Baby Wearing for Your and Your Baby’s Spine
This article is of my personal and professional opinion having worn my baby from birth and considering my own and my baby’s spine as a chiropractor. As such I have not included references but have linked to many websites with baby wearing pictures for you to also form your opinions and make a healthy choice for your spine and that of you baby. There are many baby wearing devices out there (many more than I have included in this article). Search far and wide for a baby carrier that works for you. Consider your spine and your baby’s spine – imagine what is going on beneath the carrier. Talk to other baby wearers and most of all borrow from them – try a few out to get a well rounded view!
There is a baby wearing revolution going on. And so there should be! It’s so good for your baby to be close to their mother or father’s heart and breathing so that they can regulate their own breathing and regulate their temperature. The soft and gentle motion of walking reminds them of being in the womb, and they drop off to sleep with no extra effort – just walk! They feel safe, secure, comforted and close – there’s no reason not to be a contented and happy little baby! Compare that to a pram – almost a metre away from mum, nothing around you except blankets and wraps, bumping and hustling along, which may help with getting off to sleep too . . . but there’s no comfort there, there’s no hugs, there’s no security or embrace. Sure – prams are useful – long trips to the shop, or a bit of exercise for mum, or to give her a rest from carrying baby all day – but babies want to be carried, want to be loved, held, comforted and to know that mum is right there for her.
So it’s great that more and more people are out and about wearing their babies but beware! Not all baby carriers, slings and gadjets are made equal. Some put stress on your spine . . . some very popular brands put stress on the babies spine or pelvis and sacrum which will help to create further problems down the line – and no one who is trying to give their child love and affection, comfort and closeness wants to find out that the sling they have is going to injure their child’s spine.
Lets take some examples of popular brands, wraps and slings.
Baby Bjorn is hugely popular but, in my personal and professional opinion, not very good for a babies spine or pelvis – especially their original designs, when the baby gets bigger and you can face them out (http://www.babybjorn.com/products/baby-carriers/baby-carrier-air/air/). I have seen that they have a new more ergonomic one with better hip support for carrying older babies (http://www.babybjorn.com/products/baby-carriers/comfort-carrier/comfort/) which looks good when the baby is facing in, but very uncomfortable when facing out. You can see that the baby is literally dangling from the padded material that goes through their legs. This is putting excess pressure on their pubic bone and sacrum and their hips are not supported at all. The hips are not in a neutral position but extended, and this is not a comfortable or natural way to be. By dangling your child by their sacrum and pelvis is akin to being carried along by their nappy, and it’s putting pressure on the sacrum and pelvis and lower back. These are important areas as nerves coming from the lower back and sacrum travel to digestive organs like the bowel, reproductive organs, and to the bladder.
A good example of baby carrying are wraps (Sleepy wrap, Moby Wrap and Hugabub are popular brands or you can just by jersey material from your local fabric store) – these are especially good when the baby is newborn – the mother is close, the baby is safe and warm. You can see that the baby’s hips are in a more natural flexed position and thus the joint is also in its physiologically neutral ‘frog leg’ position (ie there is equal joint space all around the head of the joint). There is no excess pressure on any part of the baby’s back or pelvis and the fabric is nicely spread over the baby’s body for equal distribution of pressures. Also for the person carrying, the weight distribution of the baby is through the mid back region and around the hips, and is spread out more by the ability to spread the fabric, rather than straps and buckles which can cut in.
Side slings. These are not my favourite as they place an unequal load on the mother’s spine and shoulders. The baby is generally ok as these slings are generally used when the baby is smaller and their natural spinal position is a c-shaped curve. As the baby gets bigger and wigglier and wants to sit up, these go out of favour except for small trips (ie dropping older kids off at kindy). Also as the baby gets heavier, the uneven weight distribution cuts into mum’s shoulder. However, they are great for really tiny or young babies, or great for quick trips from the car to the playground or to mimic having the bigger baby on a hip with a bit extra support (other than the hip and wrist supporting the baby, the weight is distributed a bit more by having the sling over the shoulder – an examples is a bubzilla).
Mai Tai‘s and Ergobaby and Tula carriers are great. Good weight distribution for the adult, and the baby’s hips are kept in a neutral position once again. I personally found the Ergo to sit too far down on my back (I’m not exactly tall) but my husband loves the Ergo and has no problems. The Mai Tai was my saviour. You can buy these or make these. I paid $9 in fabric on special at Spotlight compared to over $170 for my Ergo but it did take me 4 hours to sew it all together. Best thing I’ve ever done. I can wear it higher on my back so it puts less pressure on my lumber (lower) spine, the straps and thicker and go over the boobs and the thicker straps around the waist don’t cut in as you can spread them out (you can send off your carrier to make sure that it is safe to hold the weight of your baby). Again, baby’s hips and spine are in a neutral position as they would be if the here having a piggy back.
And for the adventurous and pro babywearers out there, the woven wrap is a must. Visit Wearababy or Tinoki and eat your heart out on all the beautiful ways to wear your baby.
I personally recommend for ultimate comfort for the carrier and ultimate spinal position for your baby, the following:
A wrap for the first 3-4 months. Some examples of baby wraps are: Sleepy wrap, Hug a bub and Moby Wrap.
Once the baby is in a sitting up stage, wear them on your front with a stronger carrier like a Tula, Kinderpack, Ergo or Mai Tai, Emibaby (there are so many now) then when they are bigger – say 6 or so months, and starting to get too heavy on the front, get an experienced baby wearer to help you learn to wear them on your back (or watch You-Tube!) or advance to a woven wrap to carry in extra comfort.