When it comes to babywearing, it’s important to remember that many changes occur during the first year of life, both physically and psychologically. Because of this, there is much to consider when it comes to choosing and using a carrier for all of baby’s developmental stages. Below is a diagram of the natural babywearing progression throughout baby’s first year of life.
Understanding how the spine develops from the newborn stage into toddlerhood will give you an understanding of the importance of proper support with a carrier. A baby is born into the world with its spine in a state of total kyphosis, a term describing the rounded “C” shaped curvature. This is because the back muscles which help straighten the spine lack the strength to straighten it into the “S” shape adults have, as this is something that happens over time in stages.
A Breakdown of the Stages
The amount of support needed will be based on the age of your baby. Below is a breakdown of the first four stages in babywearing.
- First Stage: 0-3 months—Babies require the most support until they can hold their head up steadily. Their spine is in a state of total kyphosis and needs a carrier that will hold them firmly while offering support for their natural spine curvature. Muscles are still undeveloped along the spine, therefore a carrier with ideal support is needed so baby does not slouch while being worn. Ideal carriers for this stage are wraps and ring slings, since the wearer can customize it to fit baby’s unique size. Structured carriers, though much more convenient and efficient, are not a one-size-fits-all for many wearers; they are typically recommended for when baby can sit unassisted and back muscles are more developed. Baby should be always worn on the front and facing in during this stage.
- Second Stage: 3-6 months—The cervical region, located at the uppermost part of the spine, begins to strengthen at 3-4 months when baby can firmly hold their head up. As a result, the curve of the spine (kyphosis) is beginning to straighten where eventually it will curve inward, known as lordosis. And though baby’s head control is stable and controlled, they still need sufficient support in the thoracic (middle spine) and lumbar (lower spine) regions. At this stage, baby can move on to hip carries, preferably using a ring sling or woven wrap for the most optimal support.
- Third Stage: 6-9 months—The middle area of the spine, known as the thoracic region, strengthens once baby can sit unassisted, typically occurring around 6-9 months of age. The muscles in this region help support baby’s back, and the spine remains rounded in thoracic kyphosis. When baby is sitting unassisted they are ready to be worn on the back as long as the wearer is comfortable doing so.
- Fourth Stage: 9-12+ months—The final stage is complete once baby begins to walk. During this stage, the lower back referred to as the lumbar region, becomes straightened and curves inward. This new curvature, called lumbar lordosis, completes the “S” shape of the spine. At this point, baby’s muscles are strong enough to hold up their entire back.
Hip Development in Babywearing
Understanding how the pelvis and hips develop from the newborn stage to toddlerhood gives us insight into which carriers are appropriate for each life stage of a child.
A newborn’s skeleton consists of much cartilage that has yet to solidify into bone, as process known as ossification. This process takes many years to complete and is typically reached once a person reaches adulthood. The pelvis is one area that consists of several bones held together by cartilage, and it is during the first 9 months of a child’s life is when ossification occurs (gradually) here and the femoral head. Thus, it’s especially important to aid proper development of baby’s hips by supporting the femoral head correctly. Wrong or poor positioning could lead to hip dysplasia—especially if there is an underlying predisposition.
The ideal leg position, which consists of the centering the femur head right in the middle of the hip socket, assists in developing your baby’s hips. This position is commonly referred to as “M-position,” “frog-position,” or “spread-squat position.” Baby is in this ideal position when their knees are higher than their bottom, and the legs are spread apart about 90° (for those with medical background: legs should be flexed a minimum of 100° and abduction should be 30-45°). Newborns typically assume this natural position when lifted up, which is the ideal position when being carried. Babies diagnosed with hip dysplasia are treated using a Pavlik harness or Frejka pillow which supports babies in this ideal position. When a baby is carried in the correct “M-position” they will have a rounded back due to a tilt in their pelvis which causes the spine to become rounded.
We are happy that you have chosen to babywear. Understanding the anatomy and physical development in your baby’s every stage will help make make the best out of your experience. Remember, choosing a carrier for your baby should be ultimately based on its developmental needs of the baby, and these are sure to change over time. BabyDoo® is always here for you, every step of the way.