Babywearing can benefit both the parents and child, similarly to other baby products, a baby carrier will need to be used with safety in mind.
If you have already started babywearing or you're an expectant mum who is considering purchasing a baby carrier, this guide provides plenty of information and advice on making babywearing safe for you and the baby.
Babywearing can be very useful. It is handy if you have more than one child and it allows you to do household chores, prepare meals, and go out on your own to crowded places.
Using a baby carrier can be helpful when trying to soothe fussy babies or babies struggling with reflux. Carrying a baby on your front allows them to feel the movements from your body which acts as a massage for their bellies. This can help to ease colic too.
Newborns remember your moves and heartbeat from when they were in your womb, hence why babywearing can be very soothing for the infant as they can feel the way that they did when you carried them for nine months. It also helps with regulating the newborn's temperature.
There are many emotional benefits of babywearing for both the baby and caregiver, providing a sense of closeness, security, and love.
Knowledge and practice will be required for babywearing to work for you and your baby. Babywearing is only going to be beneficial, comfortable, and enjoyable for you both when you are aware of the safety rules of baby carriers.
© Photo from UK Sling Consortium
Basic Safety Rules for BabyWearing
You may want to carry your baby in a wrap, ring sling, mei-tai, a soft structured carrier, or any other type of carrier. Regardless of the option that you choose there are some basic safety rules that you will need to follow.
The British Association of Babywearing Instructors has produced a babywearing checklist known as the TICKS rule.
Regardless of the type of carrier that you use or the baby's age, ideally, these rules should be followed.
Your sling or carrier should be tight enough to hug your baby close ensuring that it is comfortable for both of you. Loose fabric can pull on your back and hinder your baby's breathing.
You will want to ensure that your baby is always in view. When in a cradle position they should be facing up at all times.
They should be in a position where they are close enough to kiss. Their head should be as close to your chin as is comfortable.
Keep their chins off their chest. A baby that is in a curled position may experience difficulties breathing. There should be a finger width of space between your baby's chin and the sling.
Your baby's back will need to be supported in its natural position with their tummies and chest against you. A loose sling can cause a baby to slump, potentially causing their airways to close.
Babywearing International has also produced an ABC checklist. You can visit their website to read more about safety rules and also see some useful pictures showing how to position your child in a carrier.
A - Airway: Regularly monitor and check the baby's breathing when they are in the carrier. Ensure that the baby's airways are open at all times, this is easy to do when the baby is in an upright position. The baby's chin should be off the chest with space to fit two fingers under their chin. Air should be able to circulate your baby's face with ease, ensuring that their nose and mouth aren't blocked. You should always be able to see your babies. The baby's head should be close to your chin so that it can be kissed easily by tipping your head forward.
B - Body Positioning: A carrier should provide the correct support to your baby's back and neck. The baby's knees should ideally be higher than the bottom and their legs in a spread squat position. The baby shouldn't slump and their weight should be carried by thighs and bum. A vertical position is recommended when carrying infants. The cradle or horizontal position works best if you want to nurse your baby. However, once you have finished breastfeeding your baby should be returned to the vertical position. Carriers that allow your baby to rest in a natural, ergonomic position are going to be much more comfortable for the wearer too.
C - Comfort: It's important to remember that the carrier should be comfortable for both the baby and wearer. Keeping a spotter nearby in case you need help, is useful if you do not feel completely confident in your carrier.
A baby carrier should be checked regularly for damage and worn fabrics regardless of the type that you use. Any of these factors can impact safety quality. Consider contacting your manufacturer if you discover any of these issues.
If you are new to babywearing we would suggest that you practice using and adjusting the carrier over a bed or couch until you feel confident using it. It is important, particularly with straps that involve learning how to tie them securely, as well as using the carrier on your back too.
The Frog Position
Many parents ask, ''Is a baby carrier safe for my baby's hips'' and the answer to this question is quite simple. Carrying your baby in the correct position supports good hip development and may even prevent your baby from hip dysplasia and dislocation.
You may now wonder what the proper safe position is for carrying your baby in a carrier. Below, we explain the healthy way to position your baby's hips, ultimately helping to promote natural hip development.
The frog position is the healthiest position to carry your baby in during the first few months according to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute. This can also be referred to as the spread squat, straddle, or jockey position.
