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Pushing Away: Away-facing strollers stress babies

I just came across a great article to demonstrate the pushing away concept that I talked about in my post on attachment parenting, when I was comparing mainstream parenting to attachment parenting. Check out this article from CNN:
Study: Away-facing strollers stress babies

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Parents who choose a stroller that seats their baby facing away from them could risk long-term development problems in their children, according to a study published Friday.

The research found that children not facing the person pushing them were significantly less likely to talk, laugh and interact with their parents.

Based on a study of 2,722 parents and children, the study by Dundee University's School of Psychology calls into question the designs of many of the world's most popular baby strollers.

"Our experimental study showed that, simply by turning the buggy around, parents' rate of talking to their baby doubled," said developmental psychologist Suzanne Zeedyk, who led the research.

Zeedyk's study, published by British charity National Literacy Trust, included an experiment in which 20 babies were wheeled in buggies for a mile, spending half the trip facing their parents and the other half facing away.

Parents using face-to-face strollers were more likely to talk to their children, who were less likely to exhibit signs of stress, the study said.

"Our data suggests that for many babies today, life in a buggy is emotionally impoverished and possibly stressful," Zeedyk said.

"Stressed babies grow into anxious adults."

The study found that 62 percent of all children observed traveled in forward-facing prams. For children between the ages of one and two, the figure was 86 percent.

UK child education campaigners the Sutton Trust say the study highlights the need for manufacturers to rethink the designs of strollers.

The full study is available here: Buggy Research.

Just one more reason why babywearing is such a great way to promote attachment with your child or at least get a stroller that can be turned around or at the very least make sure you think about talking to your children when they are facing away.

Ann Douglas has a different take on it. While she doesnt' completely disagree with the study, she does think that researchers (and journalists and bloggers, I guess), need to be careful about how they present the results of the research so that they don't make parents feel too guilty. Fair enough, there is plenty of guilt loaded on to parents, but at the same time I do want to see the results of these types of studies to help improve my choices (and the choices of others) in the future. I have two kids that have been exposed to more BPA than I would like. I don't feel guilty about it though. I do find it regretable, but I know that there wasn't much that I could have done differently.
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Reader Comments (17)

Great post! Do you mind if I post it on my blog and link to yours in the post? I touched a little on this topic before-- stroller use and didn't know there was an article about it. I enjoy your blog so much!

November 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Thanks @Ashley. So glad you liked it and want to include it on your blog. I would prefer that you summarize or quote part of it and then link over here if possible. I also have another post on stroller use that I forgot to link to from this one:


November 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Yes, that's what I meant: not to post your words, but to link and make others aware of the article; sorry that didn't come out very clear. Thanks!

November 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Very interesting, I try to wear my baby but she's getting bigger and I have a bad back and the doc told me not to wear her but I don't follow the rules. She was always facing me until she was around 5 months when the car seat attachment became too small for her, but even when she's forward facing I talk to her all the time and point out things to her. My real question is when is it ok for the babies to be forward facing and not get stressed out. She seems to enjoy it now that she's 9 months and just loves looking at everything and babbling to people wherever we go, she also loves to wave at the other babies.

November 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjessyz

@jessyz - I think it is great that you talk to her all the time and point things out to her! My guess is that a lot of parents just forget to do that when their child is forward facing and that probably impacted the study results too.

I'm not sure when it is okay for a baby to be forward facing without there being any stress - hard to tell from the study. I always found a hip carry to be best at the stage you are describing, because my baby could choose to look out at the world or choose to bury her head in my chest if she was scared or choose to look at me if she wanted to interact with me.

What type of carrier are you using? I find a lot of doctors are not knowledgeable about babywearing, just like they are not knowledgeable about breastfeeding. Perhaps a different carrier or a different carry would be easier on your back.

November 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Wow, this is neat. We were just in Germany and there were hardly any forward facing strollers: they were almost all the "buggy" style. We never used a stroller much until our kids were significantly older, but I thought it was so much better to be able to see your baby and have the baby be reassured that mom/dad was still there!

*Sigh* They always get things right in Europe (especially compared to the states, where I am).

November 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermichelle y

I have to play devil's advocate and agree with jessyz. Not to discount the research, but could the fact that most toward-facing children are sleeping be due to boredom? Elevated heart rate in away-facing babies be due to stimulation and excitement? We live in a cold climate and do not get out a lot. Our hour-long walk every day gives our 10-month-old a chance to see something else BESIDES our faces. Saying that, I do wish our pram had the option of toward- or away-facing. Unfortunately they tend to be the most expensive as well. :)

November 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterginny

@ginny - those are all possibilities, but I really do favour things that allow the child to choose what direction to look in, i.e. look at the parents or look elsewhere. Even if the child is facing the parents, they can still look around at everything going by, just from the other direction.

November 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Playing the devil's advocate, perhaps:
About the guilt point- it's something I've been thinking about. I know guilt isn't a good way of handling things, but is it ethical to minimize research that might make some feel guilty?

November 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

ITA Heather - I do want to see the results of these studies, even if it does make me feel guilty.

November 24, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] known for their understanding of what makes a good study to begin with) are smugly lapping this up. Here’s one example: Just one more reason why babywearing is such a great way to promote attachment with [...]

I babywear on short trips, but if I'm spending the whole day in town, we use a stroller. For the first six months it was a buggy where our son saw us as we pushed. Now we usually have him away facing. When we place the seat so he faces us, he seems bored and tries to look around the stroller to see where we're going. But I talk to him a lot and he can look up and see me.

About the study results, I'd want to see them presented fully, not watered down to make parents feel less guilty. But most studies aren't presented in the popular media or on the internet in a way that gives enough information to really evaluate the scientific validity of the study. For important findings, I want to see the results written up in a peer-reviewed journal, and even then a lot of articles don't present the full details I, as a research statistician, would want to see.

November 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristina G

@ Christina - I think that sounds great. You are listening to your child's cues, which is the important thing after all!

November 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

The study doesn't need to be watered down, but maybe we all should question the tabloid-worthy and sensational interpretation.

The study indicates that facing-forward babies sleep more and have less interaction with parents than parent-facing babies - while in the stroller on a mile-long walk, *under the eye of a researcher*. That's all.

From that data, the conclusion - "that children who face away from their parents while they are pushed around in strollers lead lives that are "emotionally impoverished and stressed" and at risk of language development problems" - is just nuts. Researcher is looking for some press.

How many hours a day does your baby spend in a stroller, for heaven's sake?

I'm sorry, I just can't think that a typical 15-30 minute stroller ride is putting a child at risk, even if you truly don't stop and talk to your child during that period. (assuming you are interacting with the child normally otherwise.)

And who DOES that, anyway? Most of us with strollers are not going from point a to point b, as in the study. We stop frequently, at the store, at the park. We interact with the babies whenever we stop, and we stop to interact, pointing out things or checking on them or telling them where we're going next, or seeing if they want to be carried or walk for awhile.

I'm all in favor of baby-wearing and adjustable strollers but that study is just too dumb to be believed.

November 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNora Jaye

Sounds like a stimulating and logical idea for toddlers, but living in New Zealand I'd like to know where can I buy such a stroller?

December 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

@Nora Jaye
I don't think anyone should base a decision on whether to use a stroller or to babywear on this study alone. For me it is just one more reason to babywear. Just like there are hundreds of reasons to breastfeed. None of them on their own are compelling enough necessarily, but all of them together make for a pretty damn good argument.

January 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] see them rooting, practice EC, and know their needs.  There’s a neat study that shows that even front facing strollers interfere with your ability to interact with and respond to your [...]

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