How best to walk your baby

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The Independent Online

Most parents would think a daily walk through their neighbourhood, pushing their child along in a buggy would be a healthy thing to do. But, surprisingly, research has found that such a seemingly innocent activity might be doing more harm than good, and wrecking the child's future.

The most popular style of baby buggies – facing away from the pushing parent – may be hampering the child's development and storing up future trouble for them at school, the study shows.

Children in such buggies are significantly less likely to be talking or laughing with their parents and suffer increased stress through having less sleep while they are being pushed. Researchers from Dundee University found this could make it more difficult for them to cope with stress later in life. Also, they are less likely to be able to communicate properly with classmates when they go to school. The study points out that children's brains are at their most receptive between the ages of one and three, adding: "In short, every occasion that a baby has for interacting with an adult at those ages is a valuable one."

The research, the first of its kind, follows concern expressed by primary headteachers that more and more children are arriving at school unable to communicate, interact or play with their fellow pupils. The National Literacy Trust, which commissioned the research as part of its "Talk To Your Baby" campaign, indicated that taking a child out for a buggy ride could be just as harmful for his or her development as plonking them in front of a TV or computer screen.

For the research, Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, from Dundee's School of Psychology, made an observational study of 2,722 babies and their parents and mounted an experiment on 20 babies and their parents in which they travelled for half a mile in an away-facing buggy and half a mile in one where the two were face to face.

The first exercise showed that nearly two-thirds of all parents used away-facing buggies, with the rate higher (86 per cent) for children aged between one and two. It also showed that parents using face-to-face buggies were twice as likely to be talking to their baby (25 per cent as opposed to 11 per cent).

The experiment also showed that mothers and infants in the face-to-face buggies were much more likely to be laughing with each other. Only one baby laughed during the journey in the away-facing buggy, but half did so when they were face to face. In addition, babies were twice as likely to fall asleep when facing their parent and their heart rates fell slightly, both of which could be taken as indicators of reduced stress levels.