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.

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. It was funded by the Sutton Trust.

Dr Zeedyk also carried out a smaller experimental study of 20 babies being wheeled in push chairs 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 travelling 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.”

Liz Attenborough, Manager of the Talk To Your Baby campaign, said: “Talk To Your Baby is campaigning for manufacturers to make sociable, face-to-face buggies for toddlers more affordable and to increase parental awareness of the importance of talking to their baby. This research shows that something as seemingly ordinary as going out with a child in a buggy where adult and child are face-to-face can be a valuable opportunity to spend time talking together in a way that is stress-free for the child. Parents with a two-way facing buggy should use the sociable face-to-face option as standard.”

Laura Barbour, Sutton Trust, commented, “The Sutton Trust hopes that buggy manufacturers will look closely at this research, which suggests that face-to-face models improve communication at a very early stage. The problem is that at present these cost a minimum of £200 and are therefore too expensive for many families. The Sutton Trust, which campaigns for improved social mobility, would like to see options available in every price range so that all parents can have greater choice.”

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