Seeing your baby hit different developmental milestones is an exciting part of watching them grow up.
Parents will do everything they can to help encourage these moments, but did you know that certain baby products can also help support children as they grow and develop?
From using slings and carriers to harness the power of ‘babywearing’, through to high chairs that help babies get to grips with feeding themselves, we take a look at how they can help.
The fourth trimester – baby carriers and slings
Research shows that ‘babywearing’ in the ‘fourth trimester’ – a term coined by Dr Harvey Karp to describe the first three months after birth – helps to gently transition your baby from the familiarity of the womb to the ‘real world’.
It offers security, peace and attachment benefits through physical closeness with the person carrying them.
The physical affects of babywearing range from temperature and heart regulation, through to developmental factors such as sleep regulation and speech development.
Not only that but carrying your baby in a carrier or sling allows you to be hands-free for other tasks such as looking after other children, exercise and even housework.
Before you transport your baby in a carrier or sling, make sure you follow the instructions so it’s properly set up and your baby feels secure in it.
The UK Sling Consortium recommends following the ‘T.I.C.K.S’ rule for safe babywearing, especially for young babies.
Want to know which carrier we found to be the sturdiest, most comfortable and most durable? Browse all of our baby slings and carrier reviews.
Healthy hip and spine development – lie-flat car seats and pushchair seats
Newborn and very young babies ideally need to be kept in a horizontal position as much as possible, but especially when sleeping. This is because it allows them to breath optimally and also puts less pressure on their hips and spine, allowing them to develop properly.
A standard baby car seat has a sitting angle of 40-45 degrees which means newborn babies should only be kept in the seat for short periods of time before taking a break.
Research has found that a significant number of pre-term and full term babies had decreased oxygen desaturation after sitting in a typical car seat for just 20 minutes.
To keep your baby healthy and ensure hips and spine develop as they should, you could opt for either a lie-flat car seat or pushchair with a lie-flat seat.
A lie-flat car seat is one that can be reclined to a nearly flat position, and means you don’t have the same time limit on keeping your child in the seat as you would with a standard car seat.
Likewise, a pushchair with a seat that can be reclined to a nearly flat position (more than 150 degrees), or that comes with a carrycot attachment, will mean you can use the pushchair from birth and your baby can sleep undisturbed without having to be moved to a flat surface too soon.
When checking our pushchair reviews, select the ‘Suitable from birth’ filters to ensure you can use it with your newborn.
What is a lie-flat car seat and do you need to get one? Read our lowdown on this type of seat and discover the brands that are providing this as an option.
Eye contact and communication – reversible pushchair seat
A study carried out by researchers from Dundee University found that when their babies were in a pushchair with a parent-facing seat, they were twice as likely to sleep than if they were in a world-facing pushchair seat.
The research also found that when the babies were facing their parents in their buggy, the parents were twice as likely to talk to their babies and the babies were more likely to laugh.
This suggests that transporting your little one in a buggy where they’re facing you may give you a fantastic opportunity to make eye contact and communicate with them in various ways, helping to build a bond and improve communication.
Check out the tech specs of our pushchair reviews – they will state whether the direction of the seat unit is both world and parent facing – a must-have pushchair feature according to a Which? survey of parents.
Safe sleep and rolling over – firm cot mattress
Newborn babies tend to be asleep more than they are awake – anything from eight hours up to 16-18 hours – so the right cot mattress will help to support them as they grow and develop.
A 2017 review reported in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep found that infant sleep has a vital role in their cognition and physical growth.
Not only that but there is evidence that the right kind of cot mattress surface can help to keep them safe: sleeping on a surface that is too soft is associated with a significant increase in the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
A sagging mattress won’t provide the support your baby needs and could even put them at risk of suffocation if they end up face down in an area that is sagging – worth knowing if you’re planning to use a second-hand cot mattress, too.
When you’re buying a mattress, it should still be firm when you press down on it and should spring back immediately after you’ve removed your hand.
A firm mattress will also provide the right base for your baby to push off against as they learn to roll over and even push onto their front – a key development milestone. Just remember to always put your baby to sleep on their back.
Which cot mattress should you buy? Read our guide to find out.
Weaning and self-feeding – supportive high chair
Mealtimes are an important part of an infant’s development, helping them to develop social, emotional and communication skills.
When your baby is six months old and they can sit up unaided, you can start to wean them, allowing them to venture into the exciting world of food.
A high chair should be ergonomic and supportive so they they are can sit up safely (even if they can sit unaided, they may still be a bit wobbly), and be strapped in upright position rather than slouching (which can pose a choking risk).
Sitting up in a high chair with access to a tray or a table will also help them to swallow properly, pick up and become familiar with handling food and eventually learn how to feed themselves from a plate or bowl and using cutlery.
Crawling and walking – sturdy stair gate
An inevitable part of your baby’s development is crawling, cruising (walking while holding onto walls or surfaces) and walking, so it makes sense to get your home prepared for this.
RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) says that around 36,000 under-fives attend A&E departments each year after an accidental fall on the stairs and around 42,000 following an accident in the kitchen, showing how vital it is that you fit a stair gate.
Fit one on stairs, steps, across the kitchen doorway or any other place where you feel an inquisitive child may be tempted to wander, and make sure it’s sturdy and can withstand the shakes and rattles of a determined baby or toddler.
Which? testing checks the strength and durability of all the stair gates we test and we’ve found some that fall out of door frames far too soon. Read our stair gate reviews to ensure you’re not getting a dud, and find out more about how we test stair gates at Which?.