Starfish Therapies

November 11, 2014

Avoiding the ‘Container Shuffle’ with your Baby

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 4:24 pm
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movement exploration  IMG_1734  problem solving3

Guest post by: Nicole M Sergent, MPT

As a new parent, I was there. Giddy excitement over the news of a baby on the way followed by showering love from family and friends in the form of gift, and gifts, and more gifts. At the time I was touched (and am still forever grateful for their generosity) but shortly after the baby came I quickly fell into a routine many new moms do. As a physical therapist, I like to call it, “the container shuffle.”

“The container shuffle” goes something like this. Sleep (crib), eat (highchair), play (exercsaucer), calm down (bouncer seat), sleep (crib), eat (highchair), play (positioning seat), calm down (swing) etc. As a mother, I related to the thoughts many of my patients’ parents have. Everyone buys us all this stuff…and baby likes them and is happy…so why not use them? As a therapist, I’d like to tell you why.

I can’t tell you how many children I have assessed with general motor delays without significant medical histories or orthopedic or neurologic impairments. These babies are very stable in an upright static position. They often even sit really well, without ever rolling, crawling, creeping, kneeling, or standing. After I have carefully assessed to make sure, nothing more significant is going on, I’ll delicately share my diagnosis: CONTAINER SYNDROME.

I realize it is not rocket science but think of it this way. When a baby plays on the floor, he/she has the ability to wiggle, squirm, and move. Each tiny movement that may seem insignificant is actually exercise. They are beautiful diagonally directed movements. And they are needed. Because our moving transitions from one position to another (floor to sit, sit to stand), require that motion. How can we expect a baby to be able to move and explore if we always have them strapped in a container? Research tells us that babies who spend less time on their tummies on the floor, have delayed motor skills in the first year of life.

In addition to the ability to practice motor coordination, allowing a child to play outside of a “container,” has additional benefits. Play on a baby’s tummy, aids in digestion, assists with hand eye coordination, and promotes typical skeletal development. The hips have the ability to develop into a more stable, mature position and the skull, free from pressure from resting against a surface, has freedom to develop typically. Did you know that 20% of all infants now have plagiocephaly (flattened appearance of the head/face)? While free play time may not prevent all of those cases, I believe the increase in “container syndrome,” plays a significant role.

I once attended a continuing education lecture, where the OT speaking suggested that infants should spend 80% of waking hours on the floor. As a therapist, I could see the benefit of this time well spent. As a mother, I felt myself slumping with guilt. My daughters did not spend that much time on their tummies, especially my youngest that had severe acid reflux. A practical balance must exist for families. And while I realize “containers” are helpful with a fussy baby and so that one can actually shower, I recommend promoting floor time throughout the day. I tell the parents of my patients, “If you find yourself going to put your baby down, choose the floor or pack-n-lay first.”

Many of those children I have evaluated that had delays with mobility and transition skills that I felt came from “container syndrome,” ended up catching up to typically expected gross motor milestones in just a few short weeks by allowing more free play time on the floor. It can be argued that it is not rocket science. My mother (and yours) might argue it is common sense and “what we did with you.” But in a commercialized world where more = better, maybe we do need a dash of common sense to help keep our infants happy and healthy as they develop and grow.

Nicole M. Sergent, MPT is a pediatric physical therapist and co-owner of Milestones & Miracles, LLC. She co-authored a unique developmental tool for therapists and parents that pairs detailed development with interactive play skills, called 1-2-3 Just Play With Me. It is available in digital and print and can be found at,, and select retailers. Follow Milestones and Miracles online for developmental support & fun





  1. Excellent article! As a grandma, I totally agree that this is common sense and what I did with my kids. It has concerned me for a long time to see infants carted around from one type of carrier-device to another. Even being balanced on mama’s hip (once they’re beyond the newborn stage) puts them in a position to maintain their upper body posture and develop those little muscles.

    Comment by Laura — November 17, 2014 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

  2. Well said especially the last paragraph. First of all love the “container syndrome” terminology. Second of all, the last paragraph is perfect. You are correct it is not rocket science. But for this generation of mothers parenting has become a whirlwind of information that the basics are often forgotten. Even myself, a mother of 6 and a physical therapist, can find myself guilty of the container shuffle at times (there are days when we are not home for long periods of time therefore floor time takes a back seat). I do then try to balance it out by carrying the baby instead of leaving him in the car seat. In general though, my son gets lots of floor time. Not exactly 80% of the day though – that would be too hard with our hectic schedule. Honestly, in my son’s case he would not tolerate 80% of the day. He plays for awhile but without other stimulation (ie siblings or mom entertaining him) he gets fussy and wants to go to where the action is. Great post!

