Marianne Ryan explains the benefits of baby wearing. She offers clear instructions on the right way to fit a front baby carrier to avoid back and shoulder strain.
Why Baby Wearing is Beneficial for Both Mom and Baby
Baby wearing can be beneficial for both mom and baby because it helps build a stronger bond between mother and child. It is natural for both mother and child to be close together and babies are happiest when their mother holds them.
Benefits for Mom:
- It frees up your hands so you can get things done
- Babies are usually more content when being held, it can help cut down on “fussy times” so you can concentrate on other things like household chores or working on your computer1.
Benefits for Baby:
- Most babies enjoy the close contact with their mother or father while in a front carrier.
- Baby wearing can promote physical development. As their mother goes about her daily activities the baby’s body responds to her movement and breathing patterns, exercising the vestibular system (balance system). Research has shown that babies who are held more gain weight faster and are healthier then babies who are not2.
- Baby wearing for an average of three hours a day has been shown to reduce infant crying by up to 50%1. Who wouldn’t want that?
If you want to try baby wearing for yourself, I recommend using a front baby carrier.
First of all in this post, I will show you how NOT to fit your front baby carrier. Then I will give you a few tips on how to choose the right carrier for you and the best way to adjust it to prevent straining your back, neck and shoulders.
Common Mistakes When Fitting a Baby Carrier
I see moms and dads walking with front baby carriers almost every day in Manhattan and most of them are using them incorrectly. A good baby carrier is designed to allow you to support the weight of the baby with your pelvis and legs and not your back and shoulders. What I often see is that the carrier belt is up too high and sitting above the pelvis, which places a strain on the back.
Question: Take a look at the illustration below and see if you can figure out what is wrong with wearing the carrier like this:
- the length of the baby carrier is too short
- the belt is too high
Question: Now, how about this illustration; what is wrong here?
- Mom has to arch her back in order to maintain her balance; this can lead to fatiguing your back muscles and may lead to a tired, achy back
- The carrier is too high: the baby’s head is up against the mom’s chin
- The belt is too high and not wrapped around the pelvis
- The straps are too close to the neck and could possibly cause some neck and shoulder pain.
- Choosing the Right Carrier
First of all, when you purchase a baby carrier, make sure you get one that is fully adjustable so you can make sure it fits you correctly. As your baby grows you will need to adjust it so that his or her weight does not strain your back.
Make sure the front carrier you choose is long enough to have the belt wrap around your pelvis and not your waist.
Please note that, if you can’t adjust your baby carrier to fit your body, then it is the wrong style of baby carrier for you - return it! Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions, especially the precautions about when it is safe to start using it as certain carriers can be used when your infant is small while others are designed for older babies.
- Fitting the Baby Carrier Correctly
The bottom of the baby carrier should be positioned low enough so the belt wraps around the bony parts on the sides of your pelvis. The fit should be tight enough so that the carrier does not ride up.
Why is this important?
If the belt is placed correctly, it will transfer the weight off the shoulders and back and onto the hips and legs.
- Make sure the shoulder straps fit over the middle of your shoulders. They should not be too close to your neck or sliding down off your shoulders.
Why is this important?
If you wear the shoulder straps too close to your neck they can compress the nerves that travel from your neck to your shoulder and you may end up with neck pain. If the straps are worn too close to your shoulders, like a bra strap that is too loose, it can cause shoulder pain.
- Carry your baby so that the baby’s head is below your chin.
Why is this important?
This height will give you enough room to move around comfortably and will help keep the weight of the baby close to your center of gravity.
If you are wearing the baby carrier correctly, you should be able to walk while maintaining good alignment and with a normal, comfortable stride.
If you do use a front carrier, make sure to use good alignment by keeping your ribcage stacked directly over your pelvis when you are moving and standing to prevent straining your back and neck.
If you are going to a physical therapist or physiotherapist for treatment, bring in your baby carrier and ask your therapist to fit it for you.
It is important to remember to take care of your body so that you can take care of your baby – it is hard to look after a baby when you have aches and pains. In my book, Baby Bod®, I explain many other ways to take care of your body while taking care of your baby. In Chapter 16 you can learn how to set up an ergonomic nursery and the best way to use baby gear to prevent straining your back and neck.
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I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments or tips you would like to share or ask me a question in the comments box below this post.
1 Hunziker UA, Barr RG; Increased carrying reduces infant crying: a randomized controlled trial; Pediatrics,1986 May;77(5):641-8.
2 Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for pre-term infants". J Perinatol. 1991 Sep;11(3):216-26.
MARIANNE RYAN PT, OCS is a physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. She is the owner and Clinical Director of MRPT Physical Therapy, and a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association Media Corps. With more than 30 years' experience, she specializes in the treatment of the spine, pelvis and jaw, with particular emphasis on the treatment of prenatal and postpartum patients. She has taught physical therapy treatment and exercises for prenatal and postpartum women on the nurse midwifery program at Columbia University School of Nursing, and has also taught at the TMJ clinic at New York University Dental School. A much sought-after media guest, Marianne has appeared on dozens of national TV and radio shows, and has also been featured in Red Book, Fitness Magazine, USA Today, Shape Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. She was also featured in the film Drifting, a documentary about movement produced by the Tribeca Film Institute. Passionate about helping women to restore their stomachs after pregnancy and childbirth, Marianne is author of the book Baby Bod® - Turn Flab to Fab in 12 Weeks Flat.