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January 16, 2020

What Toys and Equipment Does My Infant Actually “Need”?

There are so many baby items to choose from for your baby registry—crib, stroller, car seat, diapers, wipes, clothes, toys, and more. Mom’s want to have everything they need for their baby, but what exactly does a baby “need”?

What is a “baby container”?

As a pediatric physical therapist and first-time mom, I am here to help when it comes to toys and “baby containers”. Have you heard the term “baby container” before? This refers to anything you will put your baby in, such as Poppy pillows, baby loungers, bouncers, rock-n-plays, bumbos, exersaucer, sit-me-up toys, tummy time mats, and so on!

As a physical therapist, I was always taught “no containers”, and for good reason, since they do not provide the optimal environment for motor development for your baby. As I was preparing for my baby, I did not plan on using any baby “containers” and I just assumed that if my baby wasn’t eating or sleeping, I would hold him or let him play on the floor. However, as a mom of a newborn I quickly realized I needed something to put my newborn in other than holding him or putting him on the floor, but what?

All babies are different, with different preferences, desires, and moods, but most newborn babies do not want to lay on the floor. They prefer to be held, rocked, swung, and snuggled, especially those first few months. So, what is a mom to do? Hold your baby all day?

Below you will find my top recommendations for places to put your newborn and infant that they will love, but in a way that makes it therapeutic and promotes and supports symmetrical and appropriate gross motor development. The following worked for my baby and I am sharing to see if they can work for you and your baby!

Note: the following containers listed are for supervised playtime, never for sleeping or leaving baby unattended.

0-3 months

Bjorn Bouncer: This is a great seat you can use with a young newborn and it grows with the child up to 2 years because it reclines your child until she gets appropriate head control to hold her head on her own. This is great if your baby needs to be upright after a feed or to help keep your baby awake for awake time. You can make this therapeutic by placing toys in front of your baby to encourage reaching and kicking. Your baby will enjoy kicking their legs and will start to bat at toys towards the end of the third month.

Newborn lounger: I would recommend a wider lounger than the Dockatot or Snuggle Me Organic, so your baby can turn their head to both sides for awake/playful time—your baby can feel snuggled but still has plenty of room to move his/her head and arms. Place your baby on their back in the lounger and use contrast cards for them to look at. Place them above and to both sides to encourage them to start focusing on objects and rotating their head. *You want to make sure that your baby can fully look both ways. This is a time where babies may start to only look one way which you want to monitor. Once your child is rolling around 4-6 months, they have already grown out of this!

Boppy nursing pillow: Recline your baby on the Boppy pillow and put your face within 10-12 inches so your baby can easily look at you. Between 2 and 3 months you will see your baby start to track objects or you with their eyes if you move to either side. Note, this is referring to the “half Boppy” that is shaped like a crescent. The “Boppy newborn lounger” is something different, which I do not recommend because it has minimal use after the first couple of months as your baby becomes more active.

4-6 months

Boppy nursing pillow: Place your child sitting with the Boppy nursing pillow around their waist. Your child can lean forward on their arms or place them on the Boppy for support while the Boppy pillow supports their waist and lower trunk. This pillow is also great once your child begins to sit more upright but still needs the pillow surface to avoid falling sideways or backward.

Floor time: At this age, your child is now strong enough and developed enough to really enjoy floor time and spend the majority of their time there. Invest in a padded mat surface to provide a firm surface for them to push off, but it still needs enough padding for reaching and rolling activities.

On their belly: I spent a lot of month three with my little one gaining tummy time endurance and slowly increasing from two-minute intervals to (once my little turned 4-5 months and he could be on his tummy) 10 minutes or more at a time. This gave him strength so now he can really enjoy his tummy time mat and toys by reaching, rolling, looking around, and putting toys in his mouth.

On their back: Lay your child on their back and help your child reach for their knees and feet and sing a song to them. Place toys hanging near their arms/legs to encourage them to start to reach for toys and kick.

Activities: Help your child roll to their side then on to their tummy. On their tummy, place objects vertically in front of their face to encourage them to bring their head up fully to 90 degrees. Place toys in front of them and to either side to have them look both ways with their head.

