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Leaving babies in baby carriages and pushchair is a holdover from the Victorians. Do this instead.

Putting your baby in a baby carriage or stroller is presented as the responsible thing to do. And the majority of parents who do it are merely trying to do the right thing. But they're responding to a body of received wisdom that doesn't have a lot to do with reality and has a lot more to do with a tradition that seems like it's been going on for ever because it's been with us since photography.

Let me explain. When you see someone from the past with a baby, it's usually in a baby carriage unless that person is poor. Rich, happy people have baby carriages. Even rich, unhappy people like Scarlet O'Hara have baby carriages. It feels like that's because baby carriages have been around for ever, they're tried and tested and any attempt to use something else is just crazy talk. 

The truth, though, is that baby carriages are a Victorian invention and they don't have a whole lot of evidence to support their use. They're one of those things that are mainly done because that's what people do. And they've only been what people do for about a hundred and fifty years. In the 1730s, an English nobleman had a vehicle built to be pulled by a goat so that his children could play in it. In the sense that it was a carriage, designed to be used by babies, it was a baby carriage; but the standard model, I think you'll agree, is not goat-propelled. 

The baby carriage as we know it literally owes its success to Queen Victoria who bought three for her own children and started a trend that crossed the country, the Atlantic and then the world.

In doing so it rolled like a platoon of Panzers over the thousands of years of traditional baby care that preceded it. Just because something is traditional doesn't mean it's good, but baby carriages don't have a long history of use: they're only "traditional" if you take a very short view. They must stand or fall on the evidence supporting their use without any "it's always been that way" to hide behind.

So let's look at the evidence.

Baby's Physical Health

The influence of baby carriages on a baby's physical health is not good. Lying a baby flat on its back isn't in any way natural. A baby is developing the spinal curvature it will need as an adult to support healthy movement and lying a baby flat on its back interferes with that by pressing the spine flat. It can also press the back of the baby's head flat over time, a condition called plagiocephaly and which requires a helmet to correct is because the bones of the skull are still growing and are both soft and unfused in infants.

It's pretty bad that laying a baby on its back for long periods of time can lead to deformed skulls. But you could also be looking at damaged hips and reduced muscle tone and activation from being immobilized. Babies are meant to squirm!

What About Development?

When babies are exposed to high levels of cortisol in early childhood the result is a lifelong oversensitivity to and overproduction of cortisol. That can mean more stress-related illnesses in later life, including an increased risk of heart attacks. But stress degrades brain development and cognitive function so a stressed baby is a cognitively and behaviorally challenged child and a low-grade student. 

Keeping infant stress low should be a priority for every parent, since it has serious lifelong effects. And keeping children in carriages that separate them from their parents helps to create that stress. Children are least stressed when they are close to their parents. What they seem to like best is being carried by an adult who's walking!

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