Babies, brains and bikes

Babies, brains and bikes

(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The other day our former Family Biking columnist Marion Rice shared an interesting link. It was to a blog post by Suzanne Zeedyk titled, “How buggies shape babies’ brain”. I expected the post to be about the common question of how young is too young when it comes to carrying babies around in things other than automobiles.

However it turns out the post was about something I hadn’t thought about in all my years of being a dad: How the position of the baby’s face in relation to mine (while we ride) might impact language development. Here’s a salient excerpt from the post:

“Primary teachers have been witnessing a steady decrease in children’s linguistic abilities upon starting school, and they had wondered if the fact that so many strollers are now designed to face outward, rather than toward the adult, might be one of a variety of possible factors contributing to that decrease.”

Family trip to Stub Stewart State Park-10-60

My boy in a trailer at four months, not looking
very stimulated.
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Put another way, compared to the classic prams of old, many strollers face babies away from their parents, which leads to less interaction and therefore, less brain development. “We found that simply turning the buggy around doubles the amount of conversation that babies experience,” wrote Zeedyk, referring to a study by the National Literacy Trust.

This got me thinking of how we carry around babies while biking. I have three kids, and we started biking around with my two youngest ones when they were only three-four months old. We carried them in their “car” seats in one of two main ways: Either mounted into the front cargo box of a bakfiets, or mounted into a cargo trailer we towed behind us. As our kids have gotten older, we’ve carried them via bicycle in almost every imaginable way: tag-along bikes, rear child seats, front child seats, front-facing in cargo box seats, in a rear bucket, and so on.

When I tweeted the link to that blog post yesterday, it got quite a bit of attention. Several women were already aware of the importance of face-to-face contact while biking.

Dena @bikemamadelphia shared a photo of her Yepp brand bike seat mounted in reverse in the front of her cargo box

And follower Ottawa Bicycle Lanes shared this photo of their set-up:

Baby in a Bakfiets, Ottawa

Now that I know more about this issue, I’ll recommend that people try to set up their bike so that baby can see their face. While the research might be debatable, the fun of having a chat and/or making sweet little faces with a little one while you ride around town is reason enough to do it.

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