If I was stranded on a deserted island with an infant and only 3 baby "toys", an activity gym would definitely be one of them!
Why is this infant development pro gah-gah over activity gyms? Because they offer the perfect spot for babies to stretch and strengthen, wiggle and sense and have ACTIVE AWAKE TIME out of restrictive Baby Holding Devices like infant seats, swings, bouncy chairs, car seat carriers, lounge pillows and on and on and on....
BUT (and it's a BIG but), playtimes under an activity gym can contribute to head flattening in your baby (Positional Plagiocepahly) if you're not careful.
How Activity Gyms cause flattening:
Thanks to the (very effective) Back To Sleep / Safe To Sleep recommendations for SIDS reduction, your baby is very likely spending the majority of every 24 hours with pressure on the back of his skull. As I describe in my book, The Flat Head Syndrome Fix, it's important that we balance those pressures on baby's skull during baby's awake time with breaks from pressure on the back of the head AND with pressure on other parts of baby's skull.
Playtime under an activity gym CAN add more time with baby's noggin in that same "on the back" position but it doesn't have to.
3 Ways to Reduce The risk of flat spots on Baby's Head:
1. Turn your newborn's head
Here's a little infant development nugget you might not know: Newborn babies in the first weeks of life don't yet have the ability to hold their head centered (child development nerd term: at midline) so the head flops to one side or the other.
Turning that head from left to right is hard work for a newborn (overcoming gravity is like weight-lifting for babies) so don't be scared to gently help turn your babies head periodically during awake times and when you put baby to sleep to vary the pressures on the back of the head to prevent a flat spot from forming.
For a newborn in the first weeks of life, having toys dangling from a gym above baby can encourage head-turning and neck strengthening to hold the head centered.
But things quickly change...
2. Vary the position of toys on the activity gym
Once baby has mastered head-turning and holding the head centered (usually by or in the second month of life), it's time to shift your gears and move toys away from the center of the activity gym!
Make sure your activity gym doesn't have a central mobile or other fixed toy that might encourage your little one to keep his head in one fixed position. I talked about this in my article about choosing the best activity gym for baby's development.
Move toys to the perimeter of your gym to encourage your baby to turn his head in different directions and reduce the sustained pressure across the back of his skull. Vary the positioning of toys - sometimes only have toys on baby's right side and other times only on his left.
Vary baby's positioning under the gym so that sometimes toys are a little above or below his shoulder to encourage him to turn and look up and down.
3. Be aware of baby's positional preferences
Many, many babies have preferred head positions - a preference for looking left or right. Sometimes these are minor and resolve on their own with plenty of opportunity to move, stretch and strengthen the neck. But other times these asymmetries are due to more significant neck tightness called Torticollis that often requires short-term therapy to remedy.
Babies with head-turning preferences are at VERY high risk for head flattening - as high as 80-90% of babies with Torticollis experience flattening on one side of the back of the head called Plagiocephaly.
If your baby has a preferred head position or has developed a flat spot, strategically place toys only on the opposite side of the gym to encourage head turning in his non-preferred direction or away from his flat spot. I wrote a free eBook for parents who notice their babies have a head-turning preference - get the free download by clicking here!
I created a free email course for you!
You want what's best for your baby, but too many parents I've worked with were given no information about how to prevent head flattening in their babies until it was too late. In this free email course you'll learn:
- My #1 tip for reducing your baby's risk of Flat Head Syndrome / Plagiocephaly
- Simple strategies to implement in your daily routines to keep your baby's head round
CLICK HERE to sign up for the course or click the image below: