Mums and dads are being urged not to allow their toddlers to use a baby walker and not to leave their babies in car baby seats when outside of the car.
The advice comes from the United Chiropractic Association (UCA), which says that baby walkers are bad for toddlers, and the habit of carrying a baby around in a car seat is harmful to both child and parent.
The UCA, which has around 600 members across the UK, warns that prolonged periods on their back risks the development of plagiocephaly, or flattening of bones in the infant's skull. Research has linked plagiocephaly with a risk of not reaching full co-ordination and learning potential later on. The UCA says that a more upright position in a good quality baby sling is a much better carrying option.
When it comes to a baby's first steps, rather than using a potentially damaging baby walker, the UCA is advising parents to allow their babies as much supervised 'tummy time' as possible to enable good spinal development.
The advice coincides with the UCA's Spinal Awareness Week on 12-16 May.
The UCA says that keeping your baby in a car seat for long periods means their spine remains in a C-shape, preventing the natural curves of the neck and lower back from forming. And there are other risks too.
Executive member of the UCA, Estelle Zauner-Maughan, said: "There's evidence that babies left in car seats for a long period of time may have difficulty breathing because of the posture it puts them in. So while it's a very safe way for the baby to travel, babies should not be left in them for extended periods of time while not in the car.
"Research suggests that lying on their backs for long periods can increase the risk of plagiocephaly as a result of the prolonged pressure on the back of the head. This is very serious because there is a link between babies with flat skull and a risk of failing to reach their full co-ordination and learning potential."
Estelle added: "Carrying your baby in a seat is also bad for YOU. Most people lean forward and twist when they get the seats in and out of the car. The spine is strong and it's stable but not both at once. You're putting a load on the spine and you're twisting, which makes it unstable. It's also quite a weight to be carrying about so you're putting your core at risk."
This is backed by research, which shows that carrying your baby in a sling saves 16% of your energy.
A good quality sling or wrap is much better for your baby too, according to Estelle - but make sure that the sling is of sufficient quality and that the baby is carried properly: "Some slings aren't designed very well and the weight is distributed through the baby's hips which is bad. But if you get a sling that puts their hips in a correct position, like you have a little koala hanging on to you, then the weight is distributed properly which helps to encourage proper musculoskeletal development.
"The muscles that attach into the back of the head have a lot to do with co-ordination and balance and learning, so if they're upright they are firing those muscles appropriately. They're getting stimulus into their balance system by you moving."
The UCA points out that infants who are carried for three hours or more each day in their first three months of life cry 43% less often than those carried less frequently.
Supervised tummy time and crawling should also be encouraged. These activities are excellent for developing the spine properly as they allow the baby to lift the head off the ground and develop the arch of the neck.
"I advise that parents don't use baby walkers for their children," said Estelle. "It encourages babies to scoot around on their toes, which contributes to poor posture in later life and it encourages them to use muscles in a way that their nervous system isn't yet ready for.
"They need to go through those stages of tummy time, rolling and crawling; doing this is what makes the nervous system develop in the right order. Plus baby walkers are potentially dangerous."
Getting into good habits right from the start prevents the need for later correction and Estelle, who has a practice in Tynemouth, says a child is never too young for chiropractic: "I've adjusted babies as soon as they were born. The sooner that people are adjusted the better their potential. The techniques used with babies and children are adapted to their nervous system development and their physical development and with experienced paediatric chiropractors are safe and extremely effective.
"Chiropractors are highly trained to recognise when someone shouldn't be adjusted and will refer them back to their medical practitioners and paediatricians as appropriate."
Timothy Littlefield, et al., Car Seats, Infant Carriers, and Swings: Their Role in deformational Plagiocephaly Journal of Prosthetics & Orthotics 15 (July 2003): 102-106.
Wall-Scheffler C, Geiger K, Steudel-Numbers K. Infant carrying: The increased locomotory costs in early development. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 2007; 133: 841-846. Doi: 10,1002/ajpa.20603
Hunziker UA, Barr RZ. Increased Carrying Reduces Infant Crying: A randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics 1986;77(5): 641-648
By Glenn Fredericksen
Member since: 2nd February 2011
I started Shrewsbury Family Chiropractic in 2011 to provide a more positive service and approach to maintaining great levels of health and well being. I enjoy working with people of all ages and the warm...