Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
5 Feb

Wearing a Baby: What To Do and What Not To Do

babywearingLast week, I made the case for wearing and carrying your babies, highlighting the considerable evidence of benefit of the practice. Today, I’m going to discuss what to look for when you carry a baby. I’ll also explain what not to do, as well as give a brief rundown of the unresolved topics. Some people might balk at the idea of “learning” how to carry or wear a baby. After all, we’ve been carrying and wearing small, defenseless pudgy humans for millions of years without a blog or a book telling us how to do it. What’s changed to make us suddenly need it?

Not much has changed, actually. Back in the days before widely disseminated, publicly available child-rearing information, we had mothers, aunts, grannies, cousins, plus their male counterparts, to help us out. They’d learned from someone else, they’d done it themselves, and now they were there to show and tell the next batch of parents how to do things. They were the blogs and the books and the experts. It was a culture of baby wearing, too. It permeated the environment. There were no strollers; this is just what was done. You weren’t “expected” to wear your kid. There just wasn’t any other option, and so you knew how to do it.

Today, in the States and most other Western countries, it’s a stroller culture. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with strollers, mind you. It’s just that millions of adults become parents without ever knowing that baby wearing is even an option. That needs to change.

Although it’s been years since I’ve handled my own infants, and my grown-up kids haven’t produced any of their own for me to tinker with, I know a little something about the subject. I have fairly extensive baby-wrangling experience. While it’s years removed from the present, I still find this an interesting topic because it’s yet another example of how we moderns can learn from the past.

First, let’s start with some “universal truths.” Baby-wearing-and-carrying methodology can be a hotly contested area of study, but I think everyone can agree with the following.

What’s Good

Generally, the higher up on your body the baby is, the easier it’ll be on your back. If you’ve ever done a front squat, you’ll know how much torso strength supporting a weight in front of your body requires. You also know that allowing your elbows to sag and the bar to droop down makes staying upright hard, and it renders the rep nearly impossible to complete. Think of the baby as a barbell. Don’t let the baby droop down.

The closer your baby is to you, the easier it’ll be on your body. Same concept as above applies: keeping a weight close to you makes it lighter.

Supporting the baby’s head. A newborn baby is a weird cartilaginous thing, all bendy and floppy. Babies don’t have the strength to support the disproportionately large head lolling around on top of their scrawny bodies. Whether you’re carrying or wearing the baby, make sure to support the head.

Avoiding excessive chin tucking. The head can go too far forward, too. If that happens and the chin rests firmly against the chest, a baby’s oxygen supply may get cut off. Make sure you can slip a couple fingers between the chin and chest (kinda like checking for a dog collar’s tightness).

Keeping it tight. As mentioned above, maintaining a snug-fitting carrier will keep the baby closer to you and reduce strain on your body, but it will also keep the baby from slumping. A nice way to check if the carrier is snug enough is to press on the kid’s back. If the kid moves toward you, the carrier isn’t snug enough.

Maintaining line of sight. Make sure you can always see your baby. If the baby’s in the front, you shouldn’t have to brush aside any fabric to see him. If the baby’s on a back carrier, you should be able to look over your shoulder and see him. On that note, don’t cover your baby’s head in fabric.

Keeping a supported back. Don’t let a baby slump forward into C-shaped hyperflexion and don’t let the spine drift into hyper extension of the lower. Keep things supported (babies will naturally gravitate toward a slight C-shape).

Frog stance. A baby’s knees should be above his butt, at around 90-100 degree flexion, with legs spread. Like a frog, or, like the bottom of a squat. The butt and upper hamstrings should be supported, because a little baby can’t be expected to keep his legs up on his own.

What’s Bad

Dangling, straight legs. Babies aren’t meant to hang ramrod straight. The only reason a worn baby’s legs would be straight is if he were only held up by his crotch without any butt or hamstring support. According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, babies with dangling, straight legs are at risk of developing hip dysplasia.

Intense exercise. I don’t care if you saw some guy doing kipping pullups while wearing his kid in a Baby Bjorn and it looked really sweet. Don’t perform intense exercise while wearing your baby. Don’t sprint, don’t run, don’t play on a trampoline.

