Structure impacts on Function
In Chiropractic, we often say that structure determines function of the body. This means the spine determines the nervous system function. Furthermore, since the nervous system controls the body as a whole, a structurally stressed nervous system will affect the body’s ability to be healthy. Repetitive bad posture can significantly impair our spinal structures. This means that new parents need to be aware of how they choose to carry their little ones as not only can it impact on their spine but on their child’s.
Baby Carrying and the Importance of Changing Baby Positioning
Car seats are being used more commonly as carriers outside of the car. Often I see Mums’ struggling to remove the seat from the car, twisting and stressing their spine and then tilting sideways when walking holding the carrier. This activity repeated everyday can lead to injury. Additionally, bub’s body may also be experiencing postural strain in a semi-reclined position. Strollers are also used so commonly and again pulling it out of the car or dismantling it with or without hands full can put undue stress on the spine. Additionally, they prevent the close contact between mum and bub, which in those early days to months can aid in development. A baby spends 9 months in close contact with mum experiencing the warmth, movement and of course contact, therefore the separation after birth may be stressful for the infant.
Babies seem to be spending more and more time on their back. Combined with increased use of strollers, car seats and carriers which only allow a reclined position, there are increased rates of plagiocephaly (flattened head). Due to the head being so soft at birth and for the first few months, it is important that the infant is able to change position regularly during waking hours, including whilst being carried. The flattening of the head causes cranial distortions. Additionally, the use of reclining carriers, do not allow the infant to activate and strengthen their neck muscles.
With these concepts in mind, the best choices for bubs under 4 months are wraps, slings, pouches and sacks, which allow for different positioning for bub. This variety in carrying styles is also important for mum, as the hormone relaxin may stay in the system for up to 9 months. This means the joints are more lax for this time and are more prone to injury.
What about baby carriers
When bubs are able to keep their head up on their own and become a little more curious, baby carriers become a great tool. In this case, it is important to have the little one facing towards you with legs drawn up more than 90 degrees (in a flexed position) and turned out 90 degrees (abducted). This decreases the stress through their pelvis and hips and allows for optimal development of the hip joint. When facing outwards, because of the shape of the carrier, the hip capsule is stretched and the torso is strained making this carrying position less desirable. Often changes in hip development from years in the carrier in an incorrect position are only picked up when the infant learns to walk.
Recommendations when finding a sling or wrap
- Does the sling allow for various carrying positions for the baby on the wearer?
- Does the carrier allow for different positions for the baby: for example; forward or chest facing, vertical, horizontal, folded legs, straight, or frog-leg position? All of these will help with the baby’s postural development.
- How long will the sling/wrap/pouch accommodate for the child’s growth and postural development?
- Can the infant be moved from one wearer to another without disturbing them and can they be removed without disturbing them?
- Is breastfeeding possible while being carried?
- Is cleaning of the carrier easy?
- Does the wearer have both hands free or does the baby still require some support with a hand?
- Can the baby be put into all carrying positions by the wearer on their own, or do they require help from a second person?
- Is there even distribution of the baby’s weight for the wearer’s comfort?
- Does the sling/wrap cause repetitive postural stress to one area of the wearer’s spine?
· Make sure there is head and neck support for the baby and/or sleeping infant
· The carrier should have a wide base of support that supports the thighs and flexes the knees
· Try and find a carrier with postural curve support to avoid stressing the infant’s spine
· Wide and/or cushioned adjustable shoulder straps will allow for easier carrying and less strain on the Carriers neck and shoulders
· Make sure the carrier gives you the ability to distribute the baby’s weight evenly across your body
· The carrier should allow for ease of loading/unloading, so that the you can keep your spine in a neutral, safe and comfortable position.
(Adapted from articles from the CAA & ICPA)