Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This Month is Maria's Car Seat Challenge!

 Yes, that's right.  During the entire month of March,  I challenge you to LEAVE THE CAR SEAT IN THE CAR and CARRY YOUR BABY!  Of course you may use a sling, wrap or structured carrier.  Now, I don't want to hear, "What if he is sleeping?" Yes, even if he is sleeping!  Listen, 85% of the time I look into those seats the babies are awake;)  News flash - car seats are for cars!  When my kids were little (in the horse & buggy days-Lol)  we never took the car seat out of the car and nothing bad happened :)  I promise you, that if you left the car seat in the car and carried you baby to and from wherever your going, they would actually be accustomed to it and guess what ? ... Be a better and more flexible sleeper! 
I am not kidding when I say that the only advantage I'm ever told when I protest the bucket's ubiquity is that you can carry a sleeping baby in from the car. But, in my real-world observations, I've seen mostly awake babies carried around and set on the floor or the church pew or a table -- all those missed opportunities to attach, instead of detach, with your baby. Although, really, it would be fine to hold a sleeping child as well.

Here's another one: It's OK for your baby's face to feel the cool air or have the sun light shine upon it or even a rain drop or two to touch it.  How do these babies experience anything when the whole outside world is a zipper flap away?  

On a daily basis I see parents struggling to carry these infant car seats, and straining their bodies. I think to myself, "Why would someone choose to carry 20 lbs or more when they can carry 8 or 10?  Using your infant car seat as a carrier can be a killer on your wrists, elbow, lower back, and neck if you tote it by the handle or if you string it on your forearm like a handbag. “The greater the horizontal distance from the weight you’re carrying to your torso, the more stress on your joints, discs, ligaments, and muscles,” says Mary Ellen Modica, a physical therapist at Schwab STEPS Rehabilitation Clinics in Chicago, IL. “It’s equivalent to walking around with three or four full paint cans in one hand--something most people wouldn’t do, but they’ll carry a car seat that way.”

Come on, common sense tells us that neck, shoulder, rib cage, pelvis, knee and ankle problems can arise or aggravate old injuries from lifting a heavy load on only one side of your body repetitively. Similar strains occur when struggling to get the infant car seats in and out of cars.  It's not the breastfeeding positions or the holding of the baby.

 Trust me, being an ER nurse over the last 35 years, I know how important car seats are for infant safety but , for the car, not everything else!  New parents often look at me in shock when I pose the idea that they can actually carry their own baby instead of the bucket!  Like they never knew the option even existed!  Yes, the option does exist.  
 Now more about your precious cargo! Babies are very susceptible in early days of molding to their environment and a lack of movement results in decreased brain stimulation causing several long term effects.  Basic neurology states that the motor movement of the body drives the Sensory system which in turn develops the cerebral cortex(smart part of your brain). With the weight of a newborn's head on such a weak neck, lack of proper head support is very stressful on the nervous, skeletal and circulatory system. I have also observed new babies who have been left in these seats for too long with their heads becoming flat on one side, dropped over to one side or forwards.  Many parents comment, "He hates the car seat!"  Well, wouldn't you if you spent that much time in one?  Or If all you saw was a piece of fabric in front of your face instead of  the trees or clouds?  Honestly, what do we think we are protecting them from?  

Yes, a newborn's cranium or head is sensitive to flattening when left for too long in one position. This is not just an aesthetic point, the brain is resting within this cavity and the cranial bone movement determines how well cerebral spinal fluid circulates and bathes the brain and cord. A flattened occiput (back of the head) has been linked to SID's, nervous system, respiratory, digestive, cardiac and behavioural problems. I work with babies with colic, sleep issues, ear aches, breast-feeding problems and more and they always have cranial and upper cervical problems.    

Timothy R. Littlefield, MS is affiliated with an Arizona clinic that treats plagiocephaly (flattening of the skull).  In an article in the Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics, he notes that 28.6 % of infants who attended the clinic spent 1.5-4 hrs daily in car seats or  swings and nearly 15 % were in them for more than 4 hrs a day.  Another 5.7 % were allowed to sleep in their car seats at night and for naps.
Littlefield observes that cranial distortion resulting from overuse of car seats and swings is more severe and complex than in children who develop plagiocephaly from back-lying on a mattress.

If that's not convincing enough read this story: Study: Infants Sleeping in Car Seats Could Be At Risk. It points out that the head flexion in car seats that are outside the car can restrict breathing in young infants. I believe that this is the study referenced in the article. A Google Scholar search turned up numerous other articles dealing with head injuries due to falls and overturning of the plastic carriers, plagiocephaly from spending too long in the seats, and many recommendations that these infant seats be limited to their proper use inside of cars only. Apparently, bringing them in not only exposes children to the dangers of falling out of them, but it also places them at more awkwardly upright angles that can threaten their airways.   

So listen to "the voice of reason" (maria)  and keep your babies moving, pick them up and carry them to and from the car and lay them flat in a bassinet or cradled in a sling. Or simply carry your baby in your arms, and your baby and you will both benefit. 

Infants transported that way use their head, neck, and shoulder muscles to stabilize themselves and establish stronger trunk stability. Those muscles develop sooner in babies who aren’t carried around in a car seat.  And then NO NEED for TUMMY TIME- that your baby dislikes.

With all of the physical, chemical and emotional stress that is on parents and babies these days, it is nice to know that we don't all have to "buy into" or subscribe to the incorrect use of these products. 
Conclusion: Products that are introduced to our western culture may be very convenient or look good but what is the long term cost to us and our environment?   Car seats are very good at doing what they are supposed to do: protecting children in the event of an accident .  But there is no evidence to suggest that staying in a car seat after the ride is over offers a child any benefit .