Getting comfortable with bad form. Just like beginners to weight lifting can get away with poor form when they’re just lifting the bar, you can get away with inefficient carrying and wearing methods when your babies are just ten or fifteen pounds. Once that kid starts to hit the 20, 25 pound range, though, you will pay the price for improper form. You might stop carrying altogether when all you really need is a different carrier or a better method, and then your kid will suffer.

Using a wrap, sling, or carrier without knowing how. Some of the carriers are simple, but others take some instruction and know-how. This is your baby’s life we’re talking about; don’t create your own method of wrapping a baby without knowing what you’re doing. Don’t wing it.

Failing to heed “What’s Good.” Do that stuff. Seriously.

Points of Contention

Not everyone can agree on everything.

Inward Facing versus Outward Facing

I’ve heard it said that worn or carried babies should be facing outward so that they can see what you’re seeing and get sensory stimulation from the outside world. After all, one of the downsides of exclusive stroller living is that the kid never gets to see much of the world. Facing your child outward would seem to take care of this issue pretty conclusively.

I’ve also heard that outward facing babies get too much stimulation, that for a budding sensory system the sights of the scary new world might be excessive and even damaging. Think of the principle of acute vs. chronic stress. For a tiny baby with a couple weeks or months under his belt, the simple (to us) act of looking around is an incredibly stimulating event. Almost everything they see – a traffic light, a dog, a tree, a passerby, a store sign, a fence – is entirely novel. They don’t even have a way to intellectually process what they’re seeing. They just see these amazing bright colorful images. It’s a bit of a stress, in a way, because it’s so new, and I can see the argument for limiting visual stimulation.

There’s also the fact that the natural position of a baby is the frog stance, where the knees are in 90-100 degrees flexion (so knees above butt) and the legs are somewhat spread apart (whatever’s comfortable). An inward facing baby can draw his legs up against the parent and straddle her. If the kid is outward facing in a carrier, reaching that froggy squat stance could be tough without the parent’s body to brace against. His legs may just dangle and his butt and hips won’t get any support.

Since an outward facing baby’s limbs will be further away from the parent than the limbs of an inward facing baby, the former position may be harder on the parent’s lower back.

I think a great compromise is to wear the baby on your back facing forward. That way, the baby gets plenty of opportunities to take in the outside world while reserving the ability to bury his face in your shoulder if it gets to be a bit much. The legs are supported, the froggy-style simulated squat is promoted, and the back is an arguably easier way to support weight (consider that a person’s back squat ability is generally greater than their front squat ability). Plus, Esther Gokhale, my go-to source for all things healthy posture-related, prefers the back carriers. Most evidence I’ve seen suggests that traditional cultures tended to favor wearing babies on the back, probably because it allowed the parent to keep up with work, though it definitely varies.

Bag Slings

The bag sling is exactly what it sounds like: a sling slung over the shoulder with a compartment in the bottom for the baby. They appear to be the simplest method of wearing a baby – you essentially just sling it over your shoulder and drop the kid in – but several safety concerns have been raised. To summarize from that link:

1. Bag slings are “triangular,” with a flat bottom and two sides that converge. This effectively closes the baby in, possibly restricting air flow, and if a baby turns his head to either side, his face will be pressed up against the fabric.

2. The further the baby sinks into the depths of the bag, the more the top closes. This could prevent the parent from keeping a watchful eye on the baby.

3. If the top of the bag is closed, air flow will be disrupted. The baby may overheat or asphyxiate unless the bag is outfitted with mesh.

4. The design of a bag often promotes the chin-to-chest position that we want to avoid.

Some bag slings have even been subject to recall notices following infant deaths. Of course, plenty of parents have used bag slings without an issue. If you use one, just be extra careful and don’t let the little one sag too low.

As I said, Carrie and I never did the sling or baby carrier thing. We were the carriers. So I can’t give you my honest opinion on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to carriers, slings, and other things, because I don’t know for sure. What I can do is give a basic rundown and then direct you to dedicated online resources that should help you make the choice.

