Is the Bumbo a no-no?

The Bumbo baby seat is one controversial piece of polyurethane.  Do a quick google search for “Bumbo seat” and you’ll see what I mean.  Mommy blogs and parenting forums are full of passionate posts of love and hate for the Bumbo.  Many physical therapists and parents of children with special needs have strong opinions about the seat, too, largely because the seat is marketed using language usually used to describe therapeutic equipment.  The manufacturer of the product makes the following claim on their website:

“The 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 the midline 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.”

Although the statement is in quotation marks on their site, the manufacturers don’t give credit to the individual who provided the quote, nor do they cite any studies.  To my knowledge, there is no research to support or refute the claims made by Bumbo International.

I own one of these seats.  I have used these seats with my own children as well as the children I’ve worked with.  I have recommended parents purchase these seats.  I’m not sure whether the seats accomplish what they claim to accomplish, but I’m not sure I care because – and here’s where I’m going to say something you never thought you’d hear a pediatric PT say – development is about so much more than the position of the pelvis (cue angry comments from every other pediatric PT who reads this post).

The shape and material of the seat sort of “grabs” the baby without the need for any straps or belts.  Unlike infant car seat carriers or bouncy seats – which put the baby in a “C” shape with the legs relatively straight – the Bumbo has a dip in the back of the seat, bending the legs with the knees slightly higher than the hips.  Although the seat curves around the trunk, providing some support for the mid-back, the upper back, head, and neck are unsupported.  This means that a baby who isn’t ready for the seat looks like my oldest son, M,  looked in our Bumbo when he was 2 months old:

Notice that he is slouching with his head and trunk leaned to the side.  You can’t see his pelvis, but I imagine it is tipped backward (although I don’t blame that on the Bumbo – at this age his pelvis would be tipped backward in any form of supported sitting).  At 2 months old, he hasn’t developed the ability to consistently bring his hands to midline and reach for toys in supported sitting, so there’s really nothing he can DO in the seat at this developmental stage.  Bottom line is, If a baby looks like this in the Bumbo, it is a good indication he isn’t probably ready.

But look at what happened when we put him in the seat at 4 months old:

This isn’t the greatest picture of his posture in the seat.  He looks pretty upright, and you can tell that he is even leaning his trunk forward away from the back of the seat rather than collapsing into it.  This makes me think his pelvis is probably tipped forward, but I can’t tell here and I can’t really remember.  What I do remember about this day and this picture, however, is how excited he was to be sitting up and playing with the toy in front of him.  Bumbo seats were pretty new at that time, and the tray wasn’t on the market yet, so I covered a cardboard box with contact paper, cut out one side, and turned it upside down in front of him as sort of a table.  Using a Bumbo seat with a tray gave my son – who wasn’t yet sitting on his own but was very much ready to get upright and see the world – the opportunity to practice his reaching skills and work on his upper trunk muscles in preparation for sitting.  And he was delighted doing it, and I was delighted to be interacting with my infant like he was a real boy.

My children are typically-developing, but the Bumbo has also worked well for many infants and toddlers I’ve seen with developmental disability and delay.  Infants typically begin sitting independently between 5-8 months.  The Bumbo seat can allow a similar-aged child with delays to sit supported on the floor, interacting with his peers, siblings, and/or caregivers at eye-level.  This is so critical for social development, and I’m not aware of any other piece of commercially available equipment at this price point that allows for this.  For kids with cerebral palsy or similar diagnoses who tend to arch with stiff muscles, the Bumbo seat can keep their hips bent and help  “break up” extensor tone and allow them to sit up and play.  For other kids with diagnoses such as Down syndrome that tend to have low muscle tone and difficulty holding themselves up against gravity, the seat gives them the support to sit upright (as long as they do have some head, neck and upper trunk control) for the first time and interact with their environment, peers, and family in a meaningful way.

