The Rise of Technology and the Demise of Development – Part 2

New research has revealed that newborn infants may be at risk of breathing difficulties if left in car safety seats for long periods, particularly when travelling.

Funded by the Lullaby Trust, the study was carried out at the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, with support from the University of Southampton and the University of Bristol.

As part of my blog series The Rise of Technology is the Demise of Development this was something I had known for a while, but it is not just about newborn breathing difficulties…….

What a difference just 40 years can make. Technology has seen one of it’s biggest leaps of progression in our history – computers, mobile phones, the World Wide Web to name but a few and generally this is hailed as a leap in civilisation – but is it all it is cracked up to be?

In my view, technology can be very damaging for our children:

  • affecting sleeping patterns
  • causing stress
  • causing regression in all developmental areas of Under 2’s: physical / social & emotional / language
  • affecting fertility
  • affecting social interaction and mental health!

Here’s why…..

Car seats & Prams

If you talk about technology and it’s impact to most people, they will think of computers and mobile phones etc which we will also talk about later. However, one of the biggest technological impacts on babies is actually the development of car seats and prams!

40 years ago the choice of prams were few and quite often they were handed down through family. The beauty of them though was that baby was able to lay perfectly flat when asleep or mum was out for a walk and with cars being more of a luxury then, walking was the transportation of choice.

Now, the technological development of prams and car seats is big business with every new design quoted as the ‘latest technology’ and I don’t doubt that they are. Now, you can have a car seat (which is a legal requirement for babies travelling in a car) that can be removed from the car and clipped straight on to your pram frame or placed in a specially designed shopping trolley (also a technological advancement!). Suddenly, your baby is potentially spending hours squashed in to a car seat or pram and this has a number of implications!

  • From C to S! Your baby’s spine starts off in a natural C shape and this is called the primary curve which they developed in the womb. They have no control over or strength in their muscles and this is why you have to support their head and neck. They will naturally pull their legs in to the ‘fetal’ position when on their belly or you pick them up as this supports the primary curve. However, your baby’s spine needs to develop the natural S shape beginning with the secondary curve at the neck as they gain control of their head and then the lumbar curve as they begin to sit unaided and crawl. Spending too much time in ‘seats’ such as car seats, bouncy chairs, baby swings and strollers that do not lay flat impedes this natural development and has been seen to cause physical developmental delays and long term spinal issues. Physical skills are the pre-cursor to cognitive skills.
  • Airways! As I have just mentioned your newborn baby cannot control their head or neck muscles and this does not develop fully until approximately two months and so when they are placed in a car seat, in the correct position the weight of their head can naturally fall forward. In recent studies, a baby in this position can start to have a significant drop in oxygen within as little as 30 minutes and tragically a baby has lost their life as a result of restricted airway due to being in a ‘seat’ whilst sleeping.
  • Heat & Safety: no, not health & safety but heat and safety! Babies cannot regulate their own temperature and this is particularly crucial for the first 8 weeks of a babies life as their skin is very thin and they have little fatty tissue but also the part of the brain responsible for this is immature. It is not until they are 18 months to 2 years that they full develop this ability. Until then you have to be the temperature gauge for them and ALWAYS ensure their head is covered outside as well as their hands and feet. How does this relate to cars seats and prams though you may ask? Well as my picture demonstrates (albeit a little dramatically) during the colder months even the ‘technological development’ of clothes has progressed and there is now more available in winter outdoor attire and even snow suits! Years ago it would be layers that were used and blankets to keep baby warm and this also meant they were easily adjusted for temperature. If you take a look at the picture, when using thick coats or suits such as that displayed there are two issues; first baby can become overheated very easily but not uncovered or undressed easily which can be a factor in cot death, and secondly, the ‘bulk’ of the coat/suit can be a safety hazard of its own in the car seat as it is causing a cushion space that in a situation of harsh breaking means baby can move before the seat restraints can do their job causing potential harm but also if a coat is on but not zipped up there have been instances that baby can ‘slip out’ through the coat as it is the coat that is restrained not the baby. So when using a car seat in the cold months don’t put baby in to it with thick coats or suits on, use blankets to keep them warm – and don’t forget the all important hat!
  • Sleep! Having the latest technology in car seat and pram has made it very easy for us to get out and about with a newborn, which is a good thing, right? Well I’m not so sure. I talk about the pressures of getting ‘out and about’ from a social media point of view but my worry as far as car seats etc are concerned is sleep disruption. A baby’s primary job, apart from feeding, during those first weeks is to sleep! The importance of sleep in baby’s first weeks is grossly underrated! According to the National Sleep Foundation in America:
    • Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) or “quiet” sleep. During the deep states of NREM sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development.
    • Rapid Eye Movement(REM) or “active” sleep. During REM sleep, our brains are active and dreaming occurs. Our bodies become immobile, breathing and heart rates are irregular.
    • Babies spend 50 percent of their time in each of these states and the sleep cycle is about 50 minutes. At about six months of age, REM sleep comprises about 30 percent of sleep. By the time children reach preschool age, the sleep cycle is about every 90 minutes.

So you see, sleep and in particular a good sleep cycle is paramount to your baby’s wellbeing and development.

So, what can you do?

  1. Minimise the time your baby is in a seat. Whilst it may be more convenient to just lift a car seat on to a pram frame it certainly isn’t what’s best for your baby. Where possible use a pram that allows your baby to lay flat especially when sleeping! Limit the time that your baby is in a seat of any kind to a maximum of 2 hours across the whole day (less for a newborn). If you have to travel long distances make sure you take breaks and give your baby time out of their seat every 30mins.
  2. Put baby on the floor! Time to lay flat is just as important when baby is awake as you can encourage their natural development of their spine and control over muscles by interacting with them.
  3. Tummy Time! Due to the recommendations to reduce the risk of cot death, many mums are scared to put their baby on their tummy. However, spending time on their tummy when baby is awake is vital to their physical development both for their spine and gaining control of neck muscles and eventually pushing up on their arms in preparation for crawling.
  4. Age appropriate! Make sure that any seat you use is appropriate for the age and developmental stage of your baby. It is always better for you to hold your baby and interact with them to encourage the development of their muscles before introducing a new piece of equipment so you are confident of its safe use as using things before your baby has full control of any muscles (neck, stomach & back and legs etc) can put your baby at risk.
  5. Sleep! Now I am not suggesting you confine yourself to the house for the first 6 weeks like 40 years ago but DO allow your baby time to sleep in a suitable environment and DO allow them to settle in to a good sleeping pattern, Babyopathy can help you do this. DON’T be afraid to move your baby from their car seat to lay them flat in case you wake them. They will also begin to recognize that lying flat and settling themselves if they wake is part of their sleep routine.