Is Babywearing Bad for Your Back?
Have you ever wondered if babywearing could be bad for your back? Maybe a concerned family member or friend has warned you against using slings/carriers because they’re worried about the effect it may have on your body?
It’s an understandable concern, especially for those living in a primarily sedentary culture like we are here in the UK. Our postures tend to suffer from how we live and move (or the lack of movement in our lives), so to be aware of how our bodies react to the normal practice of baby carrying is a good thing!
The good news is, babywearing and carrying isn’t inherently bad for your body. If it were, our babies would be able to walk from birth. The fact is that we are primates and we are designed to carry our young. As human primates, we don’t have an abundance of bodily hair like other primates such as apes and monkeys do, so our bodies are designed to carry in a different way. Instead of our babies clinging onto fur, they cling onto our bodies with the assistance of either our arms or a baby sling/carrier.
Unfortunately our bodies have ended up adapting to the invention of the pram, as well as many other ways of being that contribute to poor posture. There are obviously many benefits for caregivers for using prams (including personal space, carrying heavy bags etc.), but the fact we as a society have moved away from what our bodies were designed to do (carry babies), has meant that prams have helped to contribute to poor posture.
If you take a look at people pushing prams, you’ll often see they are slouched over, handle bar too low for their height, pushing a weight that is far from their centre of gravity. This can make pre-existing postural problems worse, and introduce problems to a good posture. If you use a pram, making sure the handle bar can be set to the right height for your height will help your body out.
While babywearing-specific research is still in its infancy, there is a good amount of research about how various load-bearing activities may impact on the body. Research into backpacks and how wearing them can affect the body is of the greatest interest here, as wearing a backpack is the closest example we have with wearing a baby.
It’s been shown that having more of the weight lower down the body is better for comfort, stability and flexion. This makes so much sense when you think about how the primary caregiver usually has a body genetically designed to have wider hips, meaning babies and children naturally sit around the waist/hip area. In fact, it’s been shown that the lumbar part of the spine (lower back) has resilience to increased loads placed upon it, meaning that the lower spine is more readily able to adapt to heavier weights without sustaining injury.
Of course, too much of anything can have negative effects on our bodies, so the key is to pay attention to what our body is telling us over any “rules”, warnings or advice we’re given. Work out what’s best for you and your body, and identify if you have any current problems that may be making a certain way of wearing more comfortable for where your body has transitioned to. Always consult a medical professional if you have any concerns.
On top of this, paying attention to any postural problems you may have will help you in adjusting your carrying to make it more comfortable if you’re experiencing discomfort with adequately tightened carries. Front carries with a slumped-forward posture will no doubt make your posture worse if you’re not correcting it as you go along. Those experiencing this postural problem may find that back carrying helps to “straighten out” their posture, and those with a “sway back” problem may find front carrying is more beneficial for their body.
I’ve mentioned how baby carrying is completely normal for us as a species. The thing is, in England at least, we’re so out of the loop of what “normal” carrying means that it’s become something that we need to relearn. One thing you can do is look at how you carry in-arms and mimic that when you use a sling/carrier. Also, paying attention to cultures who haven’t given up baby carrying as a norm, and study how and why they carry can give you a fantastic insight into what positions may work best for certain situations and why. Also, doing research into your ancestry is a brilliant way of tracing back the roots of your family’s babywearing culture!
If you’re a carer or babywearing educator interested in learning more about how the wearer’s physiology impacts the carrying journey, take a look at the Carried Consultancy Course and/or email me for more information.
Some research/further reading links:
The Effects of EMG activation of Neck, Lumbar and Low Limb by Using Baby Carrier with Arms during Walking – http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/ArticleFullRecord.jsp?cn=DGMHBK_2010_v5n3_323
The effects of body posture by using Baby Carrier in different ways – http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/ArticleFullRecord.jsp?cn=DGMHBK_2013_v8n2_193
Increase of load-carrying capacity under follower load generated by trunk muscles in lumbar spine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17539579
Soldier load carriage: historical, physiological, biomechanical, and medical aspects – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14964502