    Comment by Margaret@YTherapySource — November 20, 2014 @ 2:13 pm | Reply

  3. […] it limits children in this same way.  One was a guest post on our site about avoiding the ‘container shuffle‘, and the other was by Pink Oatmeal on baby items you don’t need.  This topic is also […]

    Pingback by Should You ‘Walk’ Babies? | Starfish Therapies — November 21, 2014 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  4. Great reminder! I see this all too often as an SLP, too!

    Comment by kidscommunicate — December 1, 2014 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  5. Reblogged this on Kids Communicate and commented:
    Avoiding the Container Shuffle!

    Comment by kidscommunicate — December 1, 2014 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  6. […] aren’t following their posts on their Facebook page, you totally should.  So here’s the article they shared – written by Nicole Sergent as a guest post on the Starfish Therapies blog.  It’s very […]

    Pingback by Tummy Time | Butterbees and Bumbleflies — December 3, 2014 @ 12:50 pm | Reply

  7. […] how it limits children in this same way.  One was a guest post on our site about avoiding the ‘container shuffle‘, and the other was by Pink Oatmeal on baby items you don’t need.  This topic is also related […]

    Pingback by PT Corner: Should You ‘Walk’ Babies? | PediaStaff Pediatric SLP, OT and PT Blog — December 10, 2014 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

  8. […] then into the high-chair again for lunch, into the walker, swing, or bouncer…etc…etc. See this post here from Starfish Therapies for more about this “container shuffle”, as they call it (baby […]

    Pingback by The importance of physical activity for baby and infants | Baby Brain — December 17, 2014 @ 10:04 pm | Reply

  9. […] 1.  Avoiding the ‘Container Shuffle’ with your Baby […]

    Pingback by Top Ten Posts of 2014 | Starfish Therapies — December 31, 2014 @ 4:50 pm | Reply

  10. I’m a pediatric OT and you are so right!! My daughter has listened to my soap box about this since February when my first, beautiful, perfect grandson arrived! Fortunately, she listened to me and provided him with a lot of tummy time from the very beginning. I have been amazed by the motor skill growth from day to day. He has actually been ahead with most milestones and I believe it is that tummy time and opportunity to move, move, move! Of course, as a first time grandma, it is the greatest!! But as a therapist, it has been awesome to watch. I worked with infants and toddlers for only a very short period of time in my career and so it has been such a great learning experience to see a typical child developing and remember how much is accomplished in that first year. I share with moms I come in contact regarding the need for tummy time and getting children out of all those contraptions whenever the opportunity presents itself 🙂

    Comment by Maureen — January 1, 2015 @ 6:10 pm | Reply

  11. […] this point) and clean off the stench of baby spit up and diaper blowouts. The point is to help you avoid the container shuffle and remember that babies learn how to coordinate and control their bodies through practice moving […]

    Pingback by Tips for Helping Babies Learn to CrawlMama OT — May 27, 2015 @ 9:25 am | Reply

  12. Hi, thanks for this excellent article. I’m aware of the container problem (I like how you put that) and from the beginning I’ve been lying my little one on her back in the middle of our double bed. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of walking with her without a carrier. It’s tummy time that’s so difficult. At three months, she should be comfortable on her tummy, but she only enjoys it in short stretches. She lies and sucks on something (she’s teething). When she does the sucking, tummy time lasts longer, but sometimes she gets a gag reflex and throws up. When she doesn’t suck, tummy time doesn’t last long and she still spits up. What can I do to alleviate this?

    Comment by Vanessa Gordon — August 29, 2015 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

  13. Thanks so much for posting this! I will be a first time mom in a few weeks and though I’ve never liked the idea of parking my child in container, I know it might be necessary some of the time if I want to take a shower or something else when I can’t wear him/her. Will be very cognizant of this in the future! Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Whole Health Dork — March 25, 2016 @ 10:58 am | Reply

  14. Could you comment on the value of wearing a baby in a good sling or carrier (of course not one of the crotch-danglers that’s so hard on baby’s body)? My understanding is that babies carried in arms or worn are getting the benefits of the “tummy time” free motion and development while bonding with the adult.

    Comment by Sue — December 10, 2017 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  15. You fail to mention the simplicity of carrying our babies too instead of using baby buckets and strollers. Being carried allows more interaction with people, more use of their bodies to control movement, control their trunk, maintain balance and learn head control. This is something easy parents can do too.

    Comment by Lms — December 10, 2017 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

  16. […] 6.  Avoiding the ‘Container Shuffle’ with Your Baby […]

    Pingback by Top Ten Blog Posts of 2017 | Starfish Therapies — December 30, 2017 @ 1:10 pm | Reply

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