Wearing your baby does a world of good, yes, but it’s no good if the way you carry your little one in a carrier does a world of harm to your back, your neck, or your posture. It’s also no good to race around wearing baby, doing as much as you can, without a bit of mindful forethought about the types of babywearing task-management that might put baby at risk of discomfort, or even injury. Here’s some safety practices to remember, both for you and baby, while wearing a carrier.
The Carrier (You!)
As the carrier of the baby, here are a few tips to help you avoid straining your shoulders, neck, and spine.
- Deliberate during your choice of baby carriers. Try each on. Some store provide a stuffed doll or bear, but I recommend a sack of flour or sugar (10 pounds), which provides a more realistic feel of how the straps and hip strap will feel on your muscles.
- Ask for a store employees assistance in adjusting the carrier. Make sure you understand how to adjust it ideally for your posture protection. Even watch yourself walk – this is a far cry from the catwalk, I know – and notice whether your posture and stride are different with the carrier (and sugar baby) on.
- Wear the carrier around the store while you register for other baby items. How does it feel after ten minutes? After thirty?
- If you are familiar with the spine, yoga, chiropractics, or pilates, consider neutral spine. Notice whether you can easily maintain a neutral spine – not arched or curved – and upright shoulders – not curved or thrown back – while wearing the carrier.
If you’re like me, your posture isn’t even this good when you’re walking on your own, without a carrier or a baby in it. That’s why I’d also recommend a little tool my wife first read about in O Magazine, and later in Cooking Light.
It’s called the iPosture (available at http://www.iposture.com/) It’s price has come down significantly. It attaches to a tank-top strap, bra strap, or (what serendipity) a baby carrier strap. After you calibrate it to notice when you are in a healthy posture, it will vibrate if you are slumped for more than one minute.
The Carried (Your Baby!)
Insure safety by reading all of the directions. Read them several times and practice each step of the strap-tightening or wrap-tying technique. If you are raising your baby with one or more adult caregivers, practice together and check each other.
Recently, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning about baby sling safety. Sadly, there have been deaths. Improper use can definitely harm your baby – this includes baby’s face pressed into the fabric, a possible suffocation hazard. If your baby’s body is too curled in such that the chin is tucked into the chest, quickly adjust your baby’s position so they can breathe properly. Slings are very safe, but like everything else, they must be used as directed. Here’s an illustration from the CPSC on the proper position for baby in a sling (click to enlarge):
Don’t be swayed by the simplicity of your chosen baby carrier’s design. I don’t want to make you hyper-paranoid, but always check your baby’s position, and if a week or two goes by when you don’t use the carrier, re-read the instructions so you are very familiar with how to wear your baby – especially if your infant is less than four months old.
Put Down That Spatula
Face it! We are proud multi-taskers. And there’s nothing like the 24/7 addition of a new baby to your line-up of duties and responsibilities to make you want to cheat time all the more.
This is one of the best qualities of using a baby carrier. Exercise, light house cleaning (no chemicals, of course), de-cluttering, laundry folding, email, phone calls, mail sorting, shopping, and reading are just a few baby-carrier-friendly activities.
I certainly don’t want to insult your intelligence, but there are a few not so obvious situations where multitasking with your baby in the carrier can be downright risky or harmful. Here’s the shortlist of perhaps unconsidered ill-advised activities:
- Any activity on wheels: skateboarding, skating, bikeriding, scooters, ATVs.
- Any mutimedia viewing that will be too visually intense, loud, or prolonged for baby, including computer work, TV viewing, and video games.
- Cooking: with the stove, oven, or microwave, or any other electric device (blender, toaster, food processor). While buttering toast, be mindful of an older baby’s curious reach, which might lead to grabbing the wrong end of the knife.
- Any activity in which you’re inclined to bend at the hips: Using the restroom, yardwork, picking up toys. Always remember to bend at the knees and keep your back – and hence your baby – upright.
- Seated desk work: With baby in a front carry, particularly if legs are dangling, her posture and hips can be curled and crunched unnaturally.
When in doubt, take baby out. If you have even a second thought about whether an activity is safe to do with your baby in the carrier, don’t do it. I can remember even a seemingly harmless activity – escorting my son on his first pony-ride with my daughter in a front carrier. First, she got her fingers wedged under the bridle, then I slipped in some horse manure and nearly lost my balance.
For safe babywearing, be a contingency thinker. I’m not encouraging the kind of paranoia parenthood tends to bring on, anyway. Rather, by considering all of the possible outcomes to your posture and to your baby’s well-being, you might just be able acquire the kind of foresight you’ll need down the road when your kids are teenagers.