There are lots of things to know before you start using a baby carrier. That’s why new parents often have a lot of questions about babywearing, such as when can you start babywearing a newborn and is babywearing safe for a newborn?
You can begin babywearing the day your baby is born, so long as she’s healthy and at least 7 pounds. As for safety, statistically, wearing your baby in a soft carrier on your front, back or hip is much safer than having her on the floor or in any other baby device. As your newborn grows into an infant and then into toddlerhood, how you wear your baby, as well as the safety considerations while using a baby carrier, change considerably.
How can I safely wear my baby?
During the first four months of life, a human baby is especially vulnerable to death and injury due to her immature systems and inability to defend herself. Leaving a baby separated from the caregiver only magnifies these vulnerabilities. However, keeping her close in a quality, safe carrier and therefore under direct supervision, is truly the best way to protect her and ensure that she flourishes. Babywearing also counts as tummy time and the need to leave your baby on the floor to strengthen her muscles becomes unnecessary.
In a newborn carrier, the safety focus of a newborn is on her airway and therefore positioning. Ideal positioning is high on the caregiver, sitting upright, facing the caregiver with the baby’s face clearly visible to the wearer. Essentially, the baby’s position in the carrier should mimic the baby’s position if she were simply in your arms. A slumping baby could have her chin on her chest, and snoring or squeaking could mean that her airway is in distress. When the baby is upright with her face visible, you know her airway is open and she is supported well by a well-fitted carrier.
A newborn will naturally draw her legs up to her chest and spread her knees so she fits onto the caregiver quite nicely. This is a natural position that supports natural growth and maximizes potential physical development. Achieving and properly supporting this position while babywearing a newborn in an Ergobaby requires an Infant Insert unless you have an Omni 360 or Embrace baby carrier. But the peace of mind parents have when they see that sleeping baby’s face is well worth the investment.
As the newborn grows into an infant and gains core muscle strength and head control, the carrier will begin to fit your baby well without an insert. She will also begin to stretch out and want to be in more of a spread-squat position rather than having her knees drawn up and spread. Once her knees can reach the edges of the carrier comfortably and her eyes can peek over the top of the carrier without sitting on the insert pillow, you can start to consider trying a back carry.
Achieving a safe back carry consistently takes practice, just like everything else you have done with her up to this point. Consider using a doll or other stuffed toy and only try with your baby after studying instructions carefully. Other suggestions include using a spotter and kneeling on the floor or in the middle of your bed. Using a mirror is a good idea as well. Additionally, make sure that the body of the carrier is fully covering your baby before you straighten and stand. Once you’ve mastered back carries at home and feel ready to do them when you are out and about, a car window is a great tool to quickly check that she is in and secure.
Other Safety Tips for Babywearing Infants and Toddlers
At this point, babywearing has become such a part of how you go about your day that it is second nature both at home and away from home. But one day you suddenly realize that now your baby is a toddler with wants and needs all her own. She also has the curiosity and coordination to pick and kick things off of shelves and such.
Be wary of these little shoplifters, but remember that your precious little one is also still much safer in that carrier on your back than she is in the shopping cart or running around freely. Remember as you go through doors that you take up more space with the baby safely on your back to prevent accidental head bonks. It is important that you are environment-aware, even going so far as to not cut the onion for the sauce we are serving for dinner while the baby is on your front or back. Also, as a general rule, if you wouldn’t do a particular activity with your baby in your arms, it is likely not a good idea to do it while wearing your baby. As always, good judgment is the best tool at your disposal.
Babywearing is one parenting tool that becomes indispensable nearly immediately. Knowing how to do it safely and knowing that you are supporting your baby’s normal, natural development and maximizing her potential, all while keeping her safe and secure, should be both encouraging and comforting benefits of babywearing to new and seasoned parents.
Baby Carrier Industry Alliance. Babywearing Position Paper. Web. 20, Sept 2012.
Heidi Donnelly is a Master Babywearing Educator (MBE) for Babywearing International (BWI), a babywearing advocacy organization dedicated to education and support. She also serves BWI as a member of the Board of Directors. Over the last nine years she has been involved in a number of babywearing groups throughout the North West, most recently in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area where she is working to form BWI of the Inland NW. She lives in N. Idaho with her husband and their four children.