The baby's hips will naturally fall or spread apart to the side when carried this way. The hips and knees will be bent and their thighs will be supported too. Their hip movement will not be blocked or forced together. This position encourages natural hip development and should be used in the first six months of your baby's life, whether you are carrying them in your arms or the carrier.
A newborn's legs should be in an M like position inside or outside of the carrier. They should always be supported from knee to knee, with their knees positioned higher than the bum. Arms should be inside of the carrier too, however, the arms can be outside once the baby gains neck control.
An infant should have a naturally rounded back, don't use a carrier that forces your baby's spine to straighten too early. From the age of six to nine months, your baby's neck control and spine will develop and strengthen naturally as they grow.
Ensuring that the back panel is at the appropriate height to give proper support according to their age is important.
If this carrier is used correctly your newborn should remain in the natural safety position.
- Their hips and knees should be bent.
- Their legs should be in an M like position with their knees higher than the bum.
- The straddle should begin at 60 degrees and as the baby grows this should gradually increase up to 90 degrees.
- Baby's feet need to be rotated to the outside.
- The wearer's chest should support the baby's head and C - shaped spine. This means that the baby's weight isn't burdening their spine, protecting their vertebra, with their spine being supported by the wrap or carrier.
An infant shouldn't be forced into an artificial upright position and their spine, hips, and knees shouldn't be forced to straighten too early either.
This is the safest position for an infant as it is the most natural. Baby's spend nine months in a similar fetal position when they are in the womb so a newborn naturally places their legs and knees into this position. Babywearing is useful in gradually familiarising your newborn to their surroundings.
Although the baby's joints tend to stretch out naturally following birth, it can take several months and this is why it is important to carry your baby in the frog position for these first few months. Stretching out the joints may last longer if your baby was in the breech position.
Natural hip development is helped by carrying an infant in a frog position, whether this is using a wrap, ring sling, or buckle carrier. It may also prevent dysplasia.
The Risks of Using A baby carrier
Hip Dysplasia and Dislocation
If you are using a carrier correctly it isn't going to interfere with hip development. The risk of hip dysplasia and dislocation is increased if your baby is held in an unhealthy position.
What carrying positions are unhealthy?
- Legs that are forced together or held in extension.
- Straight hips and knees.
This is the opposite of the fetal position. There is a greater risk of potential abnormal hip development if your baby is held in this position for a long period.
What is hip dysplasia and dislocation?
The ball of the hip joint is loose within the socket during the first few months of their life and this is when the joints are naturally stretching out. Hip dysplasia is caused when the edges of the socket joint are deformed permanently by the ball. Forcing the hips to stretch out too early increases the risk of this disorder occurring.
The risk of hip dysplasia is increased if their hips are straightened out too early and they aren’t left to rest in the frog position.
Hip dislocation occurs when the ball slips out of the socket in the hip bone.
These aren't painful disorders which can sometimes result in them going unnoticed until the infant reaches walking age.
There is a greater risk of your infant getting these disorders in the first few months of their lives. At this time babies tend to be more naturally flexible and the edges of their socket joints are made of soft cartilage. This is why positioning the infant in the carrier properly is very important.
© Photo from https://hipdysplasia.org/
Most babies have developed hips and stronger ligaments around six months. At this age, there is a lower risk of them developing hip dysplasia.
Baby carriers are safe for newborns as long as they are used correctly.
Even though safety rules are important they are not everything so if you have any doubts or uncertainties in regards to using the baby carrier you should consult your pediatrician or a qualified babywear instructor.
When can I begin using a carrier?
Positioning your baby's hips correctly is important, however, choosing the right carrier for their size and age is crucial.
If you are a parent who is considering babywearing you may find yourself asking, ''is a wrap suitable for use from birth?'', “Is a ring sling safe for a newborn'', and ''when will I be able to start using a baby carrier''.
There are many different baby carriers available, some of which are suitable for use from birth.
For newborn babies, you can use a wrap or a sling. To use them correctly you will need to place the baby in a frog position with their legs in an M and their back rounded. The baby's head should be supported and snuggled by the fabric.
Some soft structured carriers will be suitable for use from birth although they will require an infant insert for babies below a certain weight. A buckle carrier is a great pick as they are newborn ready and don't require any inserts. They are also less bulky and hot.
If you want to use a soft structured carrier from birth you will need to choose one that allows your baby to maintain the frog position without forcing their legs or hips to straighten.
Carriers with adjustable seating areas are useful in providing constant support to the baby's legs from knee to knee. Baby carriers that are safe for newborns should support the baby's delicate, curved spine without forcing it to straighten too early.