In my opinion, the Bumbo seat can be very effective when used with the right child at the right time, allowing for good practice of upper trunk and head control – as well as arm use and social interactions – in upright sitting.  It is true that, for some kids, the deep well of the Bumbo seat does lead to a flexed back and rounded pelvis in sitting.  However, for the age children the seat is designed for (pre-sitters and children with emerging sitting skills), a posteriorly tilted pelvis and rounded spine are a typical sitting position.  Once baby is able to sit independently with an upright pelvis and spine, she wouldn’t need the seat anyway.  Like any piece of equipment, the Bumbo seat should be used in moderation.  Floor play (tummy time!) is always best for development and learning.  And certainly a baby who is an emerging sitter should be practicing that skill outside this seat as well.  Part of learning to sit is learning to move in and out of sitting, shift weight, fall and correct, and none of those things can occur in the Bumbo.

I do disagree with the recommendedation that Bumbo be used for babies age 3-10 months.  I think 3 months is a little early for most babies.  And, once a baby is able to sit alone (typically between 5-8 months), there really isn’t any benefit to this seat .  By about 6 months, most babies are starting to learn to move by creeping, crawling, or rolling and aren’t going to want to be “stuck” in this chair, nor should they be.  I’d say this chair is most appropriate for a typically-developing 4-6 month old, and – realistically – most kids aren’t going to use this seat for more than 1-2 months, tops.  For families with infants who are delayed or have special needs, the seat may be used for a longer period of time.  And it is nice in that it is a readily-available and reasonably-priced seat that may also be used by the baby’s non-disabled peers, so it doesn’t look like a piece of “special” equipment.

Of course you should always talk to your health provider or therapist about your child’s unique situation, and – to avoid injury – the Bumbo should NEVER be used on a raised surface.  The Bumbo is certainly not a “must have” for most babies.  But if you think the Bumbo will work for your family and you’re willing to shell out $40 for a seat that may only be used for 1-2 months, I say the Bumbo is a go-go.

Why teachers should consider “friending” their students

Earlier this week, I posted a Facebook link to a New York Times story on the Ohio school shooting:

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The post generated some interesting discussion on bullying and teacher-student interactions, but one comment in particular really got me thinking.  One of my friends posted a link to an article describing a disturbing Facebook post written by shooter TJ Lane back in December, ending with the phrase, “Die, all of you.”  My friend commented that the shooting “maybe could have been prevented if the grown-ups paid attention to social media.”

Before I go on, I want to point out that it is easy to say – in hindsight – that this tragedy could have been prevented if someone had been “paying attention.”  For the most part, I think we all make the best decisions we can with the information we have.  Sometimes we don’t do enough, do nothing when we should have done something, or do what turns out to have been the wrong thing altogether.  My heart goes out to all the students, teachers, and families who have experienced this nightmare, and I can only imagine the innumerable conversations among them beginning with the words “If only I would have….”  I myself have experienced a situation with a tragic and irreversible result, and I understand the depth of that kind of  guilt.  I am heartbroken for all involved and – simply put – no one is to blame except for one very disturbed young man who did something to ruin the lives of many, including himself.

But I do think this tragedy and the events leading up to it illustrate the need to re-examine the conventional wisdom that teachers should never “friend” their students.  Last summer, my home state of Missouri passed a law preventing teacher-student “friendships” on social networking sites.  The ill-thought-out law was designed to “protect” students from inappropriate interactions with teachers, and was repealed a few months later.  I think what happened in Missouri is a perfect example of how social media (and teachers for that matter) tend to get demonized, usually by people who’ve never logged onto Facebook themselves.  It is easy to fear what you don’t understand, and I’m sure Missouri lawmakers thought that “protecting the children” would be popular with voters.  But we have to realize that social media isn’t a whole new world of communication.  It is simply another way to communicate.  A teacher who would interact inappropriately with a student (and – despite what the media would have us believe – I don’t think there are many) is not going to be deterred by a law preventing them from “friending” a student.  And, frankly, there are a lot of positive interactions that could occur between students and teachers on Facebook and other social networking sites (not to mention the growing body of evidence, including some of my own work, that social media can actually be an effective part of education).  When teachers aren’t allowed to “friend” students – whether because of State law or simply an unwritten “rule” dictating that it’s inappropriate or creepy – there are missed opportunities for meaningful interactions in a space where kids today are doing a whole lot of interacting.  And what about the student like TJ Lane, who uses social media as a place to write things he can’t figure out how to say out loud?  As a place to cry for help?  If no one’s listening, then no one can reach out.  No one can intervene.  Nothing can change for TJ.  And we saw the absolute worst outcome from a situation like that this week in Ohio.

