Babywearing - friend or foe? An exercise physiology perspective.


In the B.C. (before children) era of my life I was fascinated by seeing women all around the world wearing their babies. Vietnamese mums worked rice paddies with babies on their backs, Peruvian women walked steep streets wearing their children in traditional “manta” blankets, and in the national parks of New Zealand families trekked carting their kids in impressive purpose-built carriers. Then I had my own baby, and I quickly realised that what looked so easy could be a double-edged sword.

Babywearing comes with pros and cons, which are usually discussed in relation to the wonder of suddenly being able to do things two handed or settle a baby that prefers to be held upright, and the risks of incorrect hip positioning for baby (an ‘M’ shape where the knees are slightly higher than baby’s bum is best). But what about risks to mum’s body, when is she safe to give it a go, and how long should you wear the baby for?

The answers aren’t straightforward, but I recommend mums avoid babywearing for the first few weeks after a non-instrumental vaginal birth, or until after their six week check up for instrumental vaginal births and c-sections. Want to get started early? Don’t - get your partner who didn’t grow, birth or breastfeed the baby to do it!

Here are some general guidelines on babywearing from an exercise physiology perspective.

  1. Go to the toilet first. (That is not an exercise physiology consideration, but a lesson I have learnt and relearnt many times).

  2. If you are experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction like incontinence or prolapse with your own bodyweight, you need to get that sorted first (look for signs like leakiness on sneezing, not making it to the loo in time, or a heavy or dragging sensation in your vagina). This point is relevant to all mums, as pelvic floor changes in pregnancy are a huge factor in pelvic floor strength regardless of how you birth. If something is already not feeling quite right down there, any extra babywearing weight added to your upper body will increase downward pressure on your pelvic floor and worsen your symptoms. Carriers with straps across the tummy are going to be especially problematic as they’ll push pressure from your middle downward, like a belt strapped around a balloon.

  3. Check your posture. If you look like a kindergarten kid with a heavy backpack (shoulders hunched and head poking forward) your neck will get cranky very quickly. If your baby is on the front and your sticking your hip forward and arching back, your lower back is more likely to be cross instead (if you have abdominal separation this is also a posture that is likely to worsen it).

  4. Listen to your body! Your pelvic floor, neck or back will likely give you an indication they’ve had enough before your legs get tired, so take stock often. If you find your lochia (postpartum bleeding) comes back or worsens after babywearing, give it another week before trying again for a shorter amount of time. You may also find that your tolerance to babywearing builds up, then reduces again as your child gets heavier.

  5. You may need different carriers. You may need a range of different carriers for each parent, task or as your child grows. My husband and I have over a foot in height difference, and our proportions don’t work with the same carrier. Some babies love facing forwards, but it’s hard to chop vegies or type if they’re strapped to your front. I would usually recommend trying to find a babywearing library or group to try some out, but you know, COVID-19. Facebook marketplace is a godsend and will help you find a range of carriers for the cost of one brand new one, so collect a few and give them a wash before you start.

  6. If you’re using a ring-sling (one-shoulder carrier) remember to swap sides each time you use it. I know, it is super tempting to put baby on your non-dominant side every time and leave your good hand “free”, but your spine won’t appreciate being twisted and loaded the same way over and over again.


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