Wearing your baby in a carrier proves incomparable in so many situations. Having such close comfort when your tot is newly born is warmly vital – for the both of you. When your little one is six months, awake more often, able to get into more and you need to do the laundry, it’s tops. When they are a year and a half and you are shopping through Target and they insist on climbing over the front bars of the cart, it thwarts potential melt-downs. (For mom and baby.)
Zach and I have three baby carriers – a Boba, a Solly and an Honest Co. carrier. I love them all for different reasons. The Boba is thick and warm – it was so nice in the deep of winter when Rad was only two to three months old. The Solly wraps are beautiful. New colors are released each season and they are very lightweight, folding up easily for travel and errands. When I fly with Rad, I just keep it on and because it isn’t bulky, I don’t even notice that I have been wearing it all day. Our Honest Co. carrier – a collaboration with Beco – is great now that Rad is older and getting too heavy for the Solly. This snaps up so easily and he feels cozy and secure. (This is one that keeps him from running around Target, knocking jars of pickles down. No, that hasn’t happened. But, it hasn’t happened yet.)
I am so happy that I was able to interview Dr. Heather Somers again – our resident chiropractor – for information on how to keep our bodies and our babies’ bodies safe while baby wearing. After-all, we are adding upwards of 30 lbs onto our bodies. (At least this weight is easy to take off. 😉 )
Dr. Somers also gives some personal insight on her journey of baby wearing with her daughters, talks over different carrier styles and explores the benefits and concerns for parent and child beyond spinal health, making for a Q & A that is at once informative and earnest.
And, please be sure to post comments below on which type of baby wrap you prefer. It will help new parents as they shop around!
- For starters, what are the positive benefits of baby wearing (for parents and babies) compared to toting our babies around in detachable car seats or in a stroller?
I can’t remember exactly where I first heard about the world of baby wearing but I remember being instantly drawn to it. When I was pregnant with my first daughter I knew it was something I wanted to do! I started doing some research and was very quickly overwhelmed! Baby wearing is a whole, big world and I found it all quite intimidating. I ended up getting some advice from some fellow moms and when my daughter was born we started experimenting. The first carrier I ever used was a long, stretchy wrap. Mine was a Cuddly wrap but there are many other brands that do the same thing. I watched the video and I practiced with a teddy bear but when it came time to try my wiggly, crying, new baby girl in the wrap it was not pretty. I was actually quite overwhelmed and quite deterred about how to make baby wearing work for us. Honestly I came very close to just giving up on the whole thing – but my daughter had other plans. It turned out that she was a very particular baby and she LOVED being held and she HATED her stroller. I could get maybe five peaceful minutes in the stroller and that was it. So my baby wearing skill was really born out of complete necessity! Once we figured out the right carriers, we were rocking! She was so content to be worn for hours and I suddenly had freedom and confidence and I have never looked back.
So, that brings me to some of the benefits of baby wearing – and there are a lot! Some of the obvious ones that come to mind are;
- Glorious Hand’s Free Living! I loved being able to buckle my girl in and have my hands free! We would grocery shop and go for long walks and tidy up around the house and I had so much freedom!
- A Happy Baby! Now I must preface this one with saying, the first time you buy your nice new carrier and you’re feeling all excited and you go to grab your little one and load them up – guaranteed they will scream and cry and hate it! I don’t know if it’s just because it’s something new or if they can sense that you have some sort of agenda or what! But whenever I talk to people about baby wearing I always warn them about this because it can be really discouraging! I always advise parents to stay the course and push past this phase! Of course it’s possible that it really is something that your child won’t like or won’t adapt to but I find in the majority of the cases and with a little bit of practice the babes soon start to love being in their carrier!
In my experience, both my girls just loved being worn. They just seemed so content to be right there next to me, exploring the world in comfort and safety. It felt so right to me to have my little cub cuddled up on my chest. And like I said before, my kids were happy to be in there for hours! I think babies find it very soothing to be worn. Being close to you allows them to hear your heart beat and feel your breathing. They are held in nice and tightly which is very soothing while at the same time they move and sway along with your body movements. They can look out and explore the world but retreat back into you when they become over-stimulated. I think babies feel very at home and very safe when they are worn.
- The Hugs and Cuddles: I have to mention this one because it was honestly one of my favourite things about baby wearing! Both of my girls were very busy and very independent from the beginning – which meant there wasn’t a lot of snuggling going on. But when they’re strapped to your chest it’s pretty much one big hug! I loved holding their little bodies and kissing the tops of their heads. So much snuggling and bonding!
- Physiological Benefits: So that brings me to some of the more scientific benefits to baby wearing. The first that comes to mind is digestive health. As we all know, many little ones struggle with gas and constipation and general GI distress. Baby wearing can be a great help for these issues. Having the baby in an up-right position naturally encourages healthy GI motility. And when they are facing inwards, with their belly against your chest, the gentle pressure on their abdomen helps work out gas. Plus, as you’re walking they are gently moving up and down. This natural rhythm is great for stimulating bowel movements. So it’s always something I recommend for babies who are struggling with GI discomfort.
There are also many musculo-skeletal benefits to baby wearing. When worn correctly (I’ll talk more about proper positions later) the baby’s hips, pelvis and spine are perfectly supported. When a baby is born their spine is perfectly flat and it’s through movement and growth that the curvatures begin to form. A proper carrier can really support this process and not force the baby into any unnatural positions. One of the worries about babies spending too much time in strollers or swings is that that are very static and the spine and pelvis are not in optimal positions. This is why variety is important and baby wearing can be an excellent alternative.
- What are the top concerns for our spinal health when we are wearing our children?
When you’re wearing a baby you are basically taking a heavy weight and strapping it to your body. This weight can be as small as 6 or 7 lbs in the beginning but as you progress it can get as big as 20 or even 30 lbs! So it’s really important to do this right. In fact if you don’t have a carrier that you like, that works for your body, and that is adjusted and worn right it will be painful and uncomfortable and you won’t keep up with it.
It’s hard to really break down the ways to make baby wearing comfortable for the parent because it is so specific. One of the biggest things I’ve learned as I’ve experimented with many different types of carriers is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ carrier. This is where it is so awesome to be able to talk to someone who knows what they’re doing or attend a group where you can try different carrier options. It is totally crucial that whatever carrier you have is worn and adjusted properly. Not only for you and your baby’s comfort but for safety as well.
There are some basic rules to follow to help make baby wearing as comfortable as possible. Try to distribute the weight as evenly as you can across your back and shoulders. Make sure the carrier is tight and secure. If the carrier is too loose, it’s not safe for your baby and will put extra strain on your back. Again, this is where having someone who knows what they’re doing helping you adjust your carrier correctly is so important.
I’ll talk a little about my experience with finding a great carrier for my body. I started by using a long stretchy wrap which I quickly decided I didn’t like. Some people just adore wraps and get very into that world with beautiful woven material but I just found the whole thing to be too cumbersome. I decided to go to a meeting of our local baby wearing group here in London and they were awesome! They introduced me to the world of soft structured carriers and I’ve never looked back. Soft structured carriers are a class of carrier that usually have buckles and are kind of like back packs that can be worn on the front or back. Some examples of this style of carrier are the Ergo, the Beco, or the Tula. I started out with an Ergo but I have a very petite frame and I found the straps to be quite uncomfortable. I ended up being introduced to a carrier called a Natural Mother Productions carrier. They are made locally by a woman in Ontario and I fell in love. But the important take away point here is that it’s super important to find the carrier that works for you. Again, this is where baby wearing groups or lending libraries are so helpful!
- What are the top concerns for the spinal health of our children when they are being carried in a carrier?
There are actually many safety concerns in terms of the baby being worn beyond just musculo-skeletal health. Every carrier is different and you should always read ALL of the safety material and instructions that come with it. We must always remember to protect our baby’s airways and make sure they are held in safe positions – especially when they are very small. Again, this is where a group or even an online forum can be very helpful!
In terms of their spine and pelvis, it’s all about support! You want a nice, big, supportive seat for them to be sitting in.
The first thing we want to see is that the seat of the carrier goes all the way up to the baby’s knees. You can see in the picture below that the ideal seat is very wide and supports the baby’s legs right up to their knees as opposed to being narrow.
The other thing that is important – and it’s not well illustrated in the above picture – is that the baby’s knees should be supported and held up higher than their bums. I like this next image as it shows how the baby’s positioning will change as they age. You can see that throughout the stages the carrier seat is nice and wide and gives support right to the baby’s knees and the bent knee is always held higher than their bums.
- Are there carrier styles that are better than others?
There are many, many different baby carriers out there. And this was another thing I found so intimidating when I first entered this world. It is totally overwhelming and it’s so hard to even know where to start. I can talk a little bit about the carrier styles that I have used and loved but I really want to emphasize that every parent/baby combo is different and not everyone is going to love the same carriers. This is why it’s so important to find a store or a group or even someone to borrow from – you need to try a few different styles and find what works best for you!
I have experimented with many different types of carriers and they all have different pros and cons. When my babies were first born I used a long stretchy wrap. Like I said, mine was a Cuddly wrap. I found it worked pretty well and the little squishy newborns were quite happy in there. But I quickly got sick of how cumbersome it was to constantly tie the wrap so my relationship with the Cuddly wrap didn’t last long.
I found that a soft structured carrier was the ultimate for me. The buckle system was so easy to strap on and it adjusted and tightened very easily. I bought a Natural Mother Productions carrier that was comfortable and beautifully supported my baby’s spine and hips. The straps criss-crossed over my back which really helped distribute the weight and it worked absolutely perfectly for us for years.
I used a ring sling for a little while when my girls were older – probably around 12 months. I liked using it to carry my toddlers on my hip when we were out and about. But I found it just wasn’t as comfortable as my buckle carrier so it wasn’t my go-to piece.