I don’t mean to pretend that there aren’t serious considerations for teachers who “friend” their students.  As an educator myself, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching on the subject (although, admittedly, it’s a bit less messy for me since I teach graduate students who are all adults).  I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m okay with “friending” my students and former students, but I don’t ever make the request.  I understand the privacy settings on all my social networks, and I use the lists feature on Facebook.  I monitor my accounts closely.  I don’t pose with alcohol and never post or allow myself to be tagged in any picture that could be viewed as questionable or suggestive.  I am certainly not afraid to share my personality and am not shy about my parenting philosophies and political leanings, but I strive to also post content that is relevant to who I am as a professional.  I abide by the “front door” rule: if I wouldn’t post it on my front door, I won’t post it to social media.  By letting my students into my social media “world,” I hope to serve as an example of how social media can be used to develop an online identity that is honest yet thoughtful, and that matches who you are and how you want others to see you.  Social media can help you meet people, brand yourself, learn new things, make connections, and get ahead.  And that’s probably the most important lesson that can be taught to a student on Facebook.

Social media are the way the next generation of students are communicating, like it or not.  A lot of bullying and cries for help are now occurring in the form of posts, tags, tweets, and uploads.  We are inundated with stories of young people posting inappropriate and damaging things on social media, and I’m convinced we have to do more than just “pay attention.”  We have to act when we see something troublesome and teach kids how to use social media thoughtfully and responsibly.  And I’m not sure how to do that without us grown-ups taking a deep breath and hitting the “accept friend request” button.

I blog, therefore I write

So here it is: my blog.

Blogging isn’t new to me.  My husband and I started a personal blog when we moved into our 100-year-old house just over 4 years ago.  We wanted a place to write about our transition from living in an urban loft to a corner lot in a small town, and to journal the renovations we were making to the fixer-upper we decided to buy.  We did a pretty good job keeping up with the blog for a year or two, then ran out of money (for the renovations) and time (for the renovations and the blog).  My husband started his own business, I got a PhD, we had children, experienced a near-paralyzing personal tragedy, and weathered some significant family issues all in the span of less than 2 years.  We had so much to blog about, the last thing we could think about was blogging.  So it fizzled out as many blogs do.

But a little over a year ago, I decided I wanted to do more than just “follow” health care providers and professors using social media to inform, network, listen, and learn.  I wanted to contribute to the health care and higher education social media communities, so I resolved to start a “professional” blog.  But I immediately got stuck.  What would I blog about?  As a wife, mother, pediatric physical therapist, educator, and social media/tech junkie, I didn’t fit neatly into any blogging “box.”  I wondered if anyone would actually read a blog about the things that interested me.  And, frankly, I felt like there were so many other things I should be reading and writing, I didn’t have time to blog.  So I put it off.

Then last week, I read Claire Potter’s post So You Think You Can Write During the Semester? In academia, we are expected to write and publish.  But, like most academic faculty, I often feel like I am so busy taking care of the “little things” (catching up on email and attending meetings) that I never get to the big things (writing manuscripts).  So I very much related to the “rock (scholarship) and the hard place (TheJob)” Ms. Potter described in her post.  But two of Ms. Potter’s insights really resonated with me.  She writes:

  1. Blogging helps me write more
  2. The more I write the more I write

Then it hit me: I had time to blog.  In fact, I was wasting time by NOT blogging.  Wasting my perspectives about the journal article I read, my ideas about the news story I heard, thoughts about teaching spinning in my head on my 45-minute commute home.  I realized that, although blogging may not be considered “productive” by a promotion and tenure committee, it could serve as a way for me to get my thoughts in writing, formulate new ideas, network with colleagues with similar interests, and develop my professional online identity.  All things that will lead to more traditional forms of “scholarship.”  The more I write, the more I’ll write.  

So here’s my blog.  I won’t make any bold claims or big promises.  I hope to post at least once a week, but sometimes I won’t get it done.  I’ll try to stay focused on physical therapy and higher education, but I know I’ll stray.  I may not always be right, and at times I may miss the mark.  But I will always be thoughtful, open-minded, and flexible.

I will listen.

I will learn.

I hope you will, too.