Babywearing....What's all the fuss?

When I was pregnant, I thought that the concept of baby wearing seemed like the most logical and convenient idea in the world. Of course, that proved to be true, but my knowledge on the subject has evolved. At the time, I registered for a brand of carrier that is very well known, and probably the most mainstream. It looks similar to a backpack worn with the child on the chest and it allowed me to put my baby outward or inward facing on my chest.

Fast forward and I start hearing some buzz that I don’t really like about these “danglers” – as this style of carrier is often referred. This caused me to start asking questions to the Google wizard. In all honesty, there isn’t a whole lot of research that has been done on the subject. There’s a whole lot of speculation about the risks, but I wanted something concrete. That’s when I came across the International Hip Displaysia Institute.

The bottom line is that it takes about six months for a baby’s hip sockets to develop after having spent so much time in the womb in the fetal position.  The hips are a ball and socket joint and the ball is loose in the socket during those first few months because the cartilage is soft.  Stretching the hips out too early can result in deformation of the socket (displaysia) or the ball slipping of the socket entirely (dislocation).  This is not something that we would notice right away because it’s not painful until later.

How this applies to baby carriers:

The “dangler” carriers earned their name because they cause the baby’s legs to…you guessed it…dangle.  According to IHDA (I gave them that acronym, I have no idea if they really use it), “The healthiest position for the hips is for the hips to fall or spread (naturally) apart to the side, with the thighs supported and the hips and knees bent.”

In addition to the issues I’ve discussed all ready, I have heard that the dangler-style carriers are also bad for baby spines.  Specifically, the issue is that all of the weight is being placed on the base of the spine.  Also, the spine of a baby curves differently than that of an adult so the outward facing position forces the child’s neck and back into a curve.  Of course, most brands of baby carriers have pediatricians, chiropractors, or other such professionals who have endorsed, designed, or otherwise used their medical credibility to demonstrate the safety of that particular product. Rather than attacking these individuals, I’m going to call them a wash and just say that the claims about spinal damage sound logical and feasible and for me, unproven risks are generally enough to have me seeking an alternative. I was not able to uncover an actual study which addresses this issue, or a seemingly unbiased medical institution.

You can read what IHDA says in greater detail here.  They also have nice little images that I wasn’t able to download for this post.

What are your alternatives?

The point of this post is not to do a product review of any particular brand of baby carrier. Furthermore, there are many styles which address all of the problems that are mentioned above. Here is a brief overview of the styles:

Ring sling: This is a piece of fabric which is fashioned into a pouch which holds the baby using two rings on one side. The baby is carried on the hip.  

Stretchy or woven wraps: A wrap is a long piece of fabric which gets positioned around the body in various ways to fit the baby snugly against the carrier. There are many ways of tying a wrap, and there is a bit of a learning curve, but how it’s used depends on whether the fabric is stretchy or woven.  

Soft-structured carrier: These look similar to backpacks and can be worn on the front, back, or both, depending on the design. These are most similar to the “dangler” designs discussed above, but should not allow the child to sit with their legs hanging freely below them. Also, they provide support for the head and neck.  

Mei Tai carrier: This is similar to a soft-structured carrier, except it has four long straps that are used to tie and secure the baby in different ways. Mei Tai carriers can be tied so the child is sitting on the front, side, or back of the wearer.

For more information about the types of carriers or how to use them, check out the schedule of baby wearing classes that Ecobaby offers. Our in-house Certified Babywearing Consultant, Tanya, teaches Baby wearing demos that give a brief overview of all of the different styles. She also hosts 202 classes about each different style which go into detail about how to use them, safety, and other topics.

*photo by Jessica Anders Photography

September 29, 2013 by Allison Lund
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