Could Babywearing Be Hindering Your Postpartum Recovery

Babywearing has made serious inroads in American mommy culture. Even ten years ago, it was hard to find examples of moms wearing their babies outside of particular sorts of music festivals and LLL meetings, but now, many women have embraced the practice of babywearing, especially for their second or third baby, when they need to chase after a toddler or preschooler as well.

Babywearing can be great for both moms and for babies. For colicky babies, it provides them with the upright posture and comforting warmth that tends to help them feel well, and for babies that have higher cuddle and comfort needs, it gets moms off the couch and able to feel like they can be part of the rest of the world while their baby is still snuggled close.  The picture above is of me wearing my first baby, Torin, when he was just a few months old.  He was one of those babies with high cuddle needs, so I found myself wearing him quite often.

As great as baby wearing can be, it tends to be one of those things that most of us moms sort of have to figure out on our own because no one really tells us how to do it properly.  Just one of the many things to add to the list of “things they didn’t tell me” when you leave the hospital/birthing center, etc.  There are some pointers to keep in mind when wearing your baby so that you don’t set yourself back in terms of healing your core and pelvic floor after birth.  Wearing your baby correctly is incredibly important, but let me also say that it’s something that I don’t want you to be stressing out about either.  Just a friendly reminder from me to you so that you can have the most favorable postpartum recovery possible.  So with that said, let’s go a little deeper and talk about why proper babywearing is important.

Buckle carriers or woven ones?

First off, let’s talk about the type of Buckle carriers, like the Ergo, that have become increasingly popular because of their pretty patterns, and how much easier they seem to be to manage than a six yard length of fabric. But it’s important that we know the difference between easy and simple. While buckle carriers look simple, each one has different instructions on how to make them fit properly, and how to adjust them to make sure the baby is in the proper position, for both their health and yours.

And while buckle carriers may seem easier to use from day one, woven wraps may be a bit easier to use because of their versatility, especially if you need to sit and shop online (because we both know how challenging it can be to get out of the house and to the store sometimes :)). With woven wraps, you don’t have to worry about torso length or strap adjustment, and if your baby is settled too low on your body, fixing it is often easier.  Some carriers can increase the chances of you slipping into poor posture more easily than others.  I say try both and see which one works best for you and allows you to feel more supported and be in proper alignment more easily.

The importance of your alignment while babywearing

Pregnancy can cause Diastasis Recti (abdominal muscle separation) and trauma to the pelvic floor muscles leading to possible complications like incontinence, prolapse, and pelvic, hip, or back pain. Also other factors like improper exercise, poor postural alignment, poor movement mechanics, inadequate nutrition, and baby wearing can also impede the healing process for your core and pelvic floor musculature and tissues during the postnatal period.

If you have never heard of it before, sway back posture aka as “mommy posture” is a very typical posture that moms’ bodies take on in order to compensate for the weight of carrying their little ones out in front of them either in their arms or in a wrap or carrier.  “Mommy posture” typically involves swaying the hips and stomach forward, moving the rib cage back, and dropping your chest and head down.  So many of us moms get stuck in this position and aren’t even aware that we are doing it because it just “seems” like the natural thing to do!  Wearing your baby for long amounts of time while in “mommy posture” can weaken the core muscles even further instead of healing them.

Why?  Because there are four major muscles (transverse abs, diaphragm, multifidus, pelvic floor) within the abdomen that act as a canister to help pressurize the abdomen and stabilize the spine and pelvis.  That pressure needs to be managed well and evenly distributed throughout your abdomen or else unfavorable things like pain, incontinence, or prolapse can occur.  One of the ways to ensure that this pressure is well managed is to get yourself set up in optimal alignment.  In other words…get yourself in a standing position where all of the major joints of your body stack on top of one another in one neat imaginary line down the middle of your body.  This allows for the canister muscles to be lined up correctly with the diaphragm on top and the pelvic floor muscles on the bottom of the canister (think rib cage resting nicely over the pelvis). Your diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles create a piston effect as they move up and down with the breath, and this in turn helps to regulate pressure within the abdomen.

As you may have surmised by now, mommy posture (whether you are wearing your baby or not) doesn’t allow for your core canister to be lined up nicely. It creates somewhat of a domino effect where your canister muscles get shortened or lengthened too much. The result is that you can’t contract properly to help regulate the intra-abdominal pressure.  Therefore a “pinching” effect within the abdomen occurs (imagine squeezing a balloon in your hands) and that pressure gets pushed forward against the abdominal wall causing even more of a separation between the abs. This may set you back on your healing process.  Something else that happens as a result of swayback posture is that since the core muscles aren’t set up in an optimal position to help stabilize your spine and pelvis, your neck, shoulders, and lower back then bear more of the load of carrying your baby–which can also lead to pain in the upper and lower back, as well as in the hips.

One other thing to mention is that it’s not just mommy posture that can cause muscle imbalances and pain. ANY poor alignment positioning can cause muscle imbalances and pain.  When our babies are small, we tend to wear them in front, which can exacerbate the Sway Back posture.  On the flip side, as our babies grow bigger, we may decide to switch things up and carry them on our back. This, as you might have guessed, can also cause us to set up in another unfavorable posture known as “Flat Back” posture.

The signs of a Flat Back” posture includes rounded shoulders, flat back or loss of neutral spine, and the tailbone tucked under.  This deviation away from neutral alignment also gets our core canister muscles out of alignment and creates an increase in pressure. That pressure has to go some where, so it tries to escape by either pressing up or forward onto the abdominal wall abdominal or (again) down onto the pelvic floor.  The Flat Back posture can also place too much pressure on the discs of the lumbar spine, thus causing lower back pain and inhibiting your glutes from working properly (the action of tucking the tailbone under causes the glutes to be in constant tension).

 

alignment comparision

 

It’s important to realize that wearing your baby with poor posture for long periods of time can undo any sort of restoration work you have been doing for your core and pelvic floor post-birth.   As well, even if your wrap or carrier is fitted well that doesn’t automatically mean that you will wear your baby in good alignment.  Remember, YOU have to take responsibility for it and check in with yourself periodically while you are wearing your baby to make sure that you are in good alignment.  To review what we just previously covered:

  1. Holding yourself in bad alignment will cause your core canister to essentially be out of alignment as well.
  2. When these muscles aren’t in the right position, the pressure within your abdomen gets increased and it has to go somewhere–out against the abdominal wall or down onto the pelvic floor muscles.
  3. Stretching your abdominal muscles even more can only worsen Diastasis Recti and putting too much pressure on the pelvic floor muscles can lead to incontinence and/or varying degrees of prolapse.

Let’s Do Babywearing Better

So by now you may be wondering: “okay…great…well how do I fix this?”  Well, let’s talk about some ways to make baby wearing more core friendly and pelvic floor friendly.

First off though, if its too hard for you to maintain a nice strong and neutral posture when wearing your baby for any amount of time…then your core is just not ready yet to handle to “rigors” of long periods of baby wearing.  Believe me, I know how important it is to soothe and bond with your baby, but you MUST take into consideration your needs as a new mother as well.  Respect what your body is trying to tell you and work on restoring your core and pelvic floor a bit more so that you can build up strength within this area.  Once you feel like you are strong enough in your core and pelvic floor, then start out carrying your baby for small amounts of time. And remember to give yourself some rest.  If you can’t hold a nice neutral alignment because of the type of carrier you have, then seek out advice on how to improve the set-up of your carrier or wrap, or try a different type of carrier that is more well-suited for your body size.

Now for some baby wearing pointers:

  1.  Before you purchase a wrap or carrier, try as many brands out as you can to find which one works for you.  If possible try it on with a real baby.
  2. Not all wraps and carriers are going to continue to work for you as your baby grows, so consider changing carriers that support you and your baby as he/she grows.  As your baby grows older also consider switching to wearing your baby on your back because there is less of a tendency for you to take on a sway back posture with your baby on your back.  However, just be mindful that you aren’t flattening your lower back and tucking your tailbone under when wearing your little one on your back.
  3. Take a look at yourself in the mirror when you are carrying your baby to make sure that you are in nice alignment. Remember…no slouching through the shoulders. Keep them SLIGHTLY down and back, rib cage stacked nicely over your hips, maintain a nice neutral spine/no excessive arching or flattening of the lower back, and don’t tuck the tailbone under.
  4. Avoid standing with all of your weight on one leg or one hip hiked up.  This too throws off your alignment, so keep your hips level and weight distributed evenly between both feet.
  5. Baby should be close enough so that you can easily dip your head forward and kiss his/her head.  Having your baby within kissing range helps to keep the shoulder straps of the carrier tighter and baby up higher so there is less of a chance to slouch forward.
  6. If you are healing a Diastasis Recti after birth, then I highly suggest being very conservative with the amount of time that you wear your baby.

Lastly…Leave your ego at home

Like so many things in the postpartum phase of pregnancy, wrapping can seem like the be-all-end-all of motherhood. So many opinions get given to us as facts, how babies that are worn have healthier hips and better bonding and better digestion and everything else. Sometimes we forget that the vast majority of us were raised on formula or carried in strollers, and still grew up with the ability to attach properly to other people. Babies are much more resilient than we give them credit for.

With my kids, I had one that absolutely had to be worn at all times because he was a baby with higher comfort needs. I had another one that absolutely hated to be worn and would push himself away from me and scream and be miserable when I tried to wear him.  Now with my third, she also doesn’t exactly enjoy being worn either, so I don’t fight it.  She is absolutely fine with sitting in her stroller, and my lower back greatly appreciates it!

Don’t let anything, including babywearing, become your one key barometer for successful motherhood. If you’re hurting yourself by doing it then maybe it is time to consider another alternative.

Did you babywear? Do you feel like it improved or hurt your postpartum recovery? Let me know!

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