Baby carriers are a blessing for busy parents. They let you have your baby safe and snug next to your body while your hands are free to get on with what it is that you have to do.
Problem is, carrying your baby in a baby carrier for hours and hours can also bring about some back and shoulder pain. Babywearing can be a life-saver but it is important to be aware of good baby-wearing practices to avoid doing things that may be damaging your back.
Types of baby carriers – and how they affect your back
This is the most basic type of baby carrier. It is simply a long stretch of fabric that a wound around you and your baby. With a wrap, you can carry your baby in the front, on your back or one of your hips.
Most wraps come with instructions. If you follow the instructions closely you will find that it’s quite easy to tie and use a wrap. On top of that, it’s also fairly easy on the shoulders and back since the baby always stays close to your body and the weight is evenly distributed.
A sling is also a single piece of fabric but they have two rings at the one end the other end of the fabric is threaded through. To tighten the fabric around your baby, simply pull the end of the fabric through the rings. Slings are easy to wear and to adjust. The sling goes over one shoulder and you carry your baby on the opposite hip.
There is a problem with this type of carrier, though. Since the weight goes over one shoulder, this design can easily result in shoulder, neck or back pain, especially if you carry your baby for a long time.
The Mei Tai consists of a square of fabric with wide straps attached to the four corners (shoulders and hips). Two straps go over the wearer’s shoulders and two go around the waist.
The square forms a pouch for the baby when the straps are tied. This design allows the wearer to adjust all four straps to ensure that the weight of the baby is distributed evenly. Like a wrap style carrier, the Mei Tai helps to prevent backache and shoulder pain.
Soft-structured carriers are exactly what the name says: a structured little seat constructed out of soft materials, foam and straps with buckles. It is not unlike a Mei Tai but with straps attached to the four corners of the seat. Soft-structured carriers use buckles or clips for fastening; similar to a backpack.
You can fasten the straps around the waist to keep your baby’s weight on your hips instead of your back or shoulders. This helps a lot! It means that your hips, rather than your back, carry the weight of your child. The shoulder straps are usually padded which adds to the comfort of this type of baby carrier.
Baby backpacks are backpacks designed to carry a child in. Like a regular backpack, it consists of a supportive steel or plastic frame with shoulder and waist straps. Baby backpacks are great for longer excursions, but they can also be hard on your back and shoulders.
These products are heavy and they are used to carry older children, so you can end up with quite a considerable weight on your back. If the child leans forward or backward in the backpack, it can put extra strain on you back.
Again, if you use the hip straps correctly, your hips will take most of the strain, resulting in some relief for your spine.
For more information on the different types of baby carrier, check out our detailed guide!
Tips on Saving Your Back When Using a Baby Carrier
If you use your baby carrier correctly it shouldn’t hurt your back or shoulders. Some parents even report that baby-wearing helps them to walk with a better posture. The reason is that the added weight reminds you to keep a good posture and forces you to keep a tight core the entire time.
Here are some tips to make baby-wearing a positive experience for you.
1. Take Your Time Choosing a Baby Carrier
Parents and their babies come in different sizes and temperaments. What works for your wife or friend might not work for you and your baby. You might also have a preconceived idea of what will work for you and then find out that it’s not the case.
If you can get your hands on one or more different types of baby carriers, borrow different carriers them from your family or friends and try them out to find out what is most comfortable for you.
2. Learn the Cross-Over Tie
Wraps come with instructions that usually include a cross-over tie on the wearer’s back. This cross at the back which you can do with a wrap and a Mei Tai, ensures that the baby’s weight is distributed evenly. It is also a very secure way to wear your baby.
If you wear your baby in a soft-structured baby carrier, do the cross-over tie on your back when you wear your baby in the front.
Slings don’t allow for this as they simply go over one shoulder.
3. Follow the Instructions Carefully
All baby carriers come with instructions. Following them carefully every time your carry your baby will ensure that your baby’s weight is distributed evenly and that the straps don’t hurt you.
4. Tighten the Straps
Usually, once you have your baby in his sling, there is an excess of fabric in the front. Make sure to pull the long end of the fabric through the rings to take up this slack. If your baby is not closely tied to your body and hangs out of the carrier you are in for shoulder or back pain; or both.
This also goes for the Mei Tai and the soft-constructed baby carriers. Make sure you have your child tied close to your body.
5. Equal Weight Distribution
Whichever carrier you choose, make sure that it distributes the baby’s weight equally on both shoulders. A carrier with broad, padded shoulder straps as well as adjustable hip straps will be the best for your back.
6. Position Your Child at the Right Height
Not only should you carry your child as close to your body as possible, you should also carry your child as high up as possible.
If you carry your baby in the front and carry it low, your shoulders will be pulled forward which will strain your back and shoulders. If you carry your baby too low on your back, it can cause your back to arc backward.
Parents and health practitioners agree that after a certain age, it’s no longer healthy or safe for a baby to be carried in the front. As a rule, it is better for your back to carry a child on your back rather than the front, especially as they get older and heavier.
7. Get Active
If you find it’s straining to wear your baby around for a while, don’t give up! Take it slowly but use it as an opportunity to get back into shape.
Increase the time in the carrier gradually in order not to overload your body. Believe me, it gets easier and a lot more fun!
8. Back to Basics
When it comes to back pain, many times it has to do with incorrect posture. Anyone who has a bad posture may end up with backache, especially with the added weight of babywearing.
So, make sure that you keep good posture when babywearing. When you slouch, your neck muscles strain to keep your head looking forward. That can lead to neck pain and backache when you frequently carry a child.
9. Consult a Baby Carrier Professional
Yes, there are such professional around. If you live in an area where there is one, you can consider using their services. Such a person can give you advice on things such as:
- different ways to use a range of slings and baby carriers;
- the benefits and potential disadvantages of different types of baby carriers;
- how slings should be worn for safety;
- how the incorrect use of baby carriers can affect your health and wellbeing and that of your baby and
- the best way to use your chosen baby carrier.
If you use your baby carrier gradually and correctly you don’t have to worry about backache from using it. Start gradually and don’t overdo it. If you feel like something feels wrong try to assess the issue with the tips from this article and try again.
As a general rule, a baby carrier that ties in a cross over your back and keeps your child close to your body will distribute your baby’s weight evenly, which will reduce your chances of getting a sore back.
If the baby carrier also has wide padded shoulder straps, it will add to your comfort. To further reduce strain on your back, tie the straps around your waist in such a way that your hips, and not your back, carry most of the weight.