As parents, many of us love to wrestle with our kids. I personally have fond memories of playing rough with my dad and siblings on the living room floor, and there’s something special about doing the same with my three boys. But is the rough housing that is so enjoyable with older children safe for the more fragile bodies of younger ones? For example, is it safe to throw babies up in the air and catch them, as many parents do to hear the giggles that come out of their little one? There may be more to consider than you think.
In an interview with Romper, pediatrician Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian adamantly maintains that throwing a baby into the air is never safe. Ganjian expresses severe injury concerns such as fractured bones from accidentally dropping the baby, whiplash that could sever the cervical spine, and Shaken Baby Syndrome with possible brain hemorrhage and retinal damage. With risks like those, baby-tossing parents everywhere are balking.
But in a Q&A with child development specialist Claire Lerner in American Baby magazine, Lerner maintained that Shaken Baby Syndrome is not a concern in a case like this one of typical play, but in cases of violent shaking by truly exasperated parents. Lerner asserted that, "being tossed in the air no more than a foot is not likely to generate enough force to cause harm to your baby." Still, Lerner concluded that because of the small but consequential risk of dropping the baby, it's not an activity she recommends.
But are there benefits of this type of play? Many babies certainly seem to enjoy it; for a while it was the only thing guaranteed to make my baby boy laugh out loud. According to Ganjian, the benefit of physical play between parent and child is that it helps develop the child’s personality and imparts a deep sense of trust and protection. However, there are safer ways of achieving this bond than the toss-and-catch trick and, in Ganjian’s professional opinion, the risks outweigh the benefits.
If playing toss-and-catch is a staple bonding activity for you and your baby, talk to your pediatrician about safety guidelines to consider. Getting those belly laughs going is certainly important for baby's emotional development, but let's never forget: safety first.