New research today warned that infants under four weeks shouldn't travel in car seats for more than 30 minutes. The news follows a study at Swindon's Great Western Hospital which reveals that putting babies in an upright position might cause breathing difficulties.
If you talk about technology and it's impact on children and babies, most people will think of computers and mobile phones. However, in my opinion, one of the biggest technological impacts on babies is actually the development of car seats and prams.
Forty years ago the choice of prams were few and quite often they were handed down through family. The beauty of them though was that baby was able to lay perfectly flat when asleep or mum was out for a walk and with cars being more of a luxury then, walking was the transportation of choice.
Now, the technological development of prams and car seats is big business with every new design quoted as the 'latest technology' and I don't doubt that they are. Now, you can have a car seat (which is a legal requirement for babies travelling in a car) that can be removed from the car and clipped straight on to your pram frame or placed in a specially designed shopping trolley (also a technological advancement!). Suddenly, your baby is potentially spending hours squashed in to a car seat or pram and this has a number of implications.
Your baby's spine starts off in a natural C shape and this is called the primary curve which they developed in the womb. They have no control over or strength in their muscles and this is why you have to support their head and neck. They will naturally pull their legs in to the 'fetal' position when on their belly or you pick them up as this supports the primary curve. However, your baby's spine needs to develop the natural S shape beginning with the secondary curve at the neck as they gain control of their head and then the lumbar curve as they begin to sit unaided and crawl. Spending too much time in 'seats' such as car seats, bouncy chairs, baby swings and strollers that do not lay flat impedes this natural development and has been seen to cause physical developmental delays and long term spinal issues. Physical skills are the pre-cursor to cognitive skills.
As I have just mentioned your newborn baby cannot control their head or neck muscles and this does not develop fully until approximately two months and so when they are placed in a car seat, in the correct position the weight of their head can naturally fall forward. In recent studies, a baby in this position can start to have a significant drop in oxygen within as little as 30 minutes and tragically a baby has lost their life as a result of restricted airway due to being in a 'seat' whilst sleeping.
Having the latest technology in car seat and pram has made it very easy for us to get out and about with a newborn, which is a good thing, right? Well I'm not so sure. I talk about the pressures of getting 'out and about' from a social media point of view but my worry as far as car seats etc are concerned is sleep disruption. A baby's primary job, apart from feeding, during those first weeks is to sleep! The importance of sleep in baby's first weeks is grossly underrated.
According to the National Sleep Foundation in America:
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) or "quiet" sleep. During the deep states of NREM sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development.
Rapid Eye Movement(REM) or "active" sleep. During REM sleep, our brains are active and dreaming occurs. Our bodies become immobile, breathing and heart rates are irregular.
Babies spend 50 percent of their time in each of these states and the sleep cycle is about 50 minutes. At about six months of age, REM sleep comprises about 30 percent of sleep. By the time children reach preschool age, the sleep cycle is about every 90 minutes.
Therefore sleep, and in particular a good sleep cycle is paramount to your baby's wellbeing and development. So, what can you do? Here are my top tips to ensure you are using your baby car seat safely:
1. Minimise the time your baby is in a seat. Whilst it may be more convenient to just lift a car seat on to a pram frame it certainly isn't what's best for your baby. Where possible use a pram that allows your baby to lay flat especially when sleeping! Limit the time that your baby is in a seat of any kind to a maximum of 2 hours across the whole day. If you have to travel long distances make sure you take breaks and give your baby time out of their seat every 30mins.
2. Put baby on the floor! Time to lay flat is just as important when baby is awake as you can encourage their natural development of their spine and control over muscles by interacting with them.
3. Tummy Time! Due to the recommendations to reduce the risk of cot death, many mums are scared to put their baby on their tummy. However, spending time on their tummy when baby is awake is vital to their physical development both for their spine and gaining control of neck muscles and eventually pushing up on their arms in preparation for crawling.
4. Age appropriate! Make sure that any seat you use is appropriate for the age and developmental stage of your baby. It is always better for you to hold your baby and interact with them to encourage the development of their muscles before introducing a new piece of equipment so you are confident of its safe use as using things before your baby has full control of any muscles (neck, stomach & back and legs etc) can put your baby at risk.
5. Sleep! Now I am not suggesting you confine yourself to the house for the first 6 weeks like 40 years ago but DO allow your baby time to sleep in a suitable environment and DO allow them to settle in to a good sleeping pattern, Babyopathy can help you do this. DON'T be afraid to move your baby from their car seat to lay them flat in case you wake them. They will also begin to recognise that lying flat and settling themselves if they wake is part of their sleep routine.