Julie Love, PT
University of Evansville, 1991
Avruskin, A. Physical Therapy Guide to Container Baby Syndrome. American Physical Therapy Association. ChoosePT Guide Website. 2018
Hewitt L. Kerr E. Stanley R. Okely A. Tummy Time and Infant Health Outcomes: A Systemic Review Pediatrics June 2020