New Research Says Pram Direction Affects Baby

Fri, Nov 21, 2008

Pram News

Whilst sleepily polishing off my tea and toast this blisteringly cold morning, a debate on GMTV caught my eye and made me reach for the volume control. Apparently, new research just published is claiming that the direction your baby faces in the pram affects their development, with babies facing the parent being more likely to talk, laugh and interact. Furthermore, the researcher, Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, Developmental Pyschologist at Dundee University, who conducted the study in partnership with the National Literacy Trust (NLT), funded by the Sutton Trust, claims that:

“…life in a 21st century baby buggy is emotionally impoverished and possibly stressful. Stressed babies grow into anxious adults”


For many reasons, with cost undoubtedly being at the very top of the list, I imagine thousands of parents are now wondering what damage they’ve unwittingly done their beloved offspring by purchasing the usually much cheaper, forward-facing pram models. Given the relatively small percentage of time babies usually spend in the pram – often asleep I might add! – compared to the rest of the day when mums, dads and carers talk, laugh, sing, read and play with their child, I feel sure that the headlines surrounding this latest research are alarmist in the extreme, and most parents have absolutely nothing to worry or feel guilty about.

That said, within less than an hour of publication, the article on the BBC website was the ‘most emailed’ and third ‘most read’  news item so my suspicions as to the impact this would have were confirmed. With my interest sufficiently piqued, I decided to track down the full press release into the findings, which revealed the following:

The study looked at 2,722 parent-infant pairs across the UK and Dr Zeedyk also carried out a smaller study of 20 babies being wheeled in pushchairs across a one mile stretch in the centre of Dundee. Half the journey was spent in an away-facing buggy and half in a toward-facing buggy. The results of this pilot work suggest that parents talk less to children in away-facing buggies and babies’ sleeping patterns and heart rates differ slightly for the two orientations, suggesting it is possible that they are more stressed by away-facing buggies.

Key findings of both research projects include:

• 62% of all children observed were travelling in away-facing buggies, with the rate even higher, at 86%, between the ages of 1 and 2 years
• Parents using face-to-face buggies were twice as likely to be talking to their baby (25% compared with 11%)
• Less than a quarter of parents observed were speaking to their child (22%)
• Mothers and infants, who had a chance in the experimental study to travel in both types of buggies, also laughed more frequently with face-to-face buggies. Only one baby in the group of 20 studied laughed during the away-facing journey, while half laughed during the face-to-face journey
• Babies’ average heart rates fell slightly when placed in a toward-facing buggy, and babies were also twice as likely to fall asleep in this orientation, both of which could taken as possible indicators of reduced stress levels

Dr Zeedyk said: “Neuroscience has helped us to learn how important social interaction during the early years is for children’s brain development. If babies are spending significant amounts of time in a baby buggy that undermines their ability to communicate easily with their parent, at an age when the brain is developing more than it will ever again in life; then this has to impact negatively on their development.

“Our experimental study showed that, simply by turning the buggy around, parents’ rate of talking to their baby doubled. I had also not anticipated that such a high percentage of babies in face-to-face buggies would be sleeping – 52%, against only 27% in away facing buggies. It was a complete surprise. This is significant as you are more likely to sleep when you are feeling relaxed and safe.

Erm, doesn’t this rather imply that you wouldn’t be talking to your baby anyway, as they’d be sleeping?

Liz Attenborough, Manager of the Talk To Your Baby campaign, said: “Talk To Your Baby is campaigning for manufacturers to make sociable, face-to-face buggies for toddlers more affordable and to increase parental awareness of the importance of talking to their baby. This research shows that something as seemingly ordinary as going out with a child in a buggy where adult and child are face-to-face can be a valuable opportunity to spend time talking together in a way that is stress-free for the child. Parents with a two-way facing buggy should use the sociable face-to-face option as standard.”

Laura Barbour, Sutton Trust, commented, “The Sutton Trust hopes that buggy manufacturers will look closely at this research, which suggests that face-to-face models improve communication at a very early stage. The problem is that at present these cost a minimum of £200 and are therefore too expensive for many families. The Sutton Trust, which campaigns for improved social mobility, would like to see options available in every price range so that all parents can have greater choice.”

So there we have it. For what it’s worth, and in the interests of laying my cards on the proverbial table, I personally chose a rear-facing pram (an iCandy Apple) for this very reason. Before baby came along, I envisaged us strolling along the high street with me pointing out the various sights and sounds and him gurgling happily and soaking up my guided tours like an avid, educational sponge. The reality is that he invariably used the hum of the traffic and the fresh air on his face to lull himself straight off to sleep! As soon as he outgrew this perpetually sleepy stage – at around 6 months – he was infinitely happier when we turned the direction forward-facing and he could smile and gurgle delightedly at passing strangers rather than Mummy’s ugly mug, which he was evidently more than happy to have a break from, thank you very much!

On the issue of cost, however, I’d have to agree with the researchers. The pushchair models that are either rear-facing, or allow both forward and rear-facing options – the Bugaboo Cameleon, Bugaboo Bee, iCandy Apple, Quinny Buzz, Mutsy to name a few – can be more than double the price of most forward-facing strollers, such as the eternally popular Maclaren stroller range.

Food for thought, indeed, though I personally think families should be able to weigh up the pros and cons of the various models available in their budget without being handed yet another stick with which to beat themselves. For anyone who wants to have a read of the research in its entirety in order to make up their own mind, the following links should be helpful:

http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/Press/TTYBbuggyresearch.html and have a look on the bbc site where people have been commenting on the research http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7741056.stm

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Mavis Hill Says:

    In the good old days when I was young and the babies were as well(1977-1979)I had, what would be called today,a big old fashioned silver cross pram. The off-spring faced towards me of course, they had no choice,and I did spend a lot of the time talking to them, usually about inconsequential things. They always seemed happy with this arrangemant and I could see them at all times and attend to them if needs be. I have spent the best part of today searching the internet for a reasonably priced travel system that faces forward and reverse and it ain’t easy. They seem to cost over £500 if you want carry cots etc as well. I have given up now and I am thinking of joining Which? as it’s a minefield out there.

  2. Eliana Says:

    Hi Mavis: Have you check the mychoice 3-wheeler pushchair chassis?It becomes a complete pushchair once you have personalised it with your choice of seat unit. Also it can face either way.

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