Have I changed my mind about baby containers? A review of the Upseat
Those of you who know me know that I’m not a big fan of so-called “baby containers”. You know, the things parents strap their babies in to keep them happy while parents do chores around the house. I’ve done presentations and written magazine articles on the topic. I really don’t like baby containers. You can go back and find my previous blog post on this topic to learn why I feel the way I do, but in short, they restrict infant movement which leads to slowed development and atypical movement patterns.
All that to say that I was watching repeats of Dragon’s Den on Netflix in the last days of my pregnancy when one of these baby containers caught my eye. I was instantly intrigued as I listened to creators Steve and Kim Pankratz tell their story. Their little guy, Jack, was born with special needs and required a supportive seat that he could use on the floor. After doing their research, Steve and Kim found that none of the commercially available chairs met his needs. They discussed it with their therapy team and through trial and error came up with a design that was supportive but functional. Thus was born the Upseat.
The Upseat website claims their product is different than other chairs on the market in two major ways. The first is that the sitting surface of the chair is wedge shaped, which encourages a neutral pelvic position. Other chairs tend to put the infant into what therapists like to call a “posterior pelvic tilt”. Picture the pelvis like a bowl of water, if you were to tip the bowl so that the water pours of the back of the infant, that is posterior pelvic tilt. It is a slouching position, and not great for posture or for function. Once the spine becomes curved, as it does in posterior pelvic tilt, it becomes much more difficult to properly use the arms and hands, especially for infants who are just learning to move their muscles against gravity. The wedged seat of the Upseat tilts the pelvis forward and puts infants into a position with a straighter spine, allowing for a more natural range of motion of the head, neck and arms. The image below, taken from the Upseat website, illustrates what I’m talking about.
The second difference with the Upseat is that the leg openings are set wider apart than in other similar chairs. This is better for hip development and allows the head of the femur to rest properly in the acetabulum (hip socket). Those of you who use baby carriers are aware of the importance of this for developing infants. You can see the difference in the image below, also taken from the Upseat website.
I was so intrigued by the Upseat that I reached out to the company, explained that I am an occupational therapist and was expecting my own little one soon and that I would love to try out their product. They were kind enough to ship one to me. In an effort to make a fair analysis, I went out and purchased a second-hand Bumbo seat. My little man and I tried them both out for several days. He was about 15 weeks old at the time of our “experiment”.
Upon first glance, both the Upseat and the Bumbo look pretty similar. They’re both kind of bowl shaped with two cut outs for the legs and both have a removable tray. They’re also both made out of foam, though the Bumbo is slightly “squishier” than the Upseat. The tray on the Upseat is larger than that of the Bumbo. The Upseat has a strap to hold the pelvis in place. The version of the Bumbo that I had didn’t have a strap, but I believe newer versions may also have this feature. The Upseat also comes with a strap to attach it to a kitchen chair. Our Bumbo didn’t have this, but I can’t speak to newer versions.
The first thing I noticed when Ben was sitting in the chairs was that he was much more engaged with his toys in the Upseat versus the Bumbo. This is because of that pelvic position that I mentioned before. This is because of that pelvic position that I mentioned before. The wedge-shaped seat of the Upseat brings him more forward and allows for better arm motion and therefore more engagement with his toys. Check out these two videos where you can really see the difference between the level of engagement in the two chairs. The first video is Ben in the Upseat. The second video is him in the Bumbo.
I wouldn’t say he was any happier in one chair vs the other, but his therapist mama definitely preferred to see him in the Upseat.
After our initial set of experiments, I decided to get creative and try a few outside the box ways to use the Upseat. Initially, I tried to use it in our kiddie pool. My new mom brain forgot that the seat is made of foam so it floated. I had to hold the seat down with my feet while playing with Ben. I wouldn’t recommend using the seat in this manner. We didn’t stay in the pool for long and I never took my eyes off him, but it did allow me to take a cool-ish dip on a hot day.
Another way I discovered using the Upseat was by removing the tray and sticking Squigz to the surface of it. This was a great way to encourage tummy time and weight shifting onto one arm while reaching with the other. I wouldn’t recommend buying the chair solely for this purpose, but if you have one it’s a bonus feature for sure. If you don’t have Squigz at home, you could tape family pictures to the tray or lean a mirror against it.
We also took the Upseat camping with us in the summer. We didn’t have a travel high chair and the Upseat made a great substitute. Ben was getting a bit big for it at that point, but it kept him away from the campfire while my husband and I made supper and cleaned up afterward. Bonus: the tray is made out of food-grade ABS plastic.
A note to cloth diapering families: If you have a larger baby, the Upseat can get a bit tight with a cloth diaper on. Those fluffy bums take up a lot of space.
I didn’t use the Upseat a ton with Ben, partially because life happened and I ended up in New Brunswick while my husband was deployed. I didn’t have room to bring a bunch of stuff with me and the Upseat didn’t make the cut. My little guy was also very content in tummy time, which was always a priority for me. If he hated tummy time as some babies do, I probably would have used the Upseat more. A few friends have asked me my thoughts on this style of chair and I always recommend the Upseat over the others for the reasons mentioned above. I can also think of clients that I’ve had in the past that would have benefitted from the Upseat.
All in all, I’ll be holding onto this chair in case we have another baby and to use with infant clients who need extra pelvic support while working on feeding and fine motor skills. It’s nice to have a tool that can provide that stability while working on those fine motor skills. Some kiddos aren’t able to stabilize their core AND do a fine motor skill. This is a perfect tool for them.
Final verdict: I approve!