Use of the Bumbo is a hotly debated topic. Paediatric physiotherapists passionately advise against it (see MamaOT's post "Beware the Bumbo," for example), while many parents claim it is a God-send. As an occupational therapist, is there a time when I would recommend the Bumbo seat? Short answer: Yes.

But first, what is a Bumbo seat?

The Bumbo floor seat is made of low density foam with a colourful coating, making it firm but conforming. It is light-weight, and comes in one size only (for this specific product). The tray is optional, detachable, and purchased separately. The premise of the Bumbo is that is keeps the baby safely in a sitting position, before they have developed the ability to sit unsupported. It also keeps baby contained, so they can't roll or crawl away unsupervised.

Bumbo seat lilac and tray

This is an older style Bumbo, before the strap restraints were introduced.

Bumbo seats (or "Bumbos") are sold in many baby shops and department stores. In Australia, a new Bumbo costs about $70, plus the tray. Since they only fit for a short period before baby outgrows it, they are also readily available second-hand.

This video from Bumbo outlines important safety recommendations:

Why do so many developmental specialists advise against the Bumbo?

The MamaOT post, linked above, gives a lovely, detailed explanation. Here is the short version:

  1. When a baby is in a Bumbo, he is trapped. Babies need to move around in order to develop their sensory systems, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills. A baby that is restricted too often in a Bumbo, or in any other containment device, may not develop as expected, and may be delayed in reaching milestones such as rolling, sitting, crawling and walking.

  2. Therapists (including myself) are bothered by Bumbo marketing that claims baby can "practice" sitting up. Sitting in a Bumbo does not help a typically developing baby learn to sit up. Babies learn to sit up by being on the floor.

  3. The Bumbo has had a bad wrap for safety issues. Personally, I feel this is probably a little sensationalised, and not 100% Bumbo's fault. Most of the injuries to children seem to have come by the child trying to escape the seat, or moving around too much, and falling on their heads by tipping the seat over, or by making it fall from a height. Bumbo have added a seat belt to try to mitigate the risk, but I really don't like the seat belt. I think the fault here lies in inappropriate use of the Bumbo.

Bumbo with Tray

The tray clips onto the front of the Bumbo.

When I have recommended Bumbo and why:

Overall, I agree with points outlined in the MamaOT post - when considering typically developing children.

However, not all children are typically developing. The children I work with have spina bifida or other similar neurological conditions, which means that for some, learning to sit unsupported is an unrealistic goal. If we put the rest of their development on hold until they achieve unsupported sitting, they will not reach their developmental potential.

I have recommended the Bumbo for children with lower body paralysis over 6 months of age, who need to move on to bimanual (two-handed) play to continue development of their fine motor skills. Many of the children I work with can sit independently by this age, but need to prop themselves up with one or two arms. This makes play in a sitting position very difficult and fatiguing. We recommend corner chairs for this same purpose.

The Bumbo is always used with a tray (or little table) for their toys, and we discuss implementation with the family so they understand that the Bumbo is only to be used for up to 30min at a time, while playing. It's not for watching TV, or sitting for hours while mum does all the housework. It is for banging toys together, playing 'ta' games, stacking and nesting, with an adult, for up to 30min.

Then it's back to the floor…

What do you think? Do Bumbos really need to be taken off the market?