By Rynette Tan, Babywearing Consultant & Louise Yow, Principal Physiotherapist at Phoenix Rehab
The large majority of caregivers tend to carry babies on their front using a soft structured carrier, or full buckled carrier. In this position, the carrier’s straps sit on the caregiver’s shoulders, in rucksack style. With the baby’s weight on the wearer’s front, the caregiver’s shoulders tend to be pulled forward. For many caregivers who are not mindful of this forward pull and do not or are unable to extend back, pain can result at the top of the shoulder/neck area as well as at the front of the shoulder area. In some cases, poor posture can also result in headaches or pain at the shoulder blades.
If the child is carried on the back, a caregiver might overcompensate by bending forward slightly to counter the weight of the child. That puts a lot of stress on the neck and back as we are not built to walk around in a posture that has us hunching forward.
It is also possible to strain the shoulder/neck or arm when reaching back to buckle the carrier or while tying the wrap to do a back carry. Specifically, childbirth may have an impact on a mother’s flexibility. At times, reaching beyond one’s usual range of movement may result in strained or pulled muscles.
Lower back pain is another common issue faced. This can occur when the waistband is worn too low, causing the parent to extend the back to counter the baby’s weight. Over time, the back muscles are overworked and result in aches and pains.
If the child has outgrown the carrier, the fit of the carrier may not be ideal and can stress the joints/back of the person carrying the child in the carrier. In some cases, the child may not be properly supported and may be leaning to one side. This can result in overcompensation towards one side on the wearer’s end.
If the babywearer has a weak core muscles, he/she would naturally extend the back and hips more to compensate and can cause muscle imbalances to the back and hip muscles. To illustrate our point, try this exercise. Standing relaxed, be aware what your posture is like in this standing position. Now, gently tighten your stomach muscles by imagining your pants are tight and you are trying to pull the zip up. Do you notice when you tighten your muscles, your posture changes immediately? Your center of gravity shifts and you don’t seem to sway forward so much. That's what happens when you strengthen your core muscles and your spine has more muscles supporting it.
Hip pain is also possible with poorly fitted carriers. An ergonomic carrier, worn correctly is designed to allow the weight of the child to be spread equally along the caregiver’s axial skeleton - across the collarbone, along the spine and across the pelvic/hip region. Improper fitting of the carrier could result in uneven weight distribution which will stress the hip more than necessary.
Worn too low, the waistband of the carrier could also potentially block the movement of the hip when walking and this over time can cause strain in the hip muscles
Lastly, wrist pain could also result due to improper techniques used during adjustment of the carrier – caregivers could strain their wrists while using a woven wrap on a heavy baby or while trying to adjust the carrier by pulling the straps at a wrong angle.
Numbness in hand
Sometimes with a ring sling or wrap with a slipknot, the ring or the knot could end up being tied near the chest/armpit region. That is a hotspot with many nerves there. The compression on that area by the ring sling or the knot may compress on the nerves. This will result in pain, numbness and tingling down the arm.
With babywearing, all these can be prevented or minimised with a proper fitting of the carrier and choosing the right carrier that fits your size, and budget.
How can we resolve this?
Doing core muscle exercises can help to train up your body for babywearing. Additionally, when choosing a baby carrier, it is essential that you ensure a good fit to your body. We recommend making an appointment with a certified babywearing consultant who can help to assist you in selecting a carrier that is right for your body type, lifestyle and budget!
Depending on your condition and affected area, we may recommend some exercises to help strengthen muscles in the problem area. We may also recommend that you seek help to adjust your carriers with a certified babywearing consultant, or changing your carrier to one that offers a better fit and minimises discomfort.