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So my three year old mimics pretty much everything I do. She is a mini-me to the T (which can be scary sometimes!). I’m sure many of you can relate.
The other day she borrowed her older brother’s suspenders, grabbed a small blanket, and her doll, Emma. She insisted I help her put Emma into her makeshift baby carrier. And then she spent the next few minutes strutting around proudly wearing her little baby.
This got me thinking about babywearing – something I do a lot – and some of the common questions I get from new moms:
“Will babywearing make my prolapse worse?”
“How soon after birth can I start wearing my baby?”
“Can I do I workout while babywearing?”
So just in time for International Babywearing Week here is all that you need to know about babywearing and your pelvic health.
Get The Right Fit For You!
There are so many different ways to wear a baby: on your front, on your back, your side, with a ring sling, in a SSC, with a knit or woven wrap, etc etc etc. Just do a quick search on google about one of these styles and you’ll be instantly plunged into a whole new world of babywearing.
It’s awesome to have choice but it can also be overwhelming.
With all the choice available, it’s important to experiment and find the right style of carrier for you and your baby, especially if you plan on using it a lot. If you’re really committed to baby wearing then it might also make sense to purchase a few different types of carriers for different uses.
What should you consider?
- First of all, think about when and where you may be using the carrier. What activities will you be most likely to wear your baby? Do you need just need it for a few quick minutes at home while you prep dinner, or will you be going on long hikes outdoors?
- Will you be using it in the heat of summer or underneath a winter coat?
- How quickly do you need to get it on and off?
- How much support will you need?
- What size is your baby relative to you?
- What is your shape and size?
Why are these questions so important to ask?
Because ultimately your comfort matters.
The more comfortable both you and your baby are, the less likely your body is going to take a hit while babywearing. The less likely you are to experience strain on your joints, ligaments, and muscles.
What happens when you are uncomfortable.
When we are uncomfortable, we tend to hold low-grade tension in our bodies. Overtime tension can be felt as pain, pressure, or some other unpleasant sensation that manifests somewhere, including the pelvic floor.
Pain makes you less likely to want to wear your baby and when you do, it won’t be for very long. You’ll miss out on all the awesome benefits of babywearing.
Before giving up on babywearing though, think about trying something different. Perhaps you can position your baby differently. If she is front facing, perhaps turn her towards you. If your carrier allows for a back carry, then toss her on your back as long as she’s old enough and has decent head control. You may need to tighten the carrier or wrap or perhaps make it a little less tight. Play around and see if any of these adjustments feel more comfortable.
Think about your baby’s hip and knee position. She could be uncomfortable. Straight legs put your baby at risk for developing hip dysplasia. The “M” position where your baby’s knees are slightly higher than her bum is ideal. This is why I’m not a fan of some carriers where babies face forward as legs tend to dangle. You need a wrap or carrier that creates a shelf under your baby’s bum and splays their legs around your body. Check out the International Hip Dysplasia Institute for more info.
Try before you buy.
If nothing helps, it could be that the carrier you’re using isn’t the best for your body. There are so many styles out there – so try a different one such as:
- Ring slings
- Soft structured buckle carriers
- Woven wraps
- Stretchy wraps
- Mei Tais
Just to name a few.
Before you buy another one, make sure you experiment for a week or so. Borrow a wrap from a friend. There are usually lending libraries in larger communities. Baby stores often have open samples you can try out. Or look up babywearing groups on facebook.
There are spaces online where you can buy used carriers as well. My first carrier (a Mei Tai that we still use) was off Kijiji. Then when I was later introduced into the sumptuous world of woven wraps, I was unable at that time to afford it, so I sewed one and it totally worked.
If you’re planning on purchasing one carrier to share between you and your partner, make sure it fits comfortably on both of you and that if can be adjusted as needed. My husband is a slim 6’2” and I’m a full foot shorter. We found the Mei Tai worked well because it could be infinitely adjusted.
One last thought on comfort: your baby has got to dig it. Ultimately if baby isn’t feelin’ it, then neither will you.
My first LOVED being worn. My second was ambivalent. My third was impossible to get securely on my back in a woven wrap because he always straightened his legs. So for him, we found that a front carry in a woven wrap was best. Now that he’s 19 months, we use a soft structured buckle carrier and toss him on my back.
If you have questions about all these types of carriers or wraps, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ve tried it all.
Let’s Talk About Your Pelvic Floor and Babywearing.
“Is babywearing safe if I have pelvic floor dysfunction?”
I get asked this question often and I’ll get to the answer.
But first, keep in mind the functions of the pelvic floor.
Your pelvic floor sits at the bottom of your pelvis and has several important roles. One of its roles is to absorb and counteract pressure that is generated from above.
A weak, uncoordinated, or poorly positioned pelvic floor has a hard time fulfilling this role.
Now, what does that have to do with baby wearing?
