Since they were invented in the 18th Century western culture has seen prams and pushchairs as the default means for getting around with your baby. Once cars took over our lives we needed car seats which we now use to carry babies and in which we leave babies sitting and sleeping for hours. The result is that the modern baby often spends more time in a man made seat of some form than in the arms of a human being. Interestingly, what is normal for us is alien in other cultures – in some countries buggies barely exist so they are clearly not the only way of getting around.
We tend to assume that we need a pushchair and so probably don’t question their use that much. They are actually quite cumbersome and impractical in many ways; think about getting on a bus, through narrow doorways or down a flight of stairs. Some of them are quite tricky to fold up and take up valuable storage space. They are also expensive – some as much as £700 – but we tend to just assume it’s an unavoidable expense that comes with parenthood.
Not only are they inconvenient to actually get around with (ironic given that is their purpose) but they may not be that great for our babies either. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that it’s not unusual for a baby to suffer distress – hat over face, snot everywhere – for longer than necessary because he’s hidden in his pushchair facing away from mum. And can you imagine what it must be like to be stuck at exhaust pipe level every time you pop into town? Research in 2008 suggested that children in front facing pushchairs are not reaping the rewards of parent-child interaction and so maybe suffering in terms of their development; it’s lonely out front and their isn’t much communication going on. The conclusion of this research is that buggies should allow the baby to see their pusher so that the chance for meaningful communication (and hence language development) is maximised.
Research has also tested the stress hormone levels of babies facing forwards and facing their mothers and concluded that being at least able to see your mother results in far less stress on the infant.
Some babies may suffer from “flathead” (positional plagiocephaly) which is when the soft skull of a baby’s head becomes flattened as a result of resting his head in the same position against a surface. This is often the result of lying on the back but can also occur as a result of being seated in a car seat for extened periods and was enough of a concern to the American Academy of Pediatrics to suggest that minimal time should be spent in car seats (when not actually travelling).
While most families will no doubt continue to use buggies it is well worth learning about the real benefits of the alternative – babywearing – so that you fully understand the implications of your choice of baby transport. At the very least, you may like to consider using a rear facing buggy, as The Talk to your Baby research above suggests.