The Importance of Positioning in a Carrier
Frogleg skeleton in sling, showing correct position. See Storchenweige.com
for more great info.
There are three essential aspects of positioning in a baby carrier.
- Baby's legs should always be in a frog position, bottom down knees up, straddling you, with legs up at a 90° angle to the spine. (except for in cradle carries) This is the best, most correct and most desirable position for baby.
- Baby should be high and snug in any carrier.
- A good baby carrier will mimic the way you hold baby naturally in your arms.
Some other important general points:
- Baby should be close to you, not hanging away from you. This keeps your centre of gravity balanced and prevents strain on your back.
- Young babies' developing spines should always be supported by the carrier in some way- by having the fabric snug, or Mei-tai strap tied at their back, or carrier straps tightened properly to bring the baby in close. Avoid carriers that cannot do this.
- Baby's breathing should never be affected by a carrier. If her chin is touching her chest it will adversely affect her airways and this can be fatal for young and prem babies. Also beware of stale air pockets, baby's face should never be covered by fabric. In a cradle carry babies should be lying facing upwards, not towards you.
- Avoid unintentional twists of the carrier fabric, this will create pressure points on you or baby.
- Before they are approx 11-12 weeks old, babies' legs are better to be tucked inside the carrier, up underneath them as they would be when you hold them in-arms. The fabric of the carrier will ideally support them enough that their feet are fine and won't get squished. Once you notice they are long and mature enough, you may encourage baby's legs up and straddling your tummy- knees up bottom down, in the frog position mentioned above.
Click on the icon to view an extremely important article on Postitioning, written by babywearing instructor M'liss Stelzer.
Frontpack, baby facing mum
So what about Frontpacks?
Please let me start by saying that I would much rather see a baby worn in a frontpack, than in a pram/exersaucer/etc.
But there is more to frontpacks than meets the eye.............
As stated above, a 'good' baby carrier mimics the way you would naturally hold your baby- either cradled in your arms, straddling you on your hip, or piggy backed.
Frontpacks can do none of this. Although they are loosely based on Asian Style carriers, frontpacks encourage bad positioning for your baby. Frontpacks are difficult to get snug enough to properly support baby's spine, meaning a lot of their weight bears down on an immature spine which can't cope with it. This is exacerbated by the legs dangling down, instead of being in the desirable 'frog' position. Baby ends up dangling from the wearer by their crotch, which is very unnatural and extremely uncomfortable for them. (How many parents do you see grab their baby by the crotch and go for a walk?) Plus, their dangling legs encourage the ball of their femur out of the hip socket with every stride you take. Not good!
Frontpacks hold baby in a position that means their weight pulls down and away from you. This throws off your centre of balance and means you subconsciously compensate by leaning back a little. The straps are often thin, digging into the wearer's shoulders and back. Very few brands use a waist belt, which would take some of the weight from the shoulders.
For all these combined reasons, frontpacks often get uncomfortable after around 4 months old. For the amount of money you pay for a frontpack compared to one of the carriers above, you would be better advised to invest in a decent baby carrier you will get years of use from and will be comfortable for you AND baby.
See info on Dr Kirlkilionis' research into baby carrier positioning.
Dr Ekhard Bonnet supports Dr Kirlkilionis' findings here
He talks about the benefits of GOOD carriers on baby's development, below:
This kind of carrying resembles the "carrying" inside the womb (enclosing, comfort, warmth etc.). Nothing is too tight or too loose. In the same way as the mother’s walking during her pregnancy did not have any detrimental effect on the spine of the child, so being carried in a baby sling does not disadvantage its spine either. Those who take the opposite view should also prevent children from walking, running, jumping, skipping and dancing, because all this causes regular impact on the spine.
Quite the contrary,: this regular loading and unloading on the spine and hip joints greatly increases the growth stimulus. We have not yet seen any healthy child that has been carried from the very beginning which developed a hip dysplasia or scoliosis. We have however seen many "pram children" (who lie on their backs) who have deformed skulls (flattened on the back or sides), with deformed bodies, hip dysplasia, and children who lie on their fronts with "frog-positions" of the legs and feet. Apart from this "front lying"children are more endangered by bad air at the deepest point of the pram and by accumulated heat, because their palms can not sweat and so create cold by evaporation.
Also: an article on Spondylolisthesis , which may be caused by stress on infants' spines from unsupportive carriers.
- Before an infant can hold her head on her own, the carrier should support the neck. A sling cradles the infant just like your arms would, unlike vertical carriers which can actually allow a whiplash type injury.
- The carrier should not place the infant's spine in a weight bearing position too early. (The young baby should be horizontal or inclined, with the spine supported along its length.)
- When a baby wants to be more upright to see the world around him (usually around age 4 to 5 months), the carrier should allow him to sit cross-legged, so his weight is dissipated through his legs and hips, as opposed to the style that has the legs hanging down, where the young spine has to bear the entire weight.
When considering the purchase of a baby carrier, you can often just ask yourself if you would be comfortable in it. Would you feel like you were in a hammock (a sling), or in a parachute harness, with your legs hanging down?
.....What about facing outwards then?
This is a problematic question. While some babies decide they like to see more at around 3-4 months, please consider these points before turning them forward facing in your carrier, and especially a frontpack.
Overstimulation- baby is forced to look at everything in front of them. They can't get away, can't retreat when the sensory overload gets too much for them to cope with.
Crotch-dangle- is made even worse by facing baby outwards. A lot of weight is resting on baby's crotch/genitals, which is unhealthy especially for baby boys!
Gravity pull- suspending baby from your front means their weight is pulling down and out on you, making your body compensate. This is not desirable at all, and can make you quite sore.
Exposed- baby is more vulnerable to objects, people, and weather conditions when facing out.
Remember, baby is more comfortable, and better positioned, when facing you in a carrier. There is plenty to see if they turn their head. You could try a hip carry if they are old enough, or a back carry if they really want to see.
If you do decide to face baby out, watch them carefully for signs of overstimulation. Turn them back towards you when you notice this happening. Dress baby appropriately. Be aware of who is 'getting in baby's face' and try to protect them.
If you decide to face outwards in a Mei-tai or SSC, remember to tilt their hips like Kelley at Kozy Carriers does, so their legs are angling UP, and they are sitting instead of dangling. If in a wrap, spread the fabric as much as you can between the legs so they are seated. Cloth nappies often provide a nice bit of crotch bulk to spread the weight.
In most good carriers you can face baby forward but with their legs folded up in front of them, called a Kangaroo or Buddha carry. This is more desirable than leaving the legs to dangle, and is perfectly comfortable for your baby. (They've folded them up for over 9 months already!)