Thursday, 7 March 2013

Tips for safe babywearing.

I've just come back from meeting a lovely group of mamas and talking to them about babywearing, so I thought today I would share my checklist for a safe and secure carrier.

There are lots of different types of carrier out there, some are very versatile, some are best in particular situations, and some just need to be avoided. I will write more on types of carriers at some point in the future, but today I am going to tell you the rules to follow to check any carrier, or to check a wrap after you have tied it.

Tight and upright.

Your carrier should be firmly secured, your baby should be close to your body, not rattling around inside the carrier. If your carrier has harnesses, make sure that they are correctly adjusted every time you wear it, as even a change of clothing and make the carrier less secure.

Babies who are not able to sit with support are best in a carrier that supports their whole body, like a stretchy wrap, once they can sit up, they are ready for  a more open carrier, like a mei tai, if you prefer.

Some carriers, and some wrap methods, allow you to carry your baby in a cradled position. I would not advise this. Even new babies are very comfortable being carried upright, as long as the carrier supports their neck appropriately. In the cradle position there is a risk that your baby will drop their chin onto their chest, which compromises their breathing. In an upright position your baby will also be able to react to your movement, rather than being jostled around, they will learn to balance into the sway of your walk, this aids the development of their balance and muscle tone. They will also be able to peep out and observe your surroundings, other people and your conversations. Worn babies get a great social life!

Chin off chest

I cannot push this point enough, it is absolutely vital. A newborn does not have the head control to prevent their chin dropping down  into a head position that could potentially obstruct the airway. This is more a problem associated with bag slings (if you have one, bin it, now, no, burn it ceremonially, whatever you do, do not carry a baby in it) and cradle positions in wraps. When your baby is upright on your chest they rest their face against you and can't drop their chin. Just to be safe though, check, you should be able to fit 2 fingers between the chin and chest.

If your baby is less than 4 months old, or is not yet able to support their own head, make sure you always have line of sight to be able to check this, so no back carrying before that point.

Parent facing.

Whether your baby is on your back or front, they should be facing into your body with their legs wrapped around you. This is the position they naturally go into when you pick them up. Facing outward does not complement the developing curvature of their spine, and it shifts their weight away from your body, putting more of a strain on you. There are also arguments that psychologically, the outward facing view, with no option to "escape" by snuggling their face into you, is overwhelming for small babies.

Close to your centre of gravity

Your baby's centre of gravity should be as close to yours as you can manage, the babywearing adage "close enough to kiss" covers more than just this rule. Firstly they should be fairly high on your body, higher than most assume, their bottom should be above your belly button - any lower and you will be straining your lower back. Tiny newborns can be carries higher on your chest, or shoulder in a ring sling, but as they get heavier, and taller, the belly button rule is a good guide. When back carrying however, be careful of going to far the other way, you will feel uncomfortable if your baby is too high, and they will not be as secure in the wrap.

With their legs wrapped around you their centre of gravity is closer to yours, and when they are held tightly to your body the strain on you is greatly reduced. It is worth considering here the structured rucksack type carriers (the ones with a stiff frame), these hold your baby loosely and quite far from your body, so are much harder to carry than a baby tightly wrapped on your back.

Allows natural movement

For comfort, and muscle development, your baby should have some freedom of movement in the carrier, they need to be able to bounce a little to absorb the shock of your footsteps, whilst still being secure. There should be no pressure from straps or folds of the wrap to impair their circulation. Swaddling a baby before carrying them is not a good idea, both for the sake of their movement, and to avoid overheating.

Froggy legs

Babies have a natural leg position, much like a frog. With the knees bent the hips are below the knees and the lower leg is loose. Your carrier should honour this natural position.

Tiny babies will tuck their knees right up to their body. At this stage babies are happiest in a soft wrap or ring sling with their legs tucked in alongside their body, it will become clear when they are ready to stretch out.

The carrier should support the baby from knee to knee, with their bottom sitting down inside a hammock of fabric. Beware of structured carriers that have only a narrow band of support, known not-so-affectionately as "crotch danglers" by their critics, these do not support the developing hip, and bears the baby's weight uncomfortably on their crotch.

It takes 2 years for a baby's hip to stabilise, so during this time it is important that they are carried with their knees above their hips, their thighs supported and, once they are past the newborn phase, their lower leg free.

There is a wide range of baby carriers available, and their suitability for you depends on your needs, lifestyle, baby's weight and preferences. Whichever you choose, apply these rules, and you can carry your baby safely, securely and comfortably.

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