6-12 months

Most babies will learn upright sitting between 6-8 months, so continue to work on sitting and have pillows nearby as your baby learns balance. Once they master sitting, then you can start to challenge balance by placing toys out of reach.

Floor time: Now your baby will be moving around in a circle on their belly, belly crawling, hands and knees crawling, pulling to a stand, cruising on furniture, and walking! This is a time for LOTS of floor time, engaging toys, and setting up an environment that encourages EXPLORATION AND MOVEMENT. A tummy time mat, fun carpeted area, cause and effect musical toys, and surfaces to safely pull up on will also encourage your baby to explore. And your baby will learn from you as well, so get on the floor and play with your baby! See our previous toy blog for top toy recommendations for your baby’s first year of life!

Note: If you already have some containers not included here, don’t fret! A little time spent in these containers (20-30 minutes a day) is fine, as long as you make sure to still get some playtime on the floor!

Baby Containers explained

Think of it like this: when you go to the gym to do yoga or core exercises, you do them on the ground on a yoga mat, right? Not on a couch. Why is that? Because it is hard to get up off the couch, especially when you are squished in. A couch encourages rest and relaxation, not an active movement. Which is the same for your baby! If your baby is nestled in a lounger, bouncer, or swing, does your baby want to move around or just lounge and relax? Additionally, one common area we treat as physical therapists is torticollis (head tilted and rotated one way because of position in utero or habit of looking only one way) and plagiocephaly (flat head from spending too much time on his back). If your child has plagiocephaly and/or torticollis, spending time passively in these baby containers will only exacerbate the issue. We want your baby to gain range of motion and strength during playtime instead of passively lounging. So, as described below, here are some ways you can make containers therapeutic by engaging in therapeutic play with your baby and continuing to limit time spent in such containers to 30 minutes. Also, see our previous blogs on torticollis and plagiocephaly for more information on these common pediatric diagnoses.

One container to please avoid

The one container that I would recommend avoiding is the Bumbo seat. This is because it forces your baby to sit with his pelvis rocked backward and encourages a rounded lower back. If you tried to sit the way your baby sits in a Bumbo, it would not be comfortable. For delayed sitters, I can always tell which ones spent some time in a Bumbo because of the way the muscles in their low back look and how your baby tries to sit (leaned back).

Some containers that I do not feel are “needed” but are still very fun and stimulating for your baby are swings, exersaucer, bouncy seats, and walkers. If you happen to already have these, no big deal, just limit the time spent in these to 20-30 minutes a day and make sure you are getting an hour of therapeutic floor time each day with your little one!

Any more questions about how to encourage your little one to move and explore? We are here to help parents and babies love playtime with our Mommy 101 Series!

Lumiere Children’s Therapy has two “mom and tot” group classes in our series that teach parents how to engage in floor time and playtime all to promote gross motor development! The purpose of this series is to educate moms on how to position and play with their baby to encourage bonding, fun, and gross motor development. Class descriptions are below; sign up for your first class to try free!

Mommy 101: On the Move with Mom: Learning to roll, sit, and crawl

The first class in our series is for pre-crawlers (around ages 0-9 months). Your baby may not be crawling yet, but he is learning every day—and you can help! Learn how to position your baby to build strength and develop stability while exploring the senses and supporting his visual and auditory development with tummy time, rolling and other key exercises and activities.

A pediatric physical therapist will lead moms through what floor time and playtime can look like for you and your baby and educate you on positions, transitions, and activities. We will also be discussing commonly asked questions in regard to tummy time, milestones, and age-appropriate therapeutic toys. Bring your little one and a blanket and get ready to play!

Mommy 101: On the Move with Mom: Learning to walk

The second class in our series is for pre-walkers (around ages 9-18 months). As your baby becomes vertical, a whole new world of wonder is revealed! Creating a FUN, safe, and motivating play environment is important to encourage discovery, problem-solving, balance and coordination.

A pediatric physical therapist will lead moms through what playtime can look like for you and your baby and educate you on positions, transitions, and activities. Moms will learn to understand how their infant interacts and communicates with them and others!

We will also be discussing commonly asked questions in regard to shoes, safety, milestones, and age-appropriate therapeutic toys. Bring your little one and get ready to play!

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