African Inventor Assists Curious Infants


During a visit to the U.S., my foreign staff from Congo asked me after dinner one night to go shopping for a “Bumbo chair.” Quite honestly, I had no idea what in the world they were talking about. My children are college-aged so it has been a long time since they were infants. I had never heard of such a thing. Initially I thought, perhaps, in their broken English they were mispronouncing the words. But to my surprise, I soon learned that such a thing did exist. Not only did it exist, but it was so popular that my staff in Congo and in Samoa knew what it was. I was embarrassed that I did not.

One day in South Africa, a grandfather by the name of Johan Buitendach, an inventor and toolmaker by trade, was babysitting his infant grandson. His curious grandson was eager to look around, but at just seven weeks old, was struggling to sit up and could not see the world he desperately wanted to observe. Grandpa wanting to satisfy his curiosity attempted to accommodate his young grandson by propping him up with pillows. This proved to be unsuccessful with the little one slipping to the side. The realization came to Johan then, a seat that would support his young grandson and allow him to sit, unassisted, without falling to the side. Violà…the Bumbo Baby Seat was born!

Invented in 2001, the Bumbo seat has become a popular favorite of parents of infants worldwide and has won many awards. The factory located in South Africa, as of 2009, produces 100,000 seats per month and continues to export them all over the world. This wildly popular infant chair is made out of a soft foam made of non-toxic materials and comes in a variety of colors. It is easy to clean, durable and now comes with a restraint belt. The chair is designed to help a baby sit upright and is intended for children from 3 to 14 months with the one requirement that the child must be able to hold his or her head up. It enables a baby to sit upright and fits the baby’s posture with a contoured seat.  The idea behind the seat is to encourage the baby’s interest in their environment, thus stimulating brain development and curiosity. It is also touted as a lifesaver for busy Moms with too much to do and not enough hands.

Adversaries of the seat however, argue that children are encouraged to sit up at too early of an age and this encourages poor posture and could possibly increase issues with a child’s physical development. Additionally, the seat was voluntarily recalled in August 2012 due to numerous issues with children being injured due to falls, including cracked skulls when the chair was in use. These issues though were due to the chair not having a restraint belt (which now is included on the chair) or using the chair in ways for which it was not intended. For instance, the chair is to be used only on the floor level and never on an elevated surface.  It is also never to be used in the bathtub or as a car seat. Children are also never to be left unattended while in the seat.  The seat now comes with a restraint belt and warnings listed clearly on the chair.

The chair sells at a variety of retail stores for approximately $40 to $45 and continues to be popular with parents. Additional items now being sold include the Bumbo Step Stool, Bumbo™ Play Tray, Bumbo Toilet Trainer, Bumbo Booster Seat. Whether your child was adopted from Congo, Bulgaria or Nicaragua, the Bumbo Seat is fun and comfortable for your young child, just be sure to use it as it is intended to be used!

Photo Credit: Pixel Pro Photography

Sonja Brown works as the International Program Director for MLJ Adoptions’ programs in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Samoa. Sonja is also proud to work directly with our Individualized Country Program families who are adopting from countries where no adoption service providers currently operate.