Should I stop using my Bumbo chair?

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Since the last Facebook fan question was answered, "Are walking rings really that bad?", there have been many more questions from Sealy fans wanting to know what is best for their babies.

This week's question is: "I know the old Bumbo wasn't good, but there seems to be a new one out with a lap strap. Is this one okay?"

smallbabybumbo copy

Here is Roxanne Atkinson, a Paediatric Occupational Therapist’s response: 

Like, the Walking Ring, the Bumbo Floor Seat is unhelpful in so many ways.  In the early, 2000s parents were sold this chair to supposedly 'promote' independent sitting, and thought it may help a child if they sat upright after a feed. They also loved that this chair was portable, fairly light-weight and easily cleaned with a wipe of a cloth or spray of a hose.

Because there are a few versions of the Bumbo chair (and some fairly similar other products) it is necessary to clarify what products we are addressing in this blog.

The Bumbo chair that most of us in South Africa are familiar with is this one... and it is definitely not okay.

oldbumboThis is the 'original' rubbery chair that became very popular around the globe and then fell out of fashion after it was deemed 'unsafe' and 'unfit' for babies and toddlers.

"The first Bumbo seat recall occurred in 2007, of nearly one million Bumbos manufactured from 2003 to 2007, after reports of at least 17 infants falling out of the Bumbo and suffering skull fractures. In August 2012, another recall occurred of nearly 4 million Bumbo seats after reports of 95 babies falling out of the seat and at least 19 infants suffering skull fractures". Click here to read more.

The 2012 recall saw Bumbo add a warning sticker (Do not put the Bumbo on high surfaces") as well as a lap strap. bumbo lapbelt copyBut unfortunately, neither the sticker nor the lapstrap made it much safer, and the marketing damage was done, so most google-savvy 'first world' parents started looking for better options.

It was at this same time that, here in Africa, there was an influx of second-hand, unwanted Bumbos looking for happy homes.

While the South Africans were just starting their journey on the old Bumbo, the Western world was attempting to develop other seats such as Mama's & Papa's Baby Snug... mamas-and-papas-baby-snugand Prince Lionheart's BebePod (which has since been discontinued by the manufacturer).

prince lion babyseat copy

These chairs seemed to inspire Bumbo who released an additional design called The Bumbo Mutli-Seat with a striking resemblance to the other products. Unfortunately, they did not release this chair to replace the Bumbo Floor seat (3-9 months), but as an additional seat, for older babies (6-48 months).

newbumbomulti copy

The new design included:

  • a lap strap (to hold a baby, that would rather be moving, in one position);
  • two seat straps (to attach it to a chair for feeding) but alas, no foot support;
  • wider thigh inserts (to allow chunkier thighs from getting trapped); and
  • a more shallow seat depth (to try and limit the terrible posture that the bucket seat promoted).

So whichever Bumbo you are using (the first being the most evil and the last being the lesser evil) here is why using a Bumbo chair to promote sitting is actually going to get in your baby's way of sitting independently, rather than being heplful.

The Bumbo is to tummy time what the walking ring is to crawling - a massive barrier.

Babies need to conquer gravity. Their first victory over gravity is head control - the ability to keep the head in midline and on top of their shoulders no matter whether they are lying or sitting (or anywhere in between). Most parents place their babies in a Bumbo as soon as they have head control (around 3 months old).

Alas, babies do not develop upright, above the ground.

extension bumbo copy

But rather on the floor (and in the arms of adults that love them).

Here are the endless benefits of tummy time:

1. Development of postural control

To get to true independent sitting, babies need to conquer other motor milestones first. IMG_0438

They need to be able to:

  • push their chests off the ground (around 4 months);
  • roll from side to side (around 4.5 months) and
  • push themselves from side lying into sitting (around 6-9 months).

Once sitting they learn to hold themselves upright using their trunk muscles and rely less and less on their arms to prop themselves up.

2012-07-05 14.08.36 IMG_8797

The only place they can do these things is on the floor. That is why floor time or tummy time is so important.

2. Development of sensory processing skills


This time on the floor (or any firm surface such as grass) promotes movement and weight-bearing and helps babies develop the necessary sensory processing skills such as:

  • proprioception which develops through pressure on and in the baby's joints and helps them know where they are in space;
  • vestibular processing which develops through the movement of the fluid in the inner ear and helps them gain balance and agility
  • tactile processing which develops through touching different surfaces and helps them to know if something is pleasant and useful or dangerous and better avoided.

3. Development of Perceptual Skills


Being able to lie and roll and push up in different postures gives the brain a chance to develop:

  • body awareness as your baby learns how big, high, long and wide
  • left-right discrimination as your baby learns that they have a left and a right side and establishes a dominant side
  • depth perception as your baby learns how far away the floor and toys are by reaching towards them and bumping their head on the floor

The Bumbo promotes the opposite:

baby bumbo hunch copy

  1. The baby is offered too much support, which makes them at first frustrated as they unable to move, and later resort to becoming completely passive as they have no other option.
  2. Their pelvis is 'stuck' in a posterior tilt - they sit on the back of their spine rather than on their bum bones;
  3. The spine is forced into flexion - they look like a little hunch back;
  4. They cannot take weight or explore with their hands nor feet so their learning is limited to what you provide them on their little tray (if they have one at all);
  5. This forces them to try and develop fine motor skills rather than the core stability that they need to progress;
  6. If they try to escape, they have a greater height to fall from, rather than from the length of their forearms.

**It is extremely difficult to use your hands well in midline if you do not have control of your core. Babies need stability first before they develop finer skills. Try brushing your teeth while standing on one leg...

So whether you choose not to use the Bumbo for safety reasons or because it will be a massive barrier to your baby's postural, sensory and perceptual development, please choose not to use it. Here's to tummy time and happy, healthy babies.

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