My latest love affair has been with my Beco – another type of soft structured carrier. When my second daughter was over a year old I got brave enough to try a back-pack style carry with her on my back and the Beco worked beautifully for that.
So this was my experience but like I said – please don’t get hung up on the brands or styles that work for other people. Experiment and Google and try on some of these carriers to find what works best for you!
- What are improper carrying techniques? And how can these affect our spinal health?
Ok so this is a bit of a controversial issue. There is a debate about whether or not it’s safe to wear your baby facing outward or whether facing inwards is the only way to go. Here are pictures of what I mean.
(Side note – Zach threw this on quickly for photo purposes, so everything is a little wonky! We’re in the same mindset as Dr. Somers though – we like to have Rad facing us.)
When I was learning how to wear my baby I did some research into this debate. I’m not going to go into too much detail about all the information that’s out there but the conclusion I came to as a chiropractor and a mom is that wearing your baby facing inwards (chest to chest) is the most ideal position for your baby. It’s best for their spine and their hips. Now I know many parents will say that their baby doesn’t like being worn this way and wants to look around. I do understand this but what I decided was that my baby’s spinal health was the most important thing for me. So I bought a carrier that only allowed for inward facing position. My daughters never knew anything different and they had no problem adapting to this style and learning to love it. I always found they had no trouble looking around and seeing everything they needed to, with the added benefit that they could turn away from the world when it was too stimulating.
I certainly don’t want to condemn anyone that decides to wear their baby facing out. Nor do I believe that having a baby in this position for small periods of time will cause major damage. But like I said, I do believe that facing inwards is the ideal position and if you’re going to be doing a lot of baby wearing, for many hours at a time, I would recommend that having the baby facing you is the best way to go.
Another huge issue in terms of proper positioning is protecting baby’s air-way. Especially when the baby is very small. Some slings and wraps can allow the baby to sink down and have their chin bend forward to touch their chest. This can cut off their air-way and be very dangerous. This is why it is so important to make sure you can always see your baby and that you always read and follow the instructions for your specific carrier.
Here is a great little safety reminder list:
- Are there any activities that we should avoid doing while wearing our babies because it could negatively impact our spinal health?
I wouldn’t say there are hard and fast rules here when it comes to activities. I think this is more an area where common sense can guide you. Baby wearing is awesome for activities such as walking or even hiking. I have heard of baby wearing dance classes for moms that are a great option for some exercise and some fun. You certainly wouldn’t want to do anything too vigorous such as playing sports or doing any serious climbing – these would just be dangerous for everyone! Even running is a little too rough on the parent and the baby. In general I would stick to walking, hiking and of course shopping!
- For baby-wearing parents, which therapies should they consider to help keep their bodies in good spinal health? How often should they visit their chiropractor? Are there any particular stretches that would be helpful?
This is a good question because it brings up the fact that baby wearing is a physical activity. And with any physical activity our bodies need to adapt to the change. If you start baby wearing when your baby is very small your body has less weight to adapt to and will grow stronger as your baby gets bigger. But if you dive into baby wearing a little later when you already have a bigger baby to work with you may be a little sore at first regardless of how great your carrier is. Chiropractic can be an awesome help during this transition! I always get my patients to bring in their carriers to see if I can recommend any postural changes that might help and to make sure their carrier is adjusted properly. And of course I also assess their spine for any injuries to the joints and muscles. Correcting these issues will help reduce the pain and help your body adapt more quickly to carrying the baby.
One particular stretch that I really like is called a wall angel. It targets the mid back which is the area that will take the brunt of the weight when baby wearing. It’s also just a great stretch for most of us who have tightness across the mid back and shoulder blades.
For this stretch you stand with your back against the wall and your feet shoulder width apart. You raise your arms so they are flat against the walls, making sure that your elbows are held against the wall. While keeping your elbows in contact with the wall at all times you slowly raise your arms above your head and then back down. I would repeat this 10 times and it can be done up to 3 times per day. You feel a great stretch through your upper back and shoulder blades.
Other than that, the best thing to do is to just keep at it! Start small at first if you’re finding you are really sore after baby wearing. You can start with a small outing every day. The most important thing is to not give up! It won’t take long for your baby and your body to get the hang of things!
I want to leave you all with one final point and that is to persevere. I found there were many obstacles when I first entered this world – I was intimidated by all of the carriers and all of the choices and all of the different terms I didn’t know. Whenever I tried a new carrier it felt foreign and uncomfortable for me and my baby. But it’s so important not to give up!! I promise it gets easier and you will get more comfortable and your baby will love it! I’m so glad I stuck with it because baby wearing has been a huge, wonderful part of my life!
Dr. Heather Somers
Byron Village Chiropractic Centre
1240 Commissioners Rd. West
London ON N6K 1C7
Thank you so much Dr. Somers! A wealth of great information and important encouragement. Remember readers, leave a post below with your favourite carrier!