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Limit Screens and Infant "Containers" to Enhance Your Child’s Brain Development

Girl laughing on swing

Your baby’s brain is impressionable and vulnerable and is developing rapidly during infancy and childhood. What an amazing opportunity and responsibility for you! As you nurture your newborn, you are helping their brain develop. Most natural parental instincts—touching, holding, comforting, rocking and singing—are just what your infant needs for healthy development.

However, two byproducts of the world in which we live—screens and infant “containers”—can get in the way of these natural instincts and in the process, impede your child’s language skills and gross motor development (the ability to control large muscles in the body).

Container Baby Syndrome

In my more than 20 years as a pediatric therapist, I have noted a shift in normal development in otherwise healthy babies. Researchers have found that extended time in car seats, swings, bouncers and strollers and other “containers” (designed to keep your baby safe and occupied) is correlated with developmental delays. There is even a name for the condition: container baby syndrome.

Babies that spend a lot of time in manufactured baby containers not only have less human contact—which is crucial to their development—but are also at increased risk for plagiocephaly, (a flattening of the back of the head) resulting from prolonged pressure on the back of the skull and insufficient tummy time. They also experience a different pattern of movement when carried in a container compared to an adult’s arms.

The Impact of Screen Time

The increased exposure to media screens can also have negative effects on your baby’s development. Problems begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration, and face-to-face interaction in the real world; all of which are critical to learning. Too much screen time can also interfere with sleep and is linked to the obesity epidemic.

What You Can Do To Help Your Baby’s Brain Develop

  • Carry, talk and listen to your baby. Developing an interactive relationship will help grow your baby’s brain. Babies learn language by repetitive and clear exposure, and by watching facial expressions. They sense a natural pattern of movement when they are being carried.
  • Use your child’s car seat for transportation only. Limit time in other “containers” as well.
  • Babies should sleep on their backs. But, when they are awake, provide lots of supervised tummy time.
  • Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for screen media use 
  • Children younger than 18 months: video chatting only
    • 18-24 months: choose high-quality programming you watch together
    • 2-5 years of age: limit screen time to 1 hour of high-quality programming per day
    • Armed with this new knowledge and your natural parental instincts, you are ready to give your baby the best possible start.

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      MariAlice Cunningham, DPT

      MariAlice Cunningham, DPT, is a pediatric physical therapist who works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Women & Babies Hospital.

      Education: Master of Physical Therapy, University of Delaware; Doctor of Physical Therapy, University of Texas Medical Branch.

      Call: 717-544-3700

      About LG Health Hub

      The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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