Baby Buggies May Undermine Child Development

The first-ever study on psychological effects of buggies reveals life in a 21st-century baby buggy can be emotionally isolated and language-poor, which carries implications for children’s brain development.

The most popular style of baby buggies – those that face away from the pusher – may be undermining children’s development. Children in such buggies are significantly less likely to talk, laugh, and interact with their parents, than are those in buggies that face the pusher, according to the first-ever research study on the psychological effects of buggies on babies. It is published today (Friday) by Talk To Your Baby, the early language campaign of the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity that aims to change lives through literacy. It was funded by the Sutton Trust.

An observational study of more than 2,722 parent-infant pairs across the country was carried out for the Talk to Your Baby early language campaign by Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, Developmental Psychologist at Dundee University’s School of Psychology.

Dr Zeedyk also carried out a smaller experimental study of 20 babies being wheeled in pushchairs across a one mile stretch in the centre of Dundee. Half the journey was spent in an away-facing buggy and half in a toward-facing buggy. The results of this pilot work, the first of its kind, suggest that parents talk less to children in away-facing buggies and babies’ sleeping patterns and heart rates differ slightly for the two orientations, suggesting it is possible that they are more stressed by away-facing buggies.

Key findings of both research projects include:

  • 62% of all children observed were traveling in away-facing buggies, with the rate even higher, at 86%, between the ages of 1 and 2 years
  • Parents using face-to-face buggies were twice as likely to be talking to their baby (25 per cent compared to 11 per cent)
  • Less than a quarter of parents observed were speaking to their child (22 per cent)
  • Mothers and infants, who had a chance in the experimental study to travel in both types of buggies, also laughed more frequently with face-to-face buggies. Only one baby in the group of 20 studied laughed during the away-facing journey, while half laughed during the face-to-face journey
  • Babies’ average heart rates fell slightly when placed in a toward-facing buggy, and babies were also twice as likely to fall asleep in this orientation, both of which could taken as possible indicators of reduced stress levels

Dr Zeedyk said: ‘Even as a developmental psychologist, this was not an issue I had previously thought about, and I was surprised to find that no other scientists had studied it either. Neuroscience has helped us to learn how important social interaction during the early years is for children’s brain development. If babies are spending significant amounts of time in a baby buggy that undermines their ability to communicate easily with their parent, at an age when the brain is developing more than it will ever again in life; then this has to impact negatively on their development.’

“Our experimental study showed that, simply by turning the buggy around, parents’ rate of talking to their baby doubled. I had also not anticipated that such a high percentage of babies in face-to-face buggies would be sleeping – 52%, against only 27% in away-facing buggies. It was a complete surprise. This is significant as you are more likely to sleep when you are feeling relaxed and safe.’

“Our data suggests that for many babies today, life in a buggy is emotionally impoverished and possibly stressful. Stressed babies grow into anxious adults. It looks, from our results, that it is time that we began carrying out larger scale research on this issue. Parents deserve to be able to make informed choices as to how to best promote their children’s emotional, physical, and neurological development.

About the research
The report, What’s life in a baby buggy like?: The impact of buggy orientation on parent-infant interaction and infant stress, is a research study carried out by Dr. M. Suzanne Zeedyk in collaboration with the National Literacy Trust. The research was supported by a grant from the Sutton Trust.

The project was comprised of two studies. The first was a national observational survey, conducted on High Streets in 54 locations throughout the UK and eventually comprising 2722 observations of parent-child pairs, which systematically documented the social interactions of families occurring during buggy use. The second was a small-scale experimental study with 20 mother-infant pairs, which built on the findings of Study I by monitoring both mother-infant interactions and indicators of infant stress, during journeys in the two buggy orientations.

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Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk

Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk is a research scientist fascinated by babies’ innate capacity to communicate. Based for 20 years at the University of Dundee (Scotland), in 2011, she set up an independent training enterprise to disseminate the science of connection to the public. She now works internationally with organisations, strengthening their awareness of how childcare decisions shape brain development, and how those decisions are integrally connected to our vision for the kind of society we wish to build.

February 1, 2011
February 2, 2011