Three reasons I love babywearing as a physiotherapist

Updated: Jul 2, 2021



This article was first published in the Natural Parent Magazine, Issue 36, Spring 2019 alongside this beautiful artwork from Taynee Tinsley - and here with permission.



I still can’t believe that it took me 15 years of clinical practice as a physiotherapist to discover the myriad benefits of babywearing as a parenting tool. As described by the Australian Physiotherapy Association;


“Physiotherapists help you get the most out of life. They help you recover from injury, reduce pain and stiffness, increase mobility and prevent further injury. They listen to your needs to tailor a treatment specific to your condition.”


By this definition, babywearing is an essential physiotherapy treatment modality for parents and carers! I lament the possibly hundreds of parents and carers with whom I worked, who could have reaped unknown rewards had I even vaguely been aware of the potential to be unleashed by a well fitted optimal carrier.


Scenario:

New mother talking to physio: I am six weeks post vaginal birth of a ten pound baby with a second degree tear. I run to the toilet when I sneeze or laugh and my back hurts after holding the baby for the hour it takes to settle him after a feed. My arms feel like I’ve been lifting sacks of spuds all day as the baby won’t let me put him down and I need to clean the house and care for my toddler while my partner goes to work for two weeks at a time. I have a dog I need to walk daily or she eats our shoes and digs holes in the garden. Please help me make this work!

Physio: I recommend safe and optimal babywearing as part of a holistic approach to managing your situation (as well as pelvic floor exercises amongst other things, but that’s another article).


Of course it took me becoming a parent myself to really understand what was possible with babywearing. My gorgeous boy was born 4.7kg and tipped the scales at 13.5kg by six months and I could not have survived without my ring sling and soft structured carrier to get around. I made all the usual trial and error attempts at carrying my child – a stretchy wrap that he grew out of by the time he was six weeks old followed by a narrow based carrier we were lent by a beautiful friend that I couldn’t fit properly and made us both uncomfortable. It was only when I became a Kangatraining Instructor and then an Approved Babywearing Consultant with the Babywearing School Australia that I really understood the power of safe and optimal babywearing. Here are three reasons why I love babywearing as a physiotherapist, for both carer and child:


1. Reduce pain, discomfort and injury

2. Facilitate connection

3. Get the most out of life


For the carer


1. Reduce pain, discomfort and injury

A child in a well-fitted safe and optimal carrier is a dream to wear, regardless of their age. Whether a wrap, ring sling, meh dai, hybrid or soft structured carrier is more appropriate for you, your child is held close to you in a natural position that puts little strain on your muscles and joints. This is especially important if you have existing injuries and in the vulnerable hormone-filled initial weeks postpartum. Your centre of gravity is minimally displaced, meaning you do not have to assume an uncomfortable posture to remain upright – either leaning back with child on your front or leaning to one side when child is on your hip. The weight of the child is borne across the whole body and there is minimal loading on sensitive structures such as neck muscles. Upper limb fatigue and pressure on wrists is a thing of the past with a carrier to assist holding your child, and not to forget how much easier and safer tasks are with free hands!


2. Facilitate connection

Holding your child close means you can respond quickly to their cues, whether hunger, discomfort, tiredness or otherwise. When a child is snuggled in on your front, you can easily see them, sniff in their scent (how good is that baby smell?!), kiss them and comfort them as they need. When a child is on your back, you can engage them in the world around you, helping them to see, experience and interpret the environment.


Holding a child close triggers the release of oxytocin in the wearer, the feel good love hormone that facilitates bonding, attachment and affection between the child and the carer. This physiological response is wonderful for protecting the wearer’s mental and emotional health, regardless of gender or relationship with the child – mums, dads, aunties, uncles, siblings and grandparents alike. The release of oxytocin, combined with the opportunity to breastfeed in many front carries, can also assist with breastfeeding success and duration for lactating mothers.


For carers with more than one child, wearing the younger one in a carrier allows you to use two free hands to play and enjoy your older child, while the baby sleeps or learns from the interactions taking place. You can also try tandem babywearing, meaning two children are being carried at once in two separate carriers. These opportunities promote bonding between children and carers alike.


3. Get the most out of life

Babywearing allows you to stay active and keep fit, which is paramount to maintaining your physical and mental health as a carer raising small humans. Whether continuing walks on the beach or out in the bush, babywearing allows you to go where a pram will not. Wandering with an older child or pet off the beaten track is a great way to refresh and revive a weary carer. Or perhaps you might enjoy an exercise class like Kangatraining, where children are worn in an optimal carrier while the carer works on strength and fitness, with a bit of dance thrown in for coordination and fun.


