A “container baby” is a newborn or young infant who is placed in a container such as a car seat or stroller for extended periods of time throughout the day. “Container Baby Syndrome” (CBS) is a term used to encompass the various conditions all linked to babies that spend a long time in a container of some sort. These conditions include movement, cognitive, and social problems and may even include physical deformity.
Common forms of containers can include:
- Car seats
- Bouncy swings
- Bouncer seats
- Nursing cushion
Although these containers are useful to keep the baby safe as well as provide entertainment to the child and rest to the parents, they can be harmful long term because of how confining they are. When a baby is on its back for an extended period of time in a container, they are unable to move their neck, spine, or body. These limitations lead to delays in rolling, crawling, and walking.
Signs and Symptoms
Some common conditions associated with spending too much time in a container include:
- Flat head – usually seen on the back of the head or one side of the head
- Facial asymmetry – skull deformity may lead to an unequal appearance in the baby’s face
- Torticollis – a limited range of motion of the neck due to tight muscles
- Decreased movement, strength, and coordination
- Speech, vision, thinking, or hearing problems
- Increased weight/obesity
Often babies who are accustomed to being in containers cry when removed and placed on their tummies which can make parents mistakenly think this position is harmful to the baby. However, tummy time is very important for a baby’s development. In this position, they are able to strengthen the muscles of their back, neck, and trunk as well as work on their coordination.
Expectant or new parents are strongly encouraged to research the best ways to ensure their child does not develop CBS. The following are guidelines for preventing CBS:
- Limit your baby’s time in containers such as a car seat or stroller to only when they are being transported.
- Increase the amount of time your baby spends on its tummy – with adult supervision.
- Hold your baby in your arms or a sling for short periods throughout the day instead of them spending all day in a container.
- Let your baby play freely in a playpen.
- Allow your baby to frequently play on a blanket on the floor. Either on their tummy or on their back but outside of a container with adult supervision.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
If you notice any of the symptoms or conditions listed above, such as decreased neck motion or flattening of the head, developing in your baby contact a doctor or physical therapist right away. Pediatric physical therapists can help by taking a thorough history, checking your baby’s strength and range of motion, and testing for the symptoms of CBS. They will work with your baby’s pediatrician to rule out other conditions then collaborate on a course of treatment directed at correcting the specific deficits your baby presents with. Physical therapy treatments may include:
- Movement practice and strengthening – Your physical therapist will use games and toys to encourage your baby to learn new movements and use underdeveloped muscles.
- Positioning – your physical therapist will help teach you how to position your baby so that it can develop normal strength, movement, and skull shape. This may include tips for increased tummy time, floor time, and time spent sitting upright.
- Parent education – Your physical therapist will help educate you on ways to improve your baby’s development. They will make suggestions about how to increase tummy time, how to position your baby during feedings, and how to let your baby play in a playpen instead of a confining container.
- Modalities – Depending on your baby’s condition, your physical therapist may suggest the use of a brace or headgear to aid in treatment.
Here at Advanced Orthopedic Physical therapy, we have two pediatric physical therapists who are well equipped to aid both you and your baby with any symptoms they may be experiencing. To discuss any questions you may have or to find out how a physical therapist can help, schedule a free screen with our office.
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