8 Tips I Learned From Carrying My Baby
One of the unexpected physical woes of first-time motherhood for me was dealing with the aches and pains associated with carrying my baby. To be sure, I had carried many other babies in my life up until that point. But this was the first time that I was carrying around my own child. Sometimes she would soothe if I held her facing out, sometimes facing in, sometimes in the crook of my arm, and sometimes up on my shoulder in a burping position. After a long delivery and pushing phase, I really felt the impact of any one of these positions after a short while.
Posture and Carrying a Baby
As a physical therapist, I know that there is not technically a “bad posture.” The problem with posture is when we get stuck in one habitually and cannot comfortably move in and out of it as needed. For example, to look down at a book, I will let my head come forward and tuck my chin towards my chest. Seems logical, right? But if I walked down the street with my head forward and my chin down because of tight and/or weak muscles in my neck and upper back, then I would look like I had some pretty rotten posture. It is similar with carrying a baby. Don’t get stuck in any one position for too long!
Many of us will have a “magic hip” that just feels way more natural and comfortable to pop out to the side to rest a small child on. That is fine! But when your body starts adapting to that one magic hip sliding out to the side all of the time, then you may end up with back pain, pelvic girdle pain, or other lower extremity pain. Pregnant and postpartum women are already predisposed to these pains, simply due to the changes that must occur in the body to accommodate a growing baby in utero and labor/delivery. So variation is key to avoid making this worse!
Here are my top 8 tips that I have learned from carrying my baby.
1. Alternate sides:
While it may feel awkward to get used to, your body is made to be able to use both the left and right sides! You may have a dominant side for fine motor tasks, but I promise that, with practice, you can figure out how to hold your baby in your dominant arm and use your non-dominant arm for simple tasks like picking things up and making a quick meal.
Variety of Positions
2. Cradle Hold
This is great for a baby with limited head control or one that likes rocking to be soothed. With the cradle hold, you will keep the baby in the crook of your arm and support his/her weight with your other hand, as needed. This is a position that can get very tiring, because it is relying on your elbow flexors for most of the stability. But with young babies that don’t weigh very much, this is a solid hold in your repertoire.
3. Burping Hold
This is a good position for a sleepy baby or one that still needs neck and head support. In this hold, you are supporting your babies upper back and head, as needed, with the arm on the same side as the baby. Your opposite arm can be used for additional support for the baby’s weight, mainly at the hips, or to keep legs tucked. As advertised, you can use this position for burping a baby, even with little head control, by leaning back to get the baby to rest his/her head on your shoulder. This hold is quite tiring and impractical for bigger babies (and older, squirmy babies!).
4. Monkey Hold
This is a fun position for your baby to explore and see more of his/her environment; it does require more head and neck control of the baby. The monkey hold (this is the name I heard it called from a friend) was one of my favorites for carrying my baby. In this hold, you have the baby facing forward and sitting on one of your arms, while the other hand can be used to stabilize your baby’s torso or to keep the legs in a good position. This position is not appropriate for very young babies that may slump over from fatigue of holding their head up or for babies that are maybe 3-4 months old and are beginning to kick and extend their legs a lot (they may accidentally pop out of your hands).
5. Straddle Hold
This is a good hold for an older baby that wants to use his/her hands; it requires that your baby has more developed hip sockets and can comfortably externally rotate. The straddle hold is a very common hold that people tend to naturally carry their babies in. Often times, this is the pose where the “magic hip” will pop out to the side to allow the baby to rest on the crest of the pelvic bone for added stability. Be cautious that you do not always hold your baby on the same side, because it is a common source of lumbopelvic pain, if you carry your baby often to the same side. This position is not appropriate for young babies that rarely bear weight through their legs, because it will likely cause discomfort at their hips.
***If your baby does not feel stable in any of these holds or if he/she is acting like they are uncomfortable, take them out of the position and try again later when they are more developmentally advanced. If difficulty persists, speak with his/her doctor to assess their musculoskeletal development.***
6. Using a Wrap
Wraps are for more flexible “baby wearing” and come in many forms. They are useful for being able to vary positions and for being safe and comfortable with smaller babies. Wraps can be difficult to learn to use and often require practice before carrying your baby. They are advantageous, because it is easy to pack the fabric up in a small space, like a diaper bag. So they can go anywhere with you. A common wrap on the market is the Moby wrap.
7. Using a Sling
Slings are a very fast way to get your baby in and out of a baby wearing device. They are more limited in the number of positions that your baby can be in, but they are usually very comfortable. Ring slings are portable like wraps are, but are usually not as much fabric as a wrap. So they should easily fit in your diaper bag. When using a ring sling, most of the weight is on the shoulder on the ring-side. So they can be tiring for longer carries with baby. One of my favorite companies that makes beautiful slings is the Wildbird Sling.
8. Using a Backpack
Backpacks are more rigid or structured ways of carrying your baby. They sometimes require an extra set of hands to safely get your baby in and out of the pack. Packs come in a huge variety of levels of support and portability. Some are designed for treks outside and equipped with rain and sun covers. Others like the Lille Baby carriers are more low-key and versatile.
***Baby wearing must always be done in a safe manner, following the guidelines of the manufacturer.***
I hope this brief summary of tips helps you decide some of the more comfortable and developmentally appropriate ways that you can carry your baby, besides just popping one hip to the side. Remember, variety is key!