It’s International Baby Wearing Week, and at My Baba HQ we often get sent new baby carriers, and although I used one when my children were newborns, you often hear horror stories about baby carriers and slings. Baby carriers are increasingly popular and experts recognise the value of baby wearing for both mother and baby. However if used incorrectly, baby carriers can have some incredibly sad and dangerous consequences, which is why we turned to baby carrying expert Sophia Wise from Dinky Dragon to give us the run-down on how to use baby carriers safely, what risks can be involved, how these can be avoided and why correct posture and positions are vital.
Firstly tell us why Baby carriers are so good?
At Dinky Dragon we are passionate about baby carrying and we’re dedicated to helping parents enjoy the benefits, which is why we decided to bring the i-angel hipseat carrier to the UK.
Baby wearing allows their mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles and aunts to bond with a baby in a very natural way. When you carry a baby, they tune in with the rhythm of your breathing, the sound of your heartbeat, and the movements you make – walking, bending, and reaching. This stimulation helps baby to regulate their own physical responses, and exercises their vestibular system, which controls balance. Baby carriers are in essence a “transitional womb” for the new baby, who has not yet learned to control their bodily functions and movements. Research has shown that premature babies who are touched and held gain weight faster and are healthier than babies who are not. Mechanical swings and other holding devices do not provide these same benefits.
Baby carrying is also incredibly helpful if you have more than one child as it gives you a pair of free hands (what a luxury) enabling you to get on with every day tasking like lunch. Some parents also like to have the freedom to walk next to their older children and to be able to hold their hand, baby carrying takes away the physical barrier that the pushing a pram can create.
What can go wrong when baby carrying?
A common concern amongst new parents is ‘Have I strapped my baby in the carrier correctly?’ On rare occasions accidents have happened because babies haven’t been strapped in properly but this is quite an unusual occurrence. This situation usually happens to new parents who are inexperienced and unfamiliar with their carriers. To avoid this situation the best thing to do is to see a local baby carrying consultant and attend a local sling meet. You’ll be able to get tips and advice from experienced parents and experts, to find out where your local sling meet is check out this website: http://www.babywearing.co.uk/local/. You’ll also find that lots of brands offer tutorial videos via their websites.
The other issue surround baby wearing is baby’s hip positioning. The healthiest position for a baby’s hips is to fall or spread naturally apart to the side, with the thighs supported and the hips and knees bent. This position has been called the jockey position, the straddle position, the frog position, spread-squat position or the human position. To ensure baby is in the optimal position, their hips should be forming an ‘m’ shape and the hips should have free movement without being forced together.
What happens when a baby is forced into an unnatural position?
Unfortunately babies who are not carried in the optimal position are at risk of hip dysplasia or even dislocation. It is widely recognised that after birth, it takes several months for babies’ joints to stretch out naturally. This is because the hip joint is a ball and socket joint and during the first few months of life this is very loose. Babies have a natural flexibility that no amount of yoga could ever achieve and this is because their joints are still forming.
Unlike a child or an adult, a baby’s hip socket is made of soft cartilage – like the cartilage in the ear. If the hips are forced into a stretched-out position too early, the ball is at risk of being permanently deformed at the edges of the cup shaped socket (hip dysplasia) or gradually slipping out of the socket altogether (hip dislocation). Hip dysplasia or dislocation in babies is not painful and so this can go undetected until babies reach walking age, but the condition often requires surgery with a long recovery and can result in painful arthritis during adulthood. The risk of hip dysplasia or dislocation is greatest in the first few months of life.
By six months of age, most babies have nearly doubled in size, the hips are more developed and the ligaments are stronger, so are less susceptible to developing hip dysplasia, but proper hip health should still be followed.
OK, so if you are thinking about getting a baby carrier what should parents consider?
I recommend that you ask yourself the following questions:
- How old is your baby/child?
- Who will be using it?
- How often will you use it and for how long?
This will help you determine what sort of carrier you are looking for, as there are a lot of different carriers on the market – Ring slings, pouches, Mei Tais, soft structure carriers, wraps, and robust hip seat carriers.
When using a baby carrier make sure you follow the TICKS rules:
Tight: Your baby should be close to your body so that they can’t slump down.
In view at all times: You should be able to glance down and see your baby’s face
Close enough to kiss: Your baby should be high enough and close enough to your chin for you to kiss them on the forehead or face
Keep chin off the chest: There should be at least one finger’s space between your baby’s chin and their chest to allow them to breathe easily
Supported back: Your baby’s back should be supported in a natural position, ideally with their tummy towards you in an upright position or with their bottom at the deepest part of a pouch or ring sling. Press gently on their back – they shouldn’t uncurl or move towards you.
Other VERY important rules to follow include:
1. Pick a carrier with an ergonomic design that will allow baby’s legs to fall naturally into the m shape, giving your baby a more comfortable and healthier experience.
2. Don’t let the baby overheat – carrier with a good airflow can help your baby keep cool with warmer weather.
3. Consider your own comfort, especially for new mums who will still be affected by the relaxin hormone released during pregnancy. Look for wide padded straps that offer better comfort for shoulder and neck. Ideally look for a hipseat as this will help to redistributes baby’s weight and avoid back and shoulder strain for parents.
What should parents look to avoid when choosing a baby carrier?
Any carrier that supports at the crotch and leaves the legs hanging down is best avoided. Legs hanging down and dangling is unnatural positioning for baby.
Carriers can be pretty expensive so look for a carrier that will offer a good lifespan/ multi positions and is adjustable so everyone can use it.
Sophia and the team at Dinky Dragon recommend the i-angel carrier as they believe that it ticks all the boxes in terms of safety and provides the most comfortable experience for both parents and babies. They are so passionate about this carrier that they have become the only UK distributors of i-angel making it available to parents in the UK.
For more information or to purchase an i-angel baby carrier please visit www.dinkydragon.co.uk.