Are Jumpers and Activity Centers Bad For Babies? Here’s What Parents Need To Know
Experts explain why this is one activity to enjoy sparingly.
Unless you're in the early childhood education or medical professions, it can be really difficult to know what's best and safest for your babies when it comes to toys, activities, and gear. It often takes us a lot of ‘research’ (frantic texts to other parents) to figure out what to buy, how to use it, and what to avoid — and there are plenty of parenting opinions out there, many of which seem to conflict. It's especially tough when family and friends give you hand-me-down baby gear or gifts that you’ve heard mixed things about. For example, you may have heard that ‘exersaucers’ and baby jumpers are bad for babies. But then, your mom brings one over as a little gift for your baby and you feel like it might actually be really nice to have a place to put your little one. Are they actually bad? Or is it OK to pop them in a jumper when you need both hands free for a bit?
Are jumpers bad for babies?
When not used properly, jumpers can be dangerous and cause injury to babies, which is why many medical experts are wary about recommending them to parents. But do you need to throw away that jumper you’ve been given? Or is it OK to use sometimes? We asked pediatricians Dr. Anandita Pal and Dr. Samira Armin to explain what parents need to know.
Risks of using a baby jumper
Baby jumpers and exersaucers are convenient tools during busy days. “As parents, these inventions can allow us to have a much-needed break that lets children play, have fun, and stay engaged as we keep an eye on them,” explain Pal and Armin. “As pediatricians, though, we are trained to identify and prevent any potential harm to children, and that unfortunately makes us generally not big fans of either. We do not usually recommend either, as these products have been known to cause injuries if not used properly.” They also add that a jumper should never, ever be suspended from a door or ceiling.
User error is one big safety issue with baby jumpers. When they are not used correctly, or when children are not monitored while in them, Pal and Armin say that serious injuries can occur. Head injury is their biggest concern, explain Pal and Armin. Neck strain and calf strain are also common issues, they add.
Decreased motor development
The more time your baby spends in a jumper or exersaucer, the less time they are spending on the floor working on developing their gross motor skills. In short, if they spend too much time in a baby jumper, “it can take longer for them to walk independently,” Pal and Armin say. Studies have shown that increased activity center use actually results in decreased motor development and control.
Additionally, there’s the possible increase in hip injury in babies if they misuse or overuse jumpers and exersaucers. “Many times, jumpers suspend your baby in a position that is not ideal for their hip joints, which can increase the risk of hip dysplasia or dislocation,” Pal and Armin explain. That unhealthy position, in addition to extended periods of use with a jumper, can endanger your baby. In fact, any device that restrains a baby’s hips and legs in an unnatural position can risk abnormal hip development, they add.
How to use a baby jumper safely
All of that being said, while Pal and Armin also understand that many parents will choose to use jumpers and exersaucers occasionally. If you do use a jumper, here’s how to make sure you’re using it safely.
Limit Baby’s time in the jumper
“It is recommended that things like jumpers and Exersaucers are only used 10 to 15 minutes a day at the most,” explains Chicago-based physical therapist Sajani Parikh, adding that “jumpers are a great place to put a child for entertainment, or, you know, if you need to use the bathroom.”
One reason behind the strict moderation has to do with the positioning of the child. Because of the way babies are seated, largely leaning forward and on their tippy toes, there is added stress to the ankle joint and the gastrocnemius muscle group (muscles along the back of the leg, running from the ankle to knee). “This could contribute to future toe-walking,” Parikh explains.
Check product recalls
Just like you would with a car seat or stroller, it’s important to make sure that the product you’re using has not been recalled, that the jumper is not suspended from the door or ceiling, that your baby is the right size and weight as well as able to move their head and sit well unsupported, and that their feet can reach the floor,” according to Drs. Sami and Ana. “As always, less is more.”
A.L. Abbott & D. J. Bartlett (2002). Infant motor development and equipment use in the home. Child: Health, Care, and Development, 27(3), 295-306. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2214.2001.00186.x
Dr. Sajani Parikh, DPT, Chicago-based physical therapist
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