Wearing a baby increases the pressure on your pelvic floor. Your body basically thinks you’ve gained 15Lb (or however much your baby weighs), and needs to suddenly accommodate for that increase.
So the question I pose to my clients is: “is your system at a point where it can handle that amount of added pressure or weight for a specified number of minutes?”
If the answer is no, then we work together to figure out how to get you there.
It’s all about managing pressures.
Here are some things to consider when it comes to pressure management of your pelvic floor:
- If you’ve just had a baby, my suggestion is that you wait at least a few weeks before trying to wear your baby.
Immediately after birth (if you delivered vaginally or if you laboured prior to a c-section) your pelvic floor muscles have been stretched out or possibly even torn. They need time to recover and the early weeks post-partum is not the time to be placing sustained added pressure on vulnerable tissues.
Ideally you’ve worked with a pelvic floor physio pre-natally and have learned how to correctly connect to your pelvic floor muscles. I usually have my moms (not all of them) start with pelvic floor contractions (kegels) on day 2 after birth. It is not so much to build strength at that point as it is to just reconnect to the inner system. It will also give a mom a way to compare her pelvic floor function before and after birth. For a mom who has done pelvic floor exercises before birth, she may really be able to feel the difference. And she will have a better sense of when it might be appropriate to try baby wearing.
A word of caution: please please please do not try to do kegels post partum unless you’ve been taught how to do them correctly beforehand. 50% of women do who think they’re doing kegels correctly are actually doing them wrong and can actually risk making a pelvic floor problem worse – OR cause pelvic floor issues to start when there was nothing pre-existing.
- If you feel pressure or heaviness while babywearing, try doing something different to change that sensation.
If you feel pressure, heaviness, or pain in your pelvic floor, then you will need to try one of two things. The first suggestion is to try something different. Read on and I’ll explain what that means.
If none of your adjustments work, then you may need to do option two which is wait a while longer before wearing your baby.
Now I know you’ll wonder how long “a while longer” is. And the answer is, I don’t know. Everyone is different and it depends on a number of individual factors. But you could always give it a week, then try again and see where you’re at.
To share my experience: I was able to start babywearing fairly quickly after having my first child. It was an uneventful pregnancy and I felt really great immediately after birth. My baby was also tiny at 6Lb 2 Oz.
However, after my 3rd baby, I was only able to start baby wearing at about 4 or 5 weeks post-partum and it was for limited periods of time. With each passing week though, my tolerance and duration of babywearing improved. I was a bit surprised that it took what I considered to be a long time for me.
But every mom is different.
Some moms may have a symptomatic prolapse. Others may have very weak and lax pelvic floors. Others may be dealing with a lot of stitches, inflammation and perineal soreness. In these cases, moms may not be able to tolerate babywearing for several months. But rest assured, you will get there! Our bodies always heal up and improve once we start inputting the right things.
It’s important to get your pelvic floor checked post-partum (around 6 weeks post-birth) by a pelvic floor physio. Your physio will be able to test the position, strength and coordination of your pelvic floor. She will assess for a prolapse and see how you’re managing the pressures going through your abdominal cavity.
If baby wearing is a priority for any client of mine, I will get her to bring in her baby carrier or wraps and wrap up her baby at my office. I like to check what is happening in her pelvic floor while she’s standing. I see if she can effectively counteract the downward pressure while standing. We see what happens after she’s been walking around a bit. And I check her endurance and observe any symptoms she may have.
Then we test out different variables. We try different types of wraps, different styles of carries, learning to stand or walk with different postures and alignment, explore different breathing patterns, and more, to see if her symptoms decrease or if her tolerance for babywearing improves.
We take whatever we find and then we build on there as a starting point, all while working to improve the ability of the pelvic floor to get working better.
- Make Sure You Can Breathe.
Your diaphragm is intimately connected to your pelvic floor.
Your diaphragm is your main muscle of respiration – it’s what allows you to breathe.
When carrying your baby, it’s important that your breathing does not become restricted. Being able to fully inhale and exhale with your rib cage expanding in all directions will allow your pelvic floor to work better.
You see, the pelvic floor moves synergistically with the diaphragm. Both muscle groups need to move through a certain range of motion in order to generate optimal strength.
If you secure your wrap too tightly around your chest wall, it could impact your ability to breathe. Inability to breathe will make it harder for your pelvic floor to respond well to the pressures that are generated when you wear your baby.
It can also lead to tension being generated in your neck, shoulders, upper back or front of your chest.
On that note, let’s discuss where you tie-off your wrap or secure your buckle.
It’s important to use your pelvis or hips (rather than your belly) as an anchor point for the lower part of your wrap or carrier – this is especially the case for soft structured carriers, buckle carriers and some types of carries with woven wraps.
Why does this matter? It comes down to pressure again.
