As a Pediatric Physical Therapist, I am often asked to weigh in about different pieces of equipment. What is best for children? What will help them develop, achieve gross motor milestones, interact with peers, and so on. We therapists try to keep up with new products on the market, reading up on the literature, and trying out the equipment on our own before making recommendations and suggestions.
One such piece of equipment is called the Bumbo Seat.
“Bumbo”, as it is affectionately called, is a one-piece seat that is made entirely of a low density foam. As you can see, it has a deep seat with a high back and sides, with openings for the legs as well as a front support and safety buckle.
The Bumbo Seat is marketed to help babies sit upright.
The Bumbo website states the following:
“The Bumbo Floor Seat was designed to seat young babies who can’t sit up by themselves yet. As soon as your baby can support their own head you can seat them in the Bumbo Floor Seat. The seat has many technical design features that supports the baby’s posture allowing them to interact with their surroundings. The Bumbo Floor Seat has received many awards from around the world for its effective and functional design.”
As a helpful guide, here are the motor milestone reference points for sitting in typically developing children.
- Between 6-9 months we expect children to begin to sit upright on the floor for short periods of time, first using support from hands and later independently.
- Between 9-12 months, we expect children will begin to gain more control in seated position. When seated on the floor, they will begin to turn their trunk to reach and manipulate toys placed around them.
When children are placed in the Bumbo before they are developmentally ready for sitting it can interfere with the natural progression of skills.
Young children rely on different developmental positions to promote activation and control of their various muscle groups, from head control to trunk control to control of their extremities. Children utilize the time first on their back, then on tummy, in sitting and in standing to gain stability and confidence with their physical being in order to allow them to achieve stability, then mobility, and then gradual independence.
The Bumbo website claims the following:
“The Floor Seat stabilizes the child into slight hip flexion, placing the pelvis in a slight anterior pelvic tilt which facilitates lumbar extension. This action, combined with the gentle curve of the seat back that matches the natural curve of the rib cage, facilitates the baby around the lower ribs and trunk for stabilization. The Seat allows for active practice of the head and postural trunk control. It also allows a child the pelvic stability needed to get the hands into mid line for play. Upright positioning facilitates an improved visual field of the environment, improved respirations and breath control, assists a baby who needs to be upright after feeding due to reflux and many other benefits.”
If you actually observe a child seated in the Bumbo, you will notice there is no active control being achieved. The child is passively placed in position and then locked in. There is no room to build trunk control or pelvic stability because the Bumbo is locking the child in and thus not allowing for any muscle activation or joint movement to occur. The child is wedged into the deep seat with his or her legs held at a higher angle than the pelvis. This prevents natural weight bearing from occurring.
Seated in the Bumbo, the child has both hands and legs free, preventing opportunities for weight bearing. Babies rely on developmental positions (such as pushing up on their hands when placed on their tummy or sitting while propping themselves with their arms) to allow for weight bearing across the joints, which provides necessary feedback from environment and sensory input. The access to sensory input from the world around us, be it proprioceptive (body awareness through muscles and joints), tactile (sense of touch) or vestibular (sense of movement) helps create the sensory integration young children require in order to make sense of their bodies and the environment around them.
By positioning babies in an unnatural posture without access to the sensory input they require for development, we are interfering with the important and natural progression of development.
Stayathomepapa.com explains his experience with the Bumbo:
“Someone lent me a Bumbo to try out. I thought it was a really cool idea. I sat my child in it around 3 months, and I was thinking, ‘This is great. She can sit there while I practice piano or tabla.’ And then I took a closer look. She looked anything by comfortable. The Bumbo seemed to be almost forcefully holding her in an up right sitting position. My wife looked into it, and sure enough she found many sources that suggested this thing was potentially harmful for her posture, and is likely to delay her ability to sit up on her own. That was the last we saw of the Bumbo. You know, if we can just wait until she’s ready to do stuff, our child will develop just fine. Indeed, at about 5 months she was sitting up on her own.”
The Bumbo is a seemingly convenient option for parents, but is it really beneficial to our children? Why do we want our children to be sitting upright before they are ready? How can they interact with the environment around them, people or places if they are locked in one position, strapped into a chair with no stimulation?
Physical development aside, the Bumbo seat has been proven to be unsafe. 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.
A statement from Bumbo itself read, “Bumbo International Trust is conducting a voluntary recall to add a restraint belt and new warnings to the Bumbo Baby Seat. Infants can maneuver out of or fall from the seat, posing a risk of serious injuries. Working closely with the CPSC, Bumbo has determined that the potential safety issue can be readily corrected in the home by adding a restraint belt. In addition, Bumbo is providing a new warning sticker for consumers to attach to the seat to re-emphasize existing warnings against use of the seat on any raised surfaces.”
From examiner.com: “Rather than using a chair, parents looking for developmental benefits should play with their baby and encourage movement”, said Physical Therapist Colleen Harper, director of developmental, rehabilitative and child life services at Chicago’s La Rabida Children’s Hospital.
“No equipment enhances a child’s motor development; equipment is a ‘baby sitter’ so that a parent can cook dinner, eat dinner or take a shower,” Harper said. “A gross motor skill like sitting is achieved through movement and practice. Children fall out of Bumbo seats because they do not yet have the requisite strength, balance and coordination needed for sitting.”
In a March 2012 Chicago Tribune article, Mary Weck, the clinical coordinator of Physical Therapy at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago addressed the claims Bumbo made in relation to its product:
Bumbo says: “The seat stabilizes the child into slight hip flexion, placing the pelvis in a slight anterior pelvic tilt which facilitates lumbar extension.”
Weck says: “Actually, it does the exact opposite. It puts the baby’s pelvis in a posterior tilt, which facilitates lumbar flexion, not extension. That puts the baby’s chest behind the pelvis. Then the head has to come too far forward. It’s no longer positioned directly above the chest.”
Bumbo says: “The chair allows a child the pelvic stability needed to get the hands into the midline for play.”
Weck says: “Children don’t need a chair to get their hands in that position. At the age they’re using the Bumbo, they are able to do that in a variety of positions anyway.”
Bumbo says: “Upright positioning facilitates an improved visual field of the environment, improved respirations and breath control and assists a baby who needs to be upright after feeding due to reflux.”
For some helpful Sitting Tips and Tricks check out our post Sitting 101!
Photo Credit 1: US CPSC, Photo Credit 2: Abigail Batchelder, Photo Credit 3: John Wright, Photo Credit 4: Joe Cheng, Photo Credit 5:Jeff Boulter, Photo Credit 6: Joe Cheng, Photo Credit 7: Dana, Photo Credit 8: Brett Neilson