For those children who like to be in arms for naps as well as awake time, babywearing is an essential tool for getting life done (aka survival). Baby won’t sleep and you have jobs to do? Pop them in your carrier of choice and hopefully get both sorted at once. There are benefits too for older siblings and pets, who can continue with their program of activities with their carer while the baby sleeps in the carrier.


Babywearing also opens up a whole new village for you, with many other likeminded parents on a similar journey. There’s nothing quite like the shared look of acknowledgement between two babywearing carers. They are your people.


For the child


1. Reduced pain, discomfort and injury

Ideal babywearing promotes optimal positioning and development of the child’s spine and hips. A carry that supports the child’s spine in a natural J shape and hips in a natural M shape with knee to knee support provides the ultimate ride in comfort for your child. An optimal position changes as the child develops. Generally, it is how a child positions themselves when they are picked up to be carried and is also how you would naturally carry your child when upright in arms: high on your chest or back, head and neck supported with their spine curved, knees tucked up near their belly button, the weight on their bottom with their feet and calves free. Newborns tend to keep their knees closer together in this position, then gradually spread wider as their hips develop.


For children with disabilities, including changes in muscle tone or joint stiffness, babywearing can be a great way to stretch or strengthen muscles, provide postural support and increase range of motion. Being close to a carer with prolonged positioning in a supportive carrier provides a gentle treatment approach.


For a child with developmental dysplasia of the hip (hip dysplasia), the optimal babywearing position replicates the position that braces and casts hold the joints, adding another layer support for the child (and wearer) while they are being carried in the splint. Optimal positioning in babywearing may reduce the risk of hip dysplasia occurring as the hip is supported in the natural position for development.


A child being held and supported in an optimal upright position reduces the weight and pressure of the head on soft newborn skull bones. This can assist with management and prevention of plagiocephaly (flattening of baby’s head on one side) as the baby is not lying down on their back for extended periods. If there is an associated torticollis (tight neck muscles on one side), this upright position is wonderful for encouraging stretching and turning to the opposite side, with support and comfort from the carer. It is also a great compromise for a little one who doesn’t love long periods of tummy time, as they can still work on their head, neck and trunk control whilst being carried.


Children recovering from illness, surgery or disease greatly benefit from being held close to their carer, as this reduces their stress levels and consequently their experience of pain and discomfort while they heal and recover.


2. Facilitate connection

Babies are hardwired to need their carers close for survival. Babywearing supports infant mental health and attachment by reducing the distress of being separated from their carer. It is common that babies cry when they are put down - this is the baby’s survival instinct kicking in, ensuring they stay close and attached to the person that will keep them safe, fed, nourished and protected. Babywearing can be seen as a natural way of nurturing the next generation, connecting them physically and mentally to their carer and other support people around them.


A child’s brain grows at an astonishing speed, with a million neuronal connections per minute being created in the first few years of life. Babywearing supports development of neuronal connections in a safe and stimulating environment, with the child exposed to an incredible amount of input through all the senses that causes neurons to fire and activate. When a child is snuggled in on your front, they can hear, smell, see and feel you and explore the environment from their safe place. When a child is on your back, they can see and experience the world from your perspective and learn from you as you teach them about the environment. They can also turn into their safe space and sleep as they need, in order to process all this sensory information.


3. Get the most out of life

Being close to a carer helps regulate a baby’s physiology. The baby’s body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, blood glucose and other body functions mimic that of the wearer, which supports the child’s sleep patterns and conservation of energy. This means the child can devote more energy to other things, such as exploring their environment and growing strong, healthy brains and bodies. Children have the opportunity to go beyond where their equipment or abilities can take them.


Babywearing is a wonderful way of teaching the next generation to care for self, be healthy and connect with others. What more could we want for our children to get out of life?


Summary


As a physiotherapist and a parent, I believe all health professionals working with parents and carers, babies and children should be aware of the incredible benefits safe and optimal babywearing brings for both carer and child, to improve both physical and mental health outcomes. Support from a trained babywearing consultant is a wonderful investment as you start on your babywearing journey, especially if you would like to explore and try all the different options or if you or your child has health concerns that need to be considered.


Kato x


Babywearing must first and foremost be safe for both wearer and child. The Babywearing Practice has an easy to remember SAFE acronym: Secure, Airways, Firm, Eyeline.

  • Secure – baby is securely attached to the carer’s body

  • Airways – baby is upright, head is neutral, mouth and nose are unobstructed, chin is off chest

  • Firm – baby is firmly held in the carrier, with no gaps between the baby and carer’s body or the carrier

  • Eyeline – baby is in view and you can see them easily


180 views

Recent Posts

See All