Babywearing - Safety
Babywearing, I absolutely love it and I’m hoping you will as well. Unfortunately with the rise in popularity, the safety aspect of babywearing seems to have fallen by the wayside. To me safety is paramount. Since we started selling baby carriers in 2014, I have spent my time making sure that no one leaves my shop if they haven't been properly fitted. In my time as a babywearing Mum and consultant, I’ve seen some pretty shocking things. Poor little newborns with no neck or spine control with drooping heads facing outwards in their carrier, babies worn so low they could basically be a belt accessory, and the saddest fact is that these parents don't know any better. They bought a carrier, whipped it out the box, strapped in on and off they go. I mean, that's all there is to it, right?
It is a little known fact that 3 babies have died being worn in a carrier in Australia alone? In the US that number is as high as 17. Fewer children have died being crushed by the Ikea Malm Dresser. That number is at 8, after which the dresser ended up being recalled. Baby carriers are required to meet safety standards within Australia but it is user error that causes the most issues when babywearing. The best way to know that you and your baby are safe in a carrier is to educate yourself on the best way to wear your child in the carrier you have purchased.
With the help of some refernces from other babywearing educators and pages, below I have put together the essentials of babywearing knowledge and safety. If you aren't a huge fan of reading, please have a look at this video created by Kidsafe SA. It provides instruction on how to use baby slings and carriers safely. It also provides information on purchasing a sling or carrier, and identifies the characteristics that might put babies at greater risk of suffocation when in a sling or carrier.
Unsafe vs Safe
To determine the difference between safe vs unsafe babywearing, the UK Sling Consortium created the TICKS guidelines for safe babywearing .If you follow this checklist, you are babywearing in a safe manner.
Example of an unsafe vs safe carrier
On the left you will see that this type of carry has been deemed unsafe, especially for newborns/infants. Baby is not in an upright position, it’s face is not in view or it’s head close enough to kiss meaning you cannot see or guarantee that it’s chin is off it’s chest keeping the airways free. These types of carriers are called pouch slings. The carry on the right meets all the TICKS criteria.
Hip Development in Babywearing
A newborn’s skeleton consists of much cartilage that has yet to solidify into bone, as process known as ossification. The pelvis is one area that consists of several bones held together by cartilage, and it is during the first 9 months of a child’s life is when ossification occurs gradually. It is especially important to aid proper development of baby’s hips by supporting the femoral head correctly. Wrong or poor positioning could lead to hip dysplasia—especially if there is an underlying predisposition.
The ideal leg position for baby is commonly referred to as “M-position,” or “frog-position,”. This position consists of their knees being higher than their bottom, and the legs are spread apart about 90°. Newborns typically assume this natural position when lifted up, which is the ideal position when being carried. When a baby is carried in the correct “M-position” they will have a rounded back due to a tilt in their pelvis which causes the spine to become rounded.
When it comes to babywearing, it’s very important to remember that many changes occur during the first year of a baby’s life, both physically and psychologically. The first step is to understand how the spine develops from the newborn stage into toddlerhood. Understanding this will help you see of the importance of proper support with a carrier.
On the left you will see that even though this carry follows each TICKS rule, the carrier itself is not ergonomically designed. The thigh is not supported to the knee joint adding pressure to the hip joint. While this type of carrier might not be optimal and overall comfortable it isn't unsafe. On the right, this carry also follows each TICKS rule but it is also ergonomically designed. Thigh is supported to the knee joint because the legs are spread providing a more stable position for the hip making it more comfortable for baby and the wearer.
Stages of Babywearing in the First Year
Stage 1 0-3 months- Babies require the most support until they can hold their head up steadily. Their spine is in a state of total kyphosis and needs a carrier that will hold them firmly while offering support for their natural spine curvature. Muscles are still undeveloped along the spine, therefore a carrier with ideal support is needed so baby does not slouch while being worn. Ideal carriers for this stage are wraps and ring slings, since the wearer can customise it to fit baby’s unique size. Baby should be always worn on the front and facing in during this stage.
Stage 2 3-6 months - The cervical region, located at the uppermost part of the spine, begins to strengthen at 3-4 months when baby can firmly hold their head up. As a result, the curve of the spine (kyphosis) is beginning to straighten where eventually it will curve inward, known as lordosis. And though baby’s head control is stable and controlled, they still need sufficient support in the thoracic (middle spine) and lumbar (lower spine) regions. At this stage, baby can move on to hip carries, preferably using a ring sling or woven wrap for the most optimal support.
Stage 3 6-9 months - The middle area of the spine, known as the thoracic region, strengthens once baby can sit unassisted, typically occurring around 6-9 months of age. The muscles in this region help support baby’s back, and the spine remains rounded in thoracic kyphosis. When baby is sitting unassisted they are ready to be worn on the back as long as the wearer is comfortable doing so. Front facing carries are also able to be used at this stage providing the manufacturers guidelines are followed.
Stage 4 9-12+ months - The final stage is complete once baby begins to walk. During this stage, the lower back referred to as the lumbar region, becomes straightened and curves inward. This new curvature, called lumbar lordosis, completes the “S” shape of the spine. At this point, baby’s muscles are strong enough to hold up their entire back.
Useful websites with further information
All information on this page has been compiled from these various resources: