Preparing for a new baby? Think twice before stocking up on gadgets
and gear, says pediatric development specialist Anne Zachry, author of Retro Baby,
published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Zachry, a professor of
occupational therapy at the University of Tennessee Health Science
Center, talks with USA TODAY's Michelle Healy about baby gear
intended to make life easier and make babies smarter, but which may
actually hinder development in the crucial first two years of life.
How has the overuse of certain types of baby gear, often marketed as
necessities for new babies, impeded babies' and infants' development?
As babies have begun spending excessive amounts of time sedentary in
plastic devices such as bouncer seats and carriers, and spending more
time with educational DVDs and high-tech toys, we've seen an increase in
mild developmental delays and an increase in the number of babies with
flats spots on their head.
Q: Most parents aren't aware of these concerns?
Unfortunately not. The goal of this book is to help parents realize how
important it is to limit time in baby gear and with media and to spend
one-on-one time with their baby and give them time on the stomach to
strengthen baby's upper body.
Q: Where do TV and educational DVDs and apps fit into the goal of creating a stimulating environment?
The American Academy of Pediatrics is very clear in its recommendation
that there should be no screen time before age 2. Studies suggest most
children don't understand what they see on a screen before that age.
Currently, there's no research available that shows learning truly takes
place when babies view commercial educational videos, computer programs
Q: A car seat is a vital piece of baby gear. Why is
its extended use, along with carriers and portable rocking sleepers, a
A: Carriers and seats with hard plastic backs are a
concern because they can cause positional plagiocephaly, or flat head
syndrome, if the baby's head rests in the same position too long against
the surface of the carrier.
Q: You say being strapped in too long may also be related to some development issues?
There's some mixed research that finds babies' motor skills are coming
in a little later, especially if they spend too much time in equipment.
They usually catch up in those skills by age 1, but we don't know the
impact that will have in the long run. I recommend no more than two to
three hours a day total in plastic equipment. Less is better. A bouncer
seat is softer, but even there I'd recommend no more than 30 minutes a
Q: Public health campaigns have emphasized the importance
of putting babies to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of
sleeping-related infant deaths. But you say to avoid sleep positioners,
which claim to prevent babies from rolling over onto their stomachs
while sleeping. Why?
A: A baby can be become trapped and
suffocate between a sleep positioner and the side of crib. The American
Academy of Pediatrics recommendations are very clear that no soft
bedding, pillows or stuffed animals should be in the crib with the baby
because they can be a suffocation hazard.
Q: We know adequate
"tummy time" is still very important for babies to reduce flat head
syndrome problems and to ensure that babies develop strong neck and
torso muscles and motor skills. Any advice for encouraging that?
Start tummy time on Day One. Early on you do that by placing baby on
your chest or tummy. I think some parents were scared to put babies
down on their stomachs to play out of fear of SIDS, but if the baby is
awake and supervised, it's perfectly safe. There are instructions in the
book on how to turn that unsafe, unneeded crib bumper pad into a tummy
time bolster when you play with baby on the floor.
What gear should parents skip?
Some popular baby products that child development expert Anne Zachry and other pediatric experts says parents don't need:
1. Educational DVDs.
Research indicates educational DVDs do not help babies learn. Various
studies find either no difference in language acquisition between
children who watched educational DVDs and those who didn't, or that
babies learn language better by interacting with live speakers than by
passively listening to language coming from a DVD.
2. Sleep positioners,
a flat or wedged mat intended to keep babies positioned on their back
while sleeping. They are unnecessary and pose a suffocation risk, Zachry
3. Jumping devices, including Johnny Jump Up,
Jumperoo, and Jump & Go. Some attach to door frames, others are
freestanding. Those that suspend from a door frame pose dangers
including head trauma, strangulation and whiplash. All versions
encourage standing on the tiptoes, which is not good for baby's feet,
and excess jumping puts unnecessary stress on an infant's legs, hips and
4. Bath Seats. They provide support so a
child can sit upright in an adult bathtub, but are capable of tipping
over. Instead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends using a
hard plastic child bathtub and make sure you never leave a child
unattended near water and always have at least one hand on the child
while bathing him or her.
5. Bumper pads. There's no
proof that the pads, used to keep babies from bumping their heads
against the slats of a crib, prevent serious injury. In fact, they are
pose a potential risk of suffocation, strangulation, or entrapment.
6. Baby walkers.
These wheeled seats are intended to give babies mobility and learn to
walk. But children with have fallen into pools, down stairs, and over
ledges and been burned when using walks and they may actually delay, not
help when a child starts to walk. A safer option is a stationary
activity center used in moderation - no more than 15 minutes a day.