When I was expecting my first baby, there weren’t a lot of baby supplies that I knew I wanted or was too particular about. One of the exceptions was a baby carrier. As a nurse, I had heard about all of the amazing benefits of babywearing, but I also knew that if done incorrectly, it could pose a risk to my baby’s hip development.
What is babywearing?
If you’re not familiar, babywearing is the use of a carrier, sling or wrap to carry your baby close to your body. We carry our babies in our bellies for nine months and during that time, they’re warm and comforted by the sounds and motions of the womb. After they’re born, it’s a HUGE transition for them as they adjust to the outside world. Babywearing allows both parents and babies the opportunity to regain that sense of closeness, which can be particularly beneficial during the fourth trimester (the first 12 weeks after the baby is born).
What are the benefits of babywearing?
When done correctly, babywearing has lots of benefits including strengthening your bond with baby, aiding in baby’s physical and emotional development, decreasing the risk of SIDS and flat-head syndrome, allowing caregivers to be hands-free and get things done while still holding baby, and promoting sleep through the opportunity for naps-on-the-go. The International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI) recommends that babywearing be used for short-term purposes, such as during transportation or for occasional parental activities.
What is a healthy hip position?
When our babies are in our bellies, they typically spend most of their time curled up in the fetal position with their hips and knees bent. The hip is a ball and socket joint and the ball is more likely to be loose within the socket for the first few months as a result of the stretching that happens during the birth process. After your baby is born, it takes several months for their joints to naturally stretch out and their hips want to remain bent in that fetal position. If the hips are instead forced into a straight stretched-out position too early, this may result in the ball deforming the socket (hip dysplasia) or slipping out of the socket altogether (hip dislocation). While it sounds traumatic, dislocation in babies is almost never painful and can actually go undetected until they reach walking age, at which point issues start to arise. The risk of a baby developing hip dysplasia or dislocation is highest in the first six months until their body has grown and developed stronger ligaments to secure the hip joints. Baby’s who are not in the fetal position in utero (ie. breech position) are at higher risk for developing hip dysplasia or dislocation.
Can babywearing be harmful for hip development?
Where babywearing can become a problem is if the carrier, sling, or wrap inadvertently places your baby’s hips out of alignment and into an unhealthy position. This is especially problematic when these devices are used for extended periods of time. Babies naturally want to stay in the fetal position, so the worst position for their hips is the opposite of this – when the legs are held straight in extension with the hips and knees stretched out and the legs brought together. The longer an unhealthy position is maintained, the greater the risk of improper hip development.
How should your baby be positioned?
When your baby is in a carrier or sling, their knees and hips should be spread apart so that their legs are straddling your body. Their thighs should be supported with their hips bent and their knees slightly higher than their bum – this is known as the M-position. By ensuring healthy hip positioning, you encourage normal hip development and reduce the risk of hip dysplasia and dislocation. The M-position is a natural clinging position for infants and may decrease the risk of hip dysplasia. The IHDI supports proper babywearing with the hips in the M-position as a method to encourage healthy hip development.
What should you look for in a carrier?
Maybe you’re expecting a little bundle of joy, or maybe they’re already here. Either way, you’ve done your homework, and if you’ve decided that babywearing is something you’d like to explore, here’s a guide for what you should look for in a baby carrier.
You want a carrier that:
- allows healthy hip positioning for your baby (the M-position)
- is safe and easy to use
- is comfortable for you to wear
I tried out a number of different carriers but my ultimate favorite was my Tula Free-to-Grow baby carrier. Not only was it approved by the IHDI as a “hip-healthy” product, but it was well constructed with plenty of safety features, was easy to put on, and bonus – it looked cute! I carried my daughter in this carrier from her first few days of life right up until she was over 3 years old! When baby number 2 came along, I couldn’t wait to get my carrier back out and soak up all those baby snuggles again.
Here we are 18 months later and babywearing is still a go-to in our house, especially when this mama needs her hands free to get some work done.
If you’re ever unsure if babywearing is appropriate for you and your family, I encourage you to speak to your health care provider.