A few months ago It seemed as though the internet couldn’t get enough of those adorable baby faces after a day at the spa. Those hydrotherapy sessions and massages in their unique floatation ring, we’ll admit, had us obsessed. A trend that begun in China which was later continued in Perth, Australia and has now taken over Europe, seemed like the ultimate day of pampering and relaxation for babies. The companies that provide these oh, so cute! baby spa services base their success on the benefits the babies have, namely, muscular and skeletal strength, increased lung capacity and better co-ordination as well as an overall positive effect on the infants’ cardiovascular system.
To us, it seemed like the perfect day spend with your little one, which combines not only fun, but also enhances mental and physical development of your baby.
We were surprised to find out, that after the initial internet hype, some critics begun to speak out against floatation rings and pointed out that they might not be as harmless as they seem. Specifically, the STA, an independent charity and Birthlight, a non-governmental organization, both involved in baby swimming safety in the UK, collaboratively warned against the use of the floating neck rings.
In a join report, which can be found here, both the STA and Birthlght claim that the flotation rings, rather than enhancing the bonding experience with the parent as claimed by the creators, end up isolating the baby from its surroundings. Kaylë Burgham, STA’s Aquatics Manager reports that “This isolated activity completely goes against the very essence of baby swimming, which is human contact: bonding with your child so they can explore the water in a safe, relaxed, fun environment”.
Francoise Freedman, the founder of Birthlight, one of the world’s leading experts on baby swimming says that “The water is wonderful for expanding babies’ opportunities to explore the reflexes, movement patterns and pathways for sensory and motor development. These babies being placed in floating rings are missing out on what the water can uniquely offer to promote and mediate a dynamic connection between parents and babies”. Co-author of the report, Shawn Tomlinson writes that “Self-expression through body language, which the water ideally facilitates, is lost because movements are restricted.”
Besides the sensory and motor restrictions which were argued against the use of the devices, something else caught our attention. The authors issue warnings of myoskeletal implications which may arise from the use of the flotation neck ring.
Freedman claims that when babies (particularly those under 5 months) hang vertically in the water with their heads supported by a semi-rigid ring, concerns arise over the “compression of the soft and subtle vertebrae in their necks, and strain in ligaments and muscles.” She explains that an infants development is cephalo-caudal, meaning that it commences head down, with head control being one of the first developmental milestones babies achieve in their first few months, followed by rolling. And she argues that the movements which allow for these developments are restricted by the neck rings.
Also, she further reports that when babies over the age of three months are placed within neck rings, it might interfere with important neural processes that inform the head reflex that assists babies to sit up”. She continues by explaining that “It takes a disproportionate effort and muscular tension for babies in neck rings to try and right themselves up, which they are naturally driven to do.”
The report further suggests that babies who frequently use the flotation rings could have a negative impact on their spine. A newborn’s spine is in the shape of a C, with no lumbar or cervical curves. Spinal curvature is formed gradually through integrated movement of their bodies as they grow. This also helps them to sit, stand and walk. However, “by maintaining a locked position of the upper back and pectoral muscles involved in early head movements, neck rings artificially create a spinal extension that may weaken rather than strengthen babies’ lower backs in the medium to long term.”
While the report points out some interesting information that parents must consider, further research on the use of flotation rings is needed in order to understand the actual harm or benefits they have on babies. We remain reluctant as to whether the report applies to parents who periodically try the baby spa or to frequent daily use. We do however urge new parents to do their research, and come to an informed decision rather than blindly following cute parenting trends. On that note, while we remain neutral on the supposed myoskeletal negative impacts on the infants, claimed in the above-mentioned report until further research, we do find the baby spa experience to an adorable bonding experience between mother and baby.
For now, it’s important that if parents do decide to give baby spas a chance, to choose a company with well trained staff and safe equipment. Until new research emerges, it’s best to not make it into an everyday habit for your baby however, just yet.