Not just for adults, too much sitting can be harmful for babies, too

 The American Physical Therapy Association uses the term Container Baby Syndrome to describe issues seen in infants who spend too much time in devices (or ‘containers’) that inhibit movement. These containers include car seats, strollers, bouncy chairs, and other seating devices used to transport babies to keep them safe and accessible for parents and caregivers. On an average, infants spend almost six hours per day in these things. Excessive time in these devices inhibits movement and places babies at higher risk for a variety of issues, such as plagiocephaly (flat spot at one side of the head or the whole back of the head), decreased strength, and delayed motor milestones.

A study by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Nursing, Kasturba Gandhi Nursing College, Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth, Puducherry in 2019 noted that the problem shows significant increase in recent years. “…Many babies are having skull and facial deformities, muscle spasm, difficulties in speech, vision, hearing and thinking abilities and even obesity,” says the study.

Dr Sobiya Altaf Shaikh (PT), Consultant Physiotherapist, Motherhood Hospitals, Pune, Lullanagar talks to us about Container Baby Syndrome.

What is Container Baby Syndrome?

The term Container Baby Syndrome encompasses a range of conditions that arise from the excessive use of devices like car seats, swings, bouncers, slings, nursing pillows, floor seats, high chairs, jumpers, walkers and strollers that restrict the baby’s movement. Prolonged and frequent use of these items throughout the day can result in what is now known as Container Baby Syndrome.

What are the fallouts of spending too much time in ‘containers’?

Over use of these items may take longer to develop skills such as sitting, standing, and walking in children as the baby’s movements are limited. These items also prevent children from sitting or standing in correct alignment and cause an inability to activate important muscles. It needs consultation with a physiotherapist to know about this syndrome and prevent any further problems in your children.

How does this syndrome pan out?

The impacts of spending too much time confined in various baby equipment throughout the day can accumulate quickly. Moving from one container to another reduces a baby’s opportunity to move and develop essential strength and coordination. While some products may give the impression that they are helping babies learn new skills, they restrict natural movements and hinder muscle activation. This can lead to improper stress on bones and joints, putting the child at risk for injuries and hindering skill development such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and walking.

Please elaborate on the various problems.

Many problems are seen in babies due to prolonged confinement in containers. This can lead to delayed attainment of anticipated motor milestones like rolling, sitting, or standing. Delayed development encompasses motor, sensory, cognitive, communication, social, and emotional aspects, flattened areas on the head due to immobility called plagiocephaly, stiffness in the neck from consistent head positioning known as torticollis, restricted mobility and poor muscle strength and coordination, walking on tiptoes, visual impairments, elevated risk of obesity due to reduced physical activity.

How can these problems be identified?

Parents, family members, and healthcare providers play a crucial role in identifying signs that a baby may have limited movement in turning its head or body, issues with hearing and vision, malposition of the neck or tilting of head to one side. Delayed growth and development: The baby might exhibit difficulty in crawling, rolling, turning, sitting, and standing. Delayed cognitive development: The baby may exhibit poor problem-solving abilities, difficulty understanding their environment, and delayed language skills.

A doctor will conduct a physical examination to assess the shape of the skull and face, the baby’s head and neck control, baby’s muscle development, activity of the head and limbs when lying on the tummy, ability to roll over and crawl, as well as object tracking with the eyes.

What are some tips to avoid this syndrome?

Encourage the baby to have plenty of unstructured playtime on the ground. Let the baby play and move around on a soft surface, like a mat or blanket, both on their tummy and back. Hold the baby in your arms or a sling for short periods, and let them explore their surroundings throughout the day to help them adapt to the natural environment. Minimise time spent in car seats and strollers to only when necessary for transportation. Avoid letting the baby nap in these containers, and instead, follow safe sleep practices by having them sleep on their back in a crib. Increase the amount of time the baby spends playing on their tummy during the day as much as possible. Use containers sparingly, limiting them to not more than 15 minutes at a time until they are developmentally ready for it. It’s important to use equipment like car seats when traveling in a car and helpful for short periods during the day when parents need to do tasks that may be unsafe with the baby, such as cooking near a hot stove.

Professionals can address issues stemming from Container Baby Syndrome by providing gentle stretching exercises for tight muscles, strength-building activities, showing them ways to gain control of different positions and assistance in achieving motor milestones.