All About Walkers, Bouncers & Baby Gear
Two of the questions I hear most from parents are,"What equipment should I use with my baby?" and "Is it okay to use the [insert baby gear] with my little one?" And the answer isn't easy: "It depends". Depends on what? Well, there are two main things:
- What are your baby's unique developmental needs?
- How your baby will be using it?
To help make this decision for you to assess based on your own needs, we'll go through the decision-making process and teach you what to look for and why it matters.
Why is equipment/gear such a big deal?
Good question. It comes down to the fact that the bodies of our little ones are precious and still growing. When we apply excessive pressure, or promote unsafe joint or postural alignment, then we may be causing more harm than good to our baby. We always want to encourage appropriate developmental play together, but too much time in 'gear' or 'equipment' can be detrimental to baby's own health and development. And too much time spent in baby gear has been shown to delay progress with common milestones like crawling and walking.
To clarify, when we're referring to 'equipment' or baby gear in this post, we're talking about the popular positioning items you may receive at a baby shower, such as the Mamaroo, an ExerSaucer, a Bumbo, Jumparoo etc.
Let's dive in.
What is your goal for using the equipment?
Just need a break? If you're using the gear so that baby can be supported and entertained while you're finishing the dishes, taking a much-deserved shower, or cleaning up the house, then go for it! We know that you need this time and when used in moderation and under supervision, baby gear like these can be very helpful to give you a break.
But how long is too long?A good guideline is to not put baby in this gear for more than 30 minutes per day AND then DOUBLE the amount of floor time with baby for that day!
Are you looking to work on developmental milestones? If so, then most of the time these skills (such as sitting, rolling, crawling, standing and walking) are best worked playing on the floor together. If this is your goal of choosing a bouncer, or jumper, etc then I'd say that it is likely not the best choice to help you meet this goal.
Don't forget to put safety first! Use the gear or equipment as it was intended, and always strap baby in snugly to keep them safe. Don't skip the buckle because you think it isn't necessary. A common cause of injury involves the improper use of equipment, so buckle up!
What's best for your baby?
As you know, every baby develops at a different pace and has individualized needs based on their age, strength, limitations, and/or special medical considerations. For the most part, as a pediatric physical therapist, I like to encourage neutral, midline alignment. This means you should be able to draw a line from baby’s forehead to their belly button, making sure their neck and body are fairly straight.
If your baby is falling over to one side, has rotated too much, or is unable to hold their head/body upright in a stander/walker, then this is not a good use of the equipment and can put unhealthy pressure on their body, joints and posture.
LEFT: Bad example—baby has poor alignment and posture and is not strapped in!
RIGHT: Good example—baby is neutral and midline and is safely strapped in!
Choose the Right Equipment to Meet Baby’s Needs
Not all equipment is best for your baby based on age alone. It's also important to choose the baby equipment that is right for your baby's current developmental progress and motor timeline. For example, if your baby is still working on their head control, they should use equipment that supports their head and neck, like an infant swing or reclined seat with head support. If your baby is older and already has stable head control, they may be ready to use a stander or walker. If baby is starting to explore taking steps, they may be ready to graduate to a baby walker.
What about jumpers?
You may not like to hear it, but I DO NOT recommend baby jumpers (such as Jumperoos).
Why? Jumping is a complex skill that takes years to develop. A typical toddler may not jump until they are around 2-3 years old, and there is a significant amount of development that goes into building that skill. They will have had a lot of practice of standing, walking, falling and climbing. These experiences help their muscles get stronger and their movement patterns and coordination mature. Their bodies and joints have also had a chance to progress, and are finally ready to take on the challenge of learning to jump.
Placing a young baby or a baby into a jumper can place unhealthy stress on their vulnerable bodies and joints. At this age, they aren't yet developmentally ready for this repetitive and very complex movement.
- Finding the right equipment for your baby is a complex process with many factors to consider, including what your goal is for the equipment, what your baby needs are, and how you use it.
- Understanding why it matters is key because too much time in devices can lead to Container Baby Syndrome. We need to be thoughtful about the postures, positions and pressures they are experiencing to keep them safe and healthy.
Limit time in baby equipment to 30 minutes a day, and then double the amount of floor time they get! Floor time is incredibly important for all aspects of development.
Choose the gear that is appropriate for the skills your baby is working on at that moment, and make sure they are well supported with neutral, midline alignment. Jumpers are generally not recommended.
Always use the item the way it was designed, safely, and under supervision to avoid any injury or harm to baby.
Have a question about your baby's equipment or gear? Share it with us in the comments below.
Angela Fritz is an infant physical therapist (PT) and board-certified pediatric clinical specialist (PCS) and the creator of bebePT. She works full time as a PT in the hospital setting supporting families and helping infants thrive with their own unique needs and strengths. Visit her blog, website, and follow her on Instagram.