Now that you are considering babywearing let’s talk about how to choose a carrier that is safe for the baby.
There are four main questions to consider when it comes to the baby’s health while baby wearing.
1. Is the carrier ergonomically correct for the baby?
Consider the following quotes,
“Our spines are not perfectly straight, even though they may appear so from the front or back. When you look at a person from the side, four slight curves are visible, forming an elongated S shape. These curves help keep us flexible and balanced. They also help absorb stresses placed on our bodies through our daily activities, such as walking, running and jumping.
We weren’t born with these curves. Normal curves of the spine develop gradually, as a means of adapting to gravity. At birth, babies are in a state of flexion, still curled up, with their spines in a natural, long C-shaped (convex) curve. At first, a baby does not have the strength to hold his head up, nor the balancing curves in his spine to do so. But gradually, as the muscles in his neck get stronger, he begins to lift his heavy head against gravity, and a curve starts to develop in his neck (the cervical curve) to help balance his head. When your baby starts to creep and crawl, the lower back (lumbar curve) and the muscles that support it develop. It takes about a full year for your baby to attain these curves in his spine.”
And regarding the stresses of lying flat on the infant spine…
“Laying your young infant flat on his back stretches the C-curved spine into a straight line, against its natural shape. Research shows that keeping an infant’s spine straight is not a sound physiological position. In addition to stressing the baby’s spine, it can also negatively influence the development of the baby’s hip joints.
Infants who lie frequently on their backs in a stroller may end up with plagiocephaly (deformed skulls, flattened on the back or side) and deformed bodies with poor muscle tone. Research backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “with prolonged immobilization on a firm mattress or a flat bed (as in a stroller), the constant influence of gravity flattens the body surface against the mattress producing positional disorders and infants with decreased muscle tone.”
If your baby carrier does not allow the baby to assume the natural “fetal tuck” with baby’s legs spread wide and knees up toward the chest, maintaing a curved spine, then you are placing unnecessary and possibly detrimental stress on your baby’s spine. Additionally, when shopping for infant gear look for bouncy seats and swings that allow the baby to maintain the c-shaped curve in their back.
2. Can the carrier cause hip dysplasia?
After reading the above quotes you can begin to see that any position other than the fetal tuck position before the crawling age can place stress on the spine, threaten proper formation of the skull and muscle development as well as hip joints.
Here are some illustrations to give you a visual of a healthy hip joint and some variations of hip dysplasia:
This has become such as common problem among infants that there is a campaign to bring awareness to the issue. The International Hip Displaysia Institute has a very informative website which gives easy to understand illustrations to keep in mind when shopping for baby gear (including carriers).
Here are just a few:
3. Does the carrier cut off circulation to the baby’s legs?
Placing the baby in a carrier where the legs dangle put your child in risk of cut off circulation. I will never forget the feeling of seeing our first child’s legs turning blue after a long stint in a baby Bjorn. I promptly removed him and circulation returned to his legs immediately but the thought that this could have happened after only 25 minutes was shocking to me. I never felt quite confident in the Bjorn again and always wore it for only 5-10 minutes at a time after that. It was shortly after this time my son became too heavy for me to carry him in the Bjorn. Perhaps it was the breastfed induced chub that just didn’t fit in the carrier properly and my super weak core that combined for a kind providence in this situation.
In order to avoid hip dysplasia and cutting off the child’s circulation, a proper fit is crucial. The fit in the seat area (where your child’s bum will rest) is something to factor in based on your child’s age, weight, and amount of chub (or lack thereof). As this blogger notes, the ideal carrier “should touch from knee to knee on the baby and the baby’s bottom should sit lower than the knees (making a nice “M” shape)”. The photo below illustrates the difference in carriers and their prospective seat widths.
As you may have guessed this fit will change as your child grows and you may need to purchase another carrier in the toddler years. (In Part 4, we will discuss which carriers could potentially “grow” with your child and which ones may not.)
4. Can the carrier cause suffocation?
Fast forward about three years and I was pregnant with our second child, I knew that I wanted to avoid the infant carseat this time around and we invested in a convertible car seat that our daughter stills rides in today at five years of age. Knowing that I would need my hands free to attend to my oldest and that I would not have the convenience of the infant carrier, I searched for a new baby carrier and decided on an Infantino sling. This one was a huge improvement in the area of circulation, however after using it a few days I noticed it required constant monitoring to insure that her chin was not tucked downward with a closed airway. Incidentally, this carrier only was useful until she weighed about 12 pounds and then we switched her to an Ergo style carrier. Imagine my horror when I learned a year later that this sling was recalled due to infants dying of suffocation! Again a kind providence that I instinctively knew to adjust her head so that she wasn’t in danger of this.
The optimal carrier for your baby will be one that supports their developing spine, does not place unnecessary pressure on the hip joints, does not cut off circulation and leaves no chance of asphyxiation. In part 3, we will discuss how to choose a carrier that is also safe for the wearer and in part 4, which carriers meet all of these criteria.
Check out this video which uses the acronym T.I.C.K.S to illustrate babywearing safety criteria: