As a new mom, the amount of baby gear that’s available can be overwhelming. You want to make the most informed decision for both your baby and your family, but where do you start? Fellow new Mom and Spectrum Orthopaedics Physical Therapist, Megan C., broke down the do’s and don’ts of carrying your little one below.
I began researching baby carriers because I knew I wanted to be able to “wear” my baby while doing things around the house and walking my dog. My two biggest concerns were – comfort for myself and my son, and the potential impact on his hip development. I also knew that I wanted a carrier that avoided positioning baby with the legs stretched straight out, unsupported thighs and the legs together. The “cradle” position with baby’s legs together should also be avoided, as this can contribute to hip dysplasia. This position is especially potentially harmful and can lead to future problems.
It’s important to first note that any form of baby wearing-device, be it a baby carrier, sling, or wrap, should not be used for an extended period of time. These devices can inadvertently place baby’s hips in an unhealthy position, especially when worn for extended periods of time. Harmful positioning can put baby at risk for abnormal hip development. This is especially important during the first six months of a baby’s life. At those early stages, the ball and socket hip joint is not fully developed and is likely to still be loose from stretching during birth. If baby’s hips are forced into a straight stretched-out position too early, then the ball may deform the edges of the socket or slip out of the socket altogether causing hip dysplasia. As physical therapists, we see patients later in childhood, adolescence, or even early adulthood with orthopedic issues caused by hip dysplasia from infancy that they never even knew they had.
When selecting your baby carrier, you want to be sure that you can get baby into an optimal position.
So what is the optimal position for baby to be in?
The position that you want your baby to be in while you’re wearing them is called the ‘M-position’ or ‘frog-leg position’. This is the healthiest position for baby to be in, especially if you plan on wearing them for an extended period of time. This position allows the hips to fall naturally out to the sides, with the thighs supported and knees bent. Knees should be higher than their buttocks, allowing for free movement of the hips and promoting natural hip development.
Now that we know the M-position is optimal for wearing baby, what else should we think about?
There are several other things you want to be aware of when selecting your carrier.
- For one, baby’s back should be rounded. This means the frontal facing position is favored until 6 months.
- The fabric of your carrier must support baby’s head in order to avoid neck extension until the baby acquires sufficient muscle strength for head support (4 to 5 months old).
- The head and spine should remain aligned to avoid any muscle tension.
- Make sure that there is enough room between the chin and the chest to avoid any respiratory problems. Baby’s head should be close enough to your face for you to kiss their forehead.
- One other thing you want to look out for while wearing baby is head position.
- Check which direction your baby’s head is most often turned when worn. If you notice your baby spending significantly more time looking in one direction or with one cheek to your chest than another, help encourage your baby to turn to the opposite direction. Babies need equal head turning to avoid muscle imbalances and reduce the risk of Torticollis and Flat Head Syndrome.
- The baby carrier should be adjusted to each user (person actually wearing the baby).
- Position the belt on the lower part of the back, at the beginning of the pelvis and not under the ribs.
- Avoid asymmetric carrying (on the hip or sling-type) in order to avoid tension in your back.
- Distribute forces across your shoulders and upper body. Think wide straps, extra padding, or even using the secondary buckles on your buckle carrier.
- Be mindful of your body’s position. If your low back is bothering you, something isn’t right. You may need to work on mobility and strengthening to improve your posture and alignment over time.
The biggest advice I can give in regards to baby carriers, or any baby gear in general, is to do your research to make the best decision for you and your family. While some products are preferred over others by physical therapists, the comfort and safety of you and your baby should always be your top priority. If you have any questions about baby gear, don’t hesitate to reach out to a physical therapist on our team or your pediatrician, we are here to help!