That will have to wait til next time, though, because this post is already lengthy. Until then, take care and be sure to leave a comment. Did I miss any tips, make any mistakes? Let us all know!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Yeah right. I carried my child around for 10 months (he was a full month late). After putting up with almost a year of inconvenience and pain, that was enough. Strollers are easier.

    K wrote on February 6th, 2013
  2. Interesting article! For toddlers and small children there is a new product design called the Freeloader that lets you comfortably and safely carry your child when they need a little break during outings. The creators have a campaign going on Indiegogo right now to bring it to market. Check it out http://www.indiegogo.com/myfreeloader.

    Dallas wrote on February 6th, 2013
    • This one is pretty cool as well…….
      http://piggybackrider.com/

      Rebecca wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • I’ve just bought both of these. The PiggyBack Rider web site warns you about its $13 shipping, then slaps a $100 handling charge on. Amazon nominal prices are somewhat higher, but the total cost of purchase is considerably lower

        ion freeman wrote on February 10th, 2013
  3. I use a Moby. My little one is 6 weeks old today! I like the Moby and he does too, only occasionally will he kick and scream his way sideways and I have to change his position and such.

    Shana wrote on February 6th, 2013
    • Moby is AMAZING for wee LO’s. they say until 30 lbs. it is a little too stretchy for that. If you like it, look into a woven wrap. Here is a great beginner site to open your world to the baby wearing world. GL mama xoxo

      Rebecca wrote on February 7th, 2013
  4. So this frog stance business, my lo is 11months should se still be in frog stance when in the carrier? I prefer my moby sling to the the bjorn carrier as its easier on my back and more snug for lo … The frog stance thing I did not know… Thanks

    Emma wrote on February 6th, 2013
    • My LOis 11 mo as well. They should always be in that position. Helps their hips. http://dinkerandgiggles.com/safe-babywearing-hip-health-illustrated-guide/

      Rebecca wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • No, the frog stance is really not necessary, as long as the legs are properly spread. Even for a newborn, if the legs are spread, it’s up to you and the baby to figure out whether the frog stance is something that works or not (my babies seem to feel better in the proper legs spread position, sort of hugging me, even from birth).

      Rose wrote on February 7th, 2013
  5. This is one of the best baby wearing articles I have ever read. Thanks so much!!! I love the first paragraph saying how we didn’t need blogs or books before. So true!

    Rebecca wrote on February 7th, 2013
  6. Just another note of caution I did not see here: Cooking while baby wearing should be done with extreme caution! Grease splatters, boiling pots slash or tip over, etc. Especially take care while front wearing baby as they are nearest stove!

    Cele wrote on February 7th, 2013
  7. thanks for adding one more item to the list of “things for moms to feel guilty about”

    ENOUGH

    Jeannie wrote on February 7th, 2013
  8. Fantastic post! I’m really impressed that MDA pulled this information together. One caveat though — bag slings are really, really not safe. They are simply an unsafe design and should never be used. Don’t buy them new, don’t buy them used, don’t accept one as a gift and use it, don’t sell yours or even give it away if you have one. Just cut the straps and throw it away.

    Plus, as if the danger to baby’s life weren’t enough, bag slings are super-uncomfortable and impossible to nurse in. You’d be better off making yourself a baby carrier out of a bedsheet than buying or using a bag sling.

    More information on babywearing safety and the risks of bag slings here: https://www.quirkybaby.com/dangers-of-bag-carriers.html

    Jane wrote on February 11th, 2013
  9. Very useful article as my baby is just now big enough for his carrier.As a new parent interested in living the most natural lifestyle possible and passing it on to my baby ,these posts are appreciated.Keep them coming!

    s wrote on February 13th, 2013
  10. Great tips! Our customers at http://kiekaboo.com.au/ using baby slings can make great use of this. Keep it up!

    Rosie Thomas wrote on September 10th, 2013
  11. Great post. Just had a baby girl so this has really helped. Bookmarked so I can read later. Will be sharing this with my readers too. Thank you!

    Cathie.

    Cathie Saines wrote on September 23rd, 2013
  12. Don’t be too intimidated if someone said you are fat and you think has better figure or better body features than you do. Generic one is everyone’s favorite, because it turns out to be a very cheaper option.

    weigh wrote on January 14th, 2014

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