Newborns and infants up to the age of six months are going to need the most support for their backs as it is rounded and still in the process of developing. Even if your baby can sit upright and hold their heads up, they still need support for their backs, particularly when they fall asleep in the carrier as muscle tone decreases.
A baby should be carried facing front in a tummy to tummy position until the age of 6-9 months. They don't have enough head or neck control to support themselves before this time.
You can begin carrying your baby on your back once they can sit unassisted and hold their own head up. At this age, this position is more beneficial to your baby as they become more curious about their surroundings and they want to observe everything going on around them.
Regardless of the carrier that you use or the position that you prefer to carry them in, you need to prevent the baby's legs from hitting yours.
Of course, the baby carrier needs to be comfortable for the baby, but it needs to be comfortable for the wearer too. Carriers that allow for even distribution of the baby's weight across the wearer's body are the best option.
Using a wrap or buckle carrier that has adjustable straps and a wide waistband is recommended.
Are There Any Medical Contraindications For Babywearing?
An infant should not be carried in a carrier in the case of serious illness whether this is you or the baby. For example when the baby's breathing needs to be monitored constantly or if there are anatomical weaknesses.
During the postpartum period which is around the first six weeks following birth, a mom should not carry any heavy or older children for extended lengths of time.
Specific tying methods may be contraindicated in some cases.
Contact your pediatrician or a qualified babywearing advisor if you have any doubts in regards to practicing babywearing or using a baby carrier. It is worth investing time in finding a suitable carrier and the correct method of carrying the infant.
7 Reasons why your baby should not be facing out in a baby carrier
There are several reasons why some people do not like the facing out position and these are as follows.
- When a baby is in this position, their legs aren't supported properly, instead, they just dangle. The child is unable to bend their hips or knees to a more ergonomic position which is going to be healthier for developing hip joints. This can also affect the wearer, as the babies dangling legs may hit their legs, harming their hips.
- A baby cannot maintain the naturally rounded curve of its back as the pelvis forces the baby to straighten their spine unnaturally. The baby's spine leans on the wearer's chest in this position and this results in the spine being pushed forward as the wearer moves. Forced into a hollow back position the baby will also have to carry the weight of their body and heavy head. For a baby's spine that is still developing this is a lot of pressure. There is also a risk of potential asphyxia for babies who don't yet have proper neck control as their chins are more likely to fall onto their chest, which is going to result in difficulties breathing.
- The carrier doesn’t protect the baby's back or neck and fails to protect their spine from shocks as the wearer moves. This results in the baby's head bouncing and shaking.
- This position can be uncomfortable for the baby as it puts a lot of pressure onto the groin area which can negatively impact blood flow.
- The baby is exposed to many more stimuli and this may become overwhelming if there isn't anywhere for your baby to hide or cuddle in. They are also unable to hear your heartbeat and they can't make eye contact with you either. This makes it much harder to calm them down if they become scared. It is also difficult for the baby to fall asleep.
- Without eye contact, you can't see your baby's face so you are unable to respond to any cues or needs. It is difficult to regularly check that their airways are clear.
- This is an uncomfortable position for the wearer too. As it shifts the center of gravity forward the parent needs to bend backward to maintain balance which can put a strain on their back muscles and spine.
How should I dress my baby for a carrier?
It is important to dress your baby according to the weather whilst remembering that the carrier is going to act like an added layer. A wrap with three layers is going to act like three layers of clothing.
If you would like to dress your baby in a onesie then we would suggest opting for a loose one. Ensure that your baby's clothes are not folded when holding them in a wrap or buckle carrier as this can put pressure onto the skin.
It is important to ensure that the baby is protected from overheating as well as the cold weather. With a limited ability of thermoregulation, babies are more sensitive to extreme temperatures.
In the winter, dressing your baby in layers is a more suitable option as a thicker suit is going to make it much harder to position them. Remember to protect the baby's head from cold weather too.
When using a babywearing coat or cover, ensure that the baby's airways are always clear.
As a carrier acts as another layer of clothing it is important to ensure that the baby doesn't overheat. Carriers made from breathable mesh fabric allow the air to circulate nicely.
Ensure that the baby's airways are always clear and they are well hydrated.
Walking in an area with shade is beneficial. Use a breathable, thin layer, sun cream, and a breathable hat to protect the baby from the sun.