Imagine a balloon that has a belt tied around the middle, cinching it off.
The balloon is your belly. The belt is your wrap. The tighter the belt gets, the more the pressure inside that balloon is forced upwards towards the diaphram and downwards towards the pelvic floor. Both muscles have to work harder to move against that pressure.
You can see how a lax or weak pelvic floor would lose the battle against ongoing pressure.
Thankfully, there are other options for anchoring your wrap.
If you’re using a ring sling, the baby is secured in a pocket and the anchor point is your shoulder – leaving your belly totally free of any compression.
Woven wraps also allow for many different types of carries that do not tie off across the abdominal wall. Play around with these options or jump on youtube to find some ideas.
- How you stand, walk, and wear your baby matters.
Pressure on your pelvic floor is impacted by the position of your body.
So how you stand matters. How you walk matters. How you wear your baby on your body matters.
I typically see babywearing moms stand and walk in one of two ways.
Way 1: Belly and pelvis are thrust forward. Butt tucked under. They walk leading with their pelvis.
Way 2: Hunched over curved forward through upper back. Closed chest and head poking forward.
There is a way 3 which is, oddly enough, a combination of the first two ways.
If you have a hard time stacking up vertically against gravity, it is very likely that your habitual standing pattern may need some re-wiring. It is also likely that you have muscle imbalances and that you may need to work on strength and conditioning.
You might be able to get away with standing the way you typically do for a long time. However, when you add additional load to the mix (in the form of your baby), you may discover that your typical standing or walking pattern isn’t working out so well.
You may notice yourself compensating in other parts of your body to stay upright, and you could experience strain on your neck, back, or abdominal wall (not ideal if you have a diastasis recti). You could place greater pressure on your pelvic floor.
On that note, before registering for post-partum babywearing workouts, such as barre, babywearing dance, or a babywearing boot camp, make sure that your body can tolerate the load of JUST YOU first. You should be able to move and exercise without pain, pressure, leaking or other symptoms occurring before you even think about adding the weight of a baby – especially if that weight pulls you into a further compromised starting position against gravity.
If you’re not sure how you’re orienting your body against gravity or if you suspect it’s affecting your ability to wear your baby, then you may need a second set of eyes. Please make an appointment to get checked.
Specific Types of Wraps.
Before I conclude I want to mention some considerations for specific types of wraps or carries.
- Ring slings are great for short stints and ideal for smaller babies. They’re quick and easy to put on and get off. If you use ring slings a lot, try to get used to wearing your baby on alternate sides. This will help your brain and body maintain variability.
- Side or hip carry – If you’re opting for a side carry using a mei tai or woven warp, switch sides each time. Again, we want your body to have options and not get stuck in only one way of doing things.
- Back carry in a woven wrap or soft structured carrier – this is the preferred option if your baby is heavy, if you’re carrying a toddler, or if you’re pregnant.
- Woven or stretchy wraps – consider a broad lie of the wrap when coming across the shoulders to better distribute forces across your upper back, shoulders and neck.
Babywearing is awesome for so many reasons. Be mindful of your pelvic floor and your body while babywearing so you can enjoy it for years to come.
Here is what you need to keep in mind when babywearing:
- It shouldn’t cause pain anywhere. Pain is an indication that your body is not liking something. You ought to pay attention and see if you can change something to make it feel better.
- Your pelvic floor should be able to handle the increased pressure that comes from babywearing without experiencing symptoms.
- You may not be able to baby wear for several weeks or months after you have the baby, depending on the state of your pelvic floor and core. Get checked at 6 weeks post partum by a pelvic floor physio. She will let you know where you’re at and give you a plan to build up your ability to tolerate babywearing over time.
- You should be able to take a full breath in and out.
- If you will be on your feet for some time then initially secure your baby on a bit more snugly as gravity and movement and will cause things to loosen up over time. A loose carrier means your body is working harder and this can cause fatigue or strain. If you feel your wrap is getting looser, take 2 seconds to quickly re-adjust and then carry on.
- Keep baby high and close when wrapped up (applies for front and back carries).
- Distribute forces across your shoulders and upper body. Think wide straps, extra padding, or using the secondary buckles on your buckle carrier.
- Choose the right carrier for your activities. You will need something more supportive with less give in the material if you will be wearing your baby into toddlerhood.
- Be mindful of your body’s position. Explore what it feels like to adjust your standing, alignment or walking pattern. See what feels better in your body. You may need to work on mobility and strengthening to improve your posture and alignment over time.
- When wearing your baby, think symmetry. Wear your baby as close to midline as possible and if you do side carries, be intentional about switching things up between your left and right side each time.
Well that’s about it for now! If you need a 1:1 to troubleshoot babywearing and pelvic health challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out and make an appointment by clicking here!
And from this baby-wearing mama to all of you, Happy International Babywearing Week!