By Dr. Matt Rushford
A lot of parents have been asking me lately for my recommendations regarding baby carriers and other apparatuses for small children. Pediatric chiropractic has some very specific suggestions when it comes to these questions.
The way in which a child is held or carried and the various gadgets we use to hold them, transport them and entertain them have a very real impact on the child’s spine, and therefore, the child’s health. If the device causes stress or malpositioning of the spine, it can disrupt the transmission of neural impulses between the brain and the body. This disrupts normal development and function.
Rushford Chiropractic endorses the following recommendations:
- We strongly advocate “baby wearing” or carrying the baby, for as long and as often as possible. This is increasingly important the younger the child is. Studies show that newborns require massive amounts of tactile (touch) sensory input in order to grow their brains. In fact, the ideal contact is skin-on-skin. This is a wonderful experience for both the parent and the child.
- When it comes to baby carriers, we recommend four main products:
- Your arms
- The sling
- The Wrap
- The Ergo
Each of these “products” has its up and down sides. In-arms, it is hard to get stuff done. Some babies just don’t like the sling (though for some it is the only thing they’ll settle in). The ergo is better for older babies, and the wrap is sometimes too complicated. The best thing to do is try them out with your child and see which they like best.
What they all have in common is that they:
-provide a broad base of support for the baby
-allow baby to move around somewhat and adjust her position
-do not force the child into an upright or “stacked” position
- There are, thus, other products we strongly discourage parents from using:
- Baby Bjorn
- Baby bouncers
- Any other carrier or device that “stacks” the spine of a child that is under the age of one year or is not walking unassisted
These devices can be damaging to the child’s spine if used on children who are not able to fully support their own weight (precisely the demographic for which the products are designed, unfortunately). In our practice, I have been seen direct links between use of these devices and substantial spinal stress, misalignment, and in many cases, systemic physiological disorders such as acid reflux, colic, and gastrointestinal distress. In some cases, merely ceasing the use of the device is all that is required to correct the digestive disorder or chronic spinal stress.
Now, there is no doubt that children love these devices. That is because, developmentally, we acquire the desire to perform a certain physical task well before we acquire the ability. This is what drives the trial and error process of developing that capacity. These devices bypass that “work” phase and offer the child immediate gratification. That’s why they love it so much.
Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for cutting developmental corners. In this case, we feel that the physical, neurological, and developmental risks do not outweigh the emotional benefit of the product.
In general, a good rule of thumb is this:
Let your child’s body be your guide.
This means, don’t place the child in a device that places them in a position they cannot assume on their own, and in particular avoid stacking the spine and any device whose base of support is narrow or small, as this focuses the force onto a small part of the child’s pelvis.
Additonal cautions regarding baby backpacks: even though most new backpacks offer broadened base of support, all still stack the spine, so restrict usage to any child who is not walking yet. Also, since the child is behind you, you cannot monitor them as well. The motion of walking tends to put babies to sleep. If your child falls asleep in a backpack and does not have his head supported, it can bobble and flail around as you move. A child’s head is significantly larger and heavier than an adult’s, percentage-wise, and a child’s neck muscles are not only not fully developed, but, in a state of sleep, are fully relaxed. This can cause a whiplash effect on the cervical spine of the child.
If you use a baby pack, choose one with high sides, back and front, so if the child falls asleep it will be supported. It is also a good idea to travel with a friend who can keep an eye on the child, or bring a mirror that you can use to check up on junior.
Hopefully these tips will help you choose and use the best child carrier for your and your child’s health!