As a family chiropractor, I get many questions about infant development and babywearing now that it is becoming even more popular as parents understand its benefits. I tell them the importance of the right carrier and how it can impact the spines of both parents and baby. When I heard that there was a babywearing international chapter in southern Maryland I was thrilled to tell the moms that I see about the group.
Parents already know the benefits of babywearing, like enhanced immunological function, positive neurological and emotional development through constant motion and touch, more oxygen to baby, more freedom of movement while promoting parent-child bonding -just to name a few. But do you know what developmental postural risks there are for babies (and even yourself) in carriers? If not, I’ll go over the top 3 considerations for proper spine health and development while babywearing.
#3. Each carrier may cause a repetitive posture for both mother and baby, so it is very important that parents have a variety of carriers on hand for various stages of baby development, weight gain and mutual comfort for carrying. Also, moms, please make sure baby is aligned with your center of gravity and not off to one side. This may lead to more joint and biomechanical issues for you later on in life.
#2. The hormone relaxin may remain in your system up to nine months after delivery and so postural adaptations may adversely affect your spinal joints while trying to perform new activities such as carrying your baby. Regular chiropractic check ups are a must during this period to help you maintain a healthy spine and nervous system.
#1. In addition to having your baby’s spine checked by your family chiropractor right after birth, it is important that you discuss variations of postures for your baby’s optimal development. This includes sleep, play time, breastfeeding and baby carrying positions.
Which positions affect spine development most?
-Being carried in an upright position with legs in a straddled and squatted posture, with the baby´s legs drawn up more than and spread about 90 degrees, promotes healthy maturation of the hip joint and protects against abnormal formation of the hip socket, also known as hip dysplasia. Additionally, movements from the walking parent are transferred to the baby to provide stimulus and adequate blood supply to the hip joint.
(*pictures courtesy of Babywearing International of SOMD)
-Outward facing positions with young babies that can’t support the weight of their head can contribute to a forced hollow back, which does not support the normal C-shaped spine of the baby.
-With a cradle hold position, it is important that your baby’s neck be straight, and the C-shaped curve of the spine and curve of the legs be no more than would normally be seen when a baby is held in arms.
-Back lying positions are used more frequently than ever to try to reduce the incidence of SIDS. This may create flattened spots on the backs of the heads of infants, also called Plagiocephaly, which can add to cranial and spinal distortions resulting in neurological compromise for the infant. So, try to avoid prolonged periods in the carrier basket/car seat. Not to mention the poor biomechanics of the parents when hauling that heavy thing around.
-Lastly, avoid rigid hard backed carriers, like the Eskimos used, due to the increased risk of Spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the lower (lumbar) vertebrae. When this condition arises in an infant, it may develop into a spondylolisthesis (forward translation of the fractured vertebrae) as an adult and may lead to future problems that I see daily in my office. You can still carry young babies upright, just be sure that if you are using a carrier that it allows their lower spine to be curved outwards, rather than inwards.
As you see, there are many positioning considerations for both you and your child that can impact both of your spinal and neurological health. I recommend that if you don’t currently have a chiropractor, that you look for one in your area that works with moms and children to ensure that you are functioning to the best of your ability throughout the many challenges of parenthood. I also encourage you to go to a babywearing international chapter group meeting in your area to gain more insight on proper carrying habits for both you and your baby/ Happy babywearing!