Baby spas are cute and trendy, but could they be hurting your baby?

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Two expert organisations in the UK weigh in on the matter and you might be surprised at what they have to say.

Parenting trends come and go, and one that is on the rise these days thanks to some super-cute pictures that have recently been doing the rounds, is the use of baby spas.

We love spas and the pampering and relaxing that go hand-in-hand with them. So why not let our babies enjoy the same experience? Plus, they look adorable while floating around in the water and the whole experience has been deemed by advocates as a good bonding opportunity for mummy and baby.

But could the experience of a baby spa not be as harmless as it looks? Experts seem to think so.

They are cute, but are they completely safe?

Think twice about that baby spa experience

STA and Birthlight are two of the UK’s major bodies involved in baby swimming teaching. They are now urging parents to seriously think about the potential dangers of using floating neck rings on babies.

Think about it, mums and dads. Once you strip away the cuteness factor, what you are left with is a baby hanging vertically in the water, suspended only by a semi-rigid foam or plastic ring around their neck. Not so cute now, right?

In a detailed report released earlier in April, both STA and starlight warn parents about the damage baby spas - especially related to using the floating neck ring - can have on a baby's  physical, neurological and emotional development.

Because the report is quite long, we've summed it up for you and give you the most important points it contains.

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It is disengaging 

In contrast to how baby spas are marketed as enhancing bonding between babies and their parents, swimming experts beg to differ.

Kaylë Burgham, STA’s Aquatics Manager who promotes aquatic activities that best support infant development, said: While disengaging from the world in floating tanks can be wonderfully relaxing for stressed adults; this is not what babies want or need – physically or emotionally.

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, she added.

Meanwhile, Francoise Freedman, the founder of Birthlight, medical anthropologist and one of the world’s leading experts on baby swimming says: 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.

Plus there are the potential risks linked to the frequent use of a neck device that claims total safety and apparent comfort for babies, yet deprives them of the freedom to move which we now know can have long term implications, explains Francoise.

Another author of the report and a child swimming tutor Shawn Tomlinson explains, "A neck ring creates a vacuum where the baby is incapacitated and cannot connect with anyone or anything. There are no safe boundaries to touch or feel. Self-expression through body language, which the water ideally facilitates, is lost because movements are restricted."

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It may harm your baby

Neck, head and developmental milestones

Freedman writes in the report that when babies (especially those under five months) hang vertically in the water with their heads only 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 physical development in a baby commences head down, with neck and head control being one of the first developmental milestones babies achieve in their first few months, followed by rolling.

But if a baby spa becomes a frequent experience, these first and important milestones could be restricted and delayed by the rubber neck rings.

Also, 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.

Freedman says, “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."

Spine

The report suggests that frequent use of baby rings used in baby spas around a baby's neck could have an impact on his spine.

When a baby is born, his 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."

As these experts point out, parents should be making maximum use of water to bond with their children without restriction of movement. 

To read the full report, click here.

Parents, the take-home message from this cautionary tale is not to avoid baby spas altogether. But,

  • Do look for a reputed company if you really want your baby to have this experience.
  • Question the staff carefully about the safety of the equipment they use and their own training.
  • Most importantly, don't make taking your baby to a baby spa a habit. Once in a while should be just fine, if you must.

Remember: when it comes to parenting trends, education and awareness are key rather than blindly following a trend because it's cute or fashionable. Then, once you know the pros and cons, you can make an informed decision with your child's safety at the heart of it.

*All images are from a public Facebook page. 

Share your thoughts on the topic of baby spas in a comment below. 

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