“Oh, I’ve a bad back. I couldn’t use a sling for long.”, “Is there a sling you could recommend for a bad back?” and “Is it not sore on your back?” are some of the most common things I hear when conversation turns to baby slings or at demos, fairs and markets.
Using a sling should never hurt. And it should fit perfectly. During Babywearing Consults or workshops, I observe my clients closely when trying slings. I look out for an “oh yes” or “wow” reaction. Not necessarily verbally. It needs to be visible in them softening, melting into their child, letting go off the need to hold baby, moving with ease and grace. A “grand”, “quite comfy” isn’t enough.
Many clients come to see me to learn a new carry and I always suggest a quick look at their usual carry first. In the majority of cases my clients are amazed at the change in comfort with just a few tweaks, when they would have classed their experience as “comfy” already. They’ve moved from “yeah, comfy” to “oh so comfy”. And here’s why.
During my second pregnancy I noticed something: I had no backache. Compared to my first pregnancy, this one was a physical walk in the park (until, of course, the last few weeks, when it was more a waddle in the park). I wondered how that was. This time there was a small toddler to look after as well as growing a baby, so I would’ve expected the opposite. It wasn’t until I trained as a Babywearing Consultant and accessed research in both English and German that I understood what had happened…
Lets start at the beginning and look at normal, natural walk: Our pelvis and shoulders rotate in opposite directions, muscles along the spine moving with ease, fascia gliding smoothly. Our arms swing, lessening the impact of walking on hard ground for our feet and knees. We walk upright, shoulders and pelvis aligned. With correct pelvic alignment the levator ani muscles are activated. This group of muscles in the pelvis work like a central switch board from which healthy muscle movement is transmitted down to the tip of your toes and up to the top of your head. Provied it is activated…
Compare that to walking while pushing a pram or buggy: shoulders are tight, slouched and fixed, often leaning forward. Your arms are immobile, so knees and feet take the full impact when walking on hard ground. This is one of the reasons why many SPD sufferers and post-section mums find using a buggy sore and sometimes even painful. Rotation is near impossible, as is pelvic alignment, leading to muscle tension.
Similarly, carrying baby in arms without support prevents pelvic – shoulder – spine alignment. This misalignment, resulting muscle tension and discomfort, are very often picked up on by the baby too.
On the other hand, a correctly fitted and adjusted ergonomic sling brings you back to normal, natural walking – while keeping your baby close. Correct wearing activates your core and pelvic floor muscles (men have them too!), thus strengthening them, stabilising and straightening your body. A well fitting and correctly used sling spreads your baby’s weight evently across your body, hugs them close to you and leaves you feeling hugged too, allowing your muscles to relax and you to stand up tall. It creates a space for your posture to be normal. And for babies, a relaxed body feels much safer than a tense one.
I distincly remember one Dad of a 4 week old during a Sling Consult mentioning:
“I did notice that I straightened up when I had the wrap on, as opposed to slumping like at the desk at work all day.”
And this photo shows my mum eating dinner with my first-born (a tiny 3 months old!) in a woven wrap – she NEVER sits this straight at the table!
For carrying in arms without an aid to be comfortable, the carer needs to be mindful of his or her own body at all times, gently correcting their posture. I don’t know many people who have that body awareness and even less who retain it through new baby tiredness and upheavel. So really, a sling takes a load off your mind too, because fitted and used correctly, it will do a lot of minding for you.
At the same time, women are usually at their most physically aware during pregnancy, mindful of every little movement inside their body, one with their growing baby. Starting to wear your baby soon after birth will draw on and benefit from that awareness.
To summarise: Using a correctly fitted ergonomic sling eases pressure on your body and mind. And it does even more! It reminds the wearer’s body of their own correct positioning. Wearer and baby move in unison and benefit each other. Much like the wearer’s movement initiates muscle movement in baby and lays down neurological pathways in baby’s brain, correct body posture in the wearer during sling use will (re)activate body awareness. My own observation comparing my posture when pushing a buggy with a baby in sling and without: I walk taller when pushing while using a sling than I do when I don’t wear another baby.
If that all sounds far fetched to you, how about this: Many parents who would’ve worn their little ones regularly and for long periods at a time, report that they need to watch their diet once the wearing decreases. They also notice that their core is less toned and they feel generally less fit… The proof is in the pudding, as they say!
Just like with shoes, a good fit in a sling or carrier is important for comfort and physical health. As a Babywearing Consultant, I have a responsibility not just towards your baby’s safety and comfort but your safety and comfort as a wearer too.
And only when babywearing is done correctly, is healthy and comfortable for you as the wearer, can your wearee benefit fully from being snuggled up in a sling. Only then can you both experience the joy, ease and comfort of using a baby sling or carrier.
How has babywearing helped your back and posture?
K. Akpeter-Weiß: Tragen mit Beckenboden und ohne Rückenschmerzen. In: Dresdner TrageTage, Tagungsband, 2. – 4. Juni 2011.
B. Kienzle-Müller: Von der Therapie auf dem Pferd lernen! Kann Tragen als Therapie ähnlich wirksam sein wie Hippotherapie? In: Dresdner TrageTage, Tagungsband, 19. – 21. Juni 2014.