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Navigating the World of Infant Positioning Devices

Written by: Alissa Colshan, PT, DPT

Take a stroll down the baby aisle at a store and you’ll easily become overwhelmed with all the latest and greatest swings, seats, walkers, jumpers, and so much more. Where do you even begin to make the best decision for you and your baby? Navigating the world of parenting and positioning devices can be tricky at times, so here are some guidelines to keep in mind!

Infant Positioning Devices for Laying
Infant positioning devices used for laying include bouncy seats, rockers, swings, and baby loungers. Babies who use these devices are typically birth to 4 months of age as they are not able to sit on their own yet and are still working on developing head control. These devices offer a comfortable and soothing place to put your infant. They work great when you need a safe, supervised place to put your little one when you need to cook a meal, use the bathroom, or just take a minute for yourself! To little babes, these are sometimes the next best thing to being held in your arms. To prevent concerns, like neck tightness or a preference to look only one direction, use small, rolled up blankets or burp clothes to hold your baby’s head in midline and allow for improved positioning. Of course, remember to supervise your baby when they’re positioned this way!

If you don’t have any of these positioning devices, don’t feel the need to go buy them! You can place your baby on a blanket or activity mat on the floor with toys or a mirror to encourage looking in all directions. The hanging toys on activity mats are great for reaching and kicking. Don’t forget that our children are three dimensional and benefit from being placed on their sides, tummy, and back! Infant carriers and slings are another safe, hands-free alternative and promote infant bonding! Just make sure you follow the guidelines for proper hip positioning in the carriers and slings.

Infant Positioning Devices for Sitting
Infant positioning devices used for sitting include supportive infant seats and chairs, like Bumbos, Sit-Me-Up Floor Seats, and Upseats. These positioning devices are great for working on fine motor activities and midline play. Typically, they’re best for babies who can sit upright with your support and have good head control, which is usually around 4-6 months of age. If you have concerns for a flat spot on your child’s head, these devices work well for minimizing time spent on their back. Just like positioning devices for laying, these devices offer a safe, supervised place to put your little one when you need your hands free. These devices allow your child to experience a new view of the world in sitting, prior to having the skills to sit on their own. Depending on the size of your infant, use small, rolled up towels or blankets to fill in the gaps around them to improve their posture.

Laundry baskets, storage containers, and boxes are all great alternatives to use to support your little one in sitting. Use blankets or pillows to prop them up and give them some toys! Don’t forget, baby wearing can also be useful at this stage as well.

Infant Positioning Devices for Moving
Infant positioning devices for movement include activity centers, exersaucers, jumpers, and walkers. These devices are typically most appropriate for babies who are 6 months of age and older who have good head control and can sit either by themselves or with limited help. Just like infant seats, these devices help babies develop their fine motor and midline play skills and are a great hands-free alternative to keep your baby happy. Babies who can’t yet explore their environment on their own enjoy the movement that these devices allow. In addition, these devices minimize the time babies spend on their backs, which is important if you have concerns for a flat spot on their head.

With all infant positioning devices, you might need to use small rolled up towels or blankets in gaps around them to help support your baby’s positioning and alignment. Also with moving devices, if your child’s feet are not flat on the floor or surface under the positioning device, use a step, book, or box under their feet to allow for improved positioning and minimize being up on their toes.

Infant play yards and playpens are great and safe alternatives that allow your child to explore their mobility and work on their developmental skills. Push toys and small activity tables can also give your infant alternative surfaces to play at in various positions, including sitting, kneeling, and standing.

No matter what positioning devices you use, limit your baby’s use to no more than 15-20 minutes at a time, 2-3 times per day. You should also take your infant out of the device as soon as they start to get tired and are unable to keep their head in midline. This is important to prevent concerns like neck tightness and head tilting. After your infant spends time in a positioning device, give them plenty of time on the floor to play and work on their motor skills. Try to be mindful of time in car seats, strollers, and highchairs as well since those are also considered positioning devices! Remember to follow safe sleep guidelines by placing your infant on a flat surface at night and for naps, not in a positioning device. If you have questions about safe sleep recommendations, talk to your pediatrician! If you have any questions about the use of a positioning device, or if you are concerned about your infant’s development, including milestones, tight neck muscles, preference to look in one direction, or a flat spot on their head, just give the LifeScape Therapy Team a call. It’s our mission to support you with tools and information to make the best decisions for your little ones!

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