|Not the preferred method of holding your baby.|
As new parents, we do everthing we can to give our children the best start in life. But did you know that the way we carry our children can have a profound impact on their health? It’s true. It is well established that some carrying methods have very real health risks.
Plagiocephaly: All parents are familiar with the baby travel systems. With these systems, the baby is strapped into a plastic basket. This basket can then be secured into a car seat base or a stroller. Because of their convenience, the baby is often kept in the hard basket for long periods of time.
The problem with this is that your baby’s skull bones are soft and if you little one spends too long laying on their back it can actually flatten and deform the shape of their head. This is known as plagiocephaly. You can find an example image of it here. It should be noted that research has shown these “flat head syndrome” babies have been shown to have lowered cognitive skills and motor function.
There’s nothing wrong with these travel systems. In fact, I used them when our children were little. But avoid keeping them in the carrier basket for prolonged periods. If you’re not in the car, consider a different method for carrying your child. More on that in a bit.
Hip Dysplasia: This condition used to be known as congenital hip dislocation. What happens with hip dysplasia is that the socket of the ball and socket joint is too shallow and this allows the femur (thighbone) to easily dislocate.
What do we as parents do that makes this condition more likely? Swaddling. When we swaddle a baby, their legs are usually tightly bound and straight. In this position the ball and socket joint is not encouraged to properly form. In fact, studies with Navajo indians show that they suffer a much higher incidence of hip dysplasia than the average population. This is because the Navajos often use papooses which hold the legs in a tightly bound extended position.
To avoid this, don’t swaddle the legs tightly. Keep them loose. Yes, I know this goes against what you were taught by the nurses at the hospital, or perhaps in some baby book. Sometimes, old advice lingers long past it’s expiry. Don’t take my word on it. Do your own reseach. You’ll find what I say to be true. If you can avoid unnecessary corrective hip surgery, wouldn’t you do it?
So how should our babies’ hips be positioned when we carry them? The hip should be flexed at 100 degrees (knees slightly closer to the head than the hips) with the knees lightly turned out. Some people call it the frog position. This position holds the femur deep in the socket joint, encouraging a nice deep cup to develop. Babies tend to naturally wrap their legs around our bodies with their knees high and dig in with their toes when we carry them. Nature knows best.
Spondylolysis: This is where the vertebrae, typically in the lower back, break into two pieces. This is normally due to a repetitive stress that slowly breaks down the bone, also known as a stress fracture. It can be a very painful condition and the baby will have it for life. The two pieces of bone may drift apart and can even require surgical correction in some individuals.
Looking at native Eskimo populations, the rate of spondylolysis is very high (up to 60% of the population). It is thought that this is a result of the way their babies are carried. The traditional method involves holding the baby against a hard wooden backing. This forces the spine into a weight bearing position before the baby has the muscular support to so on his/her own. As the result, the muscles don’t protect the spine and the physical stresses can break down the spine.
So, what does this mean to you the parent? Avoid putting young babies in rigid hard backed baby carriers. You can still carry young babies upright, just be sure that if you are using a carrier that it allows their lower spine to be curved outwards, rather than inwards. That is the normal spinal curvature for children under the age of 6 months
So how should we carry our children, other than in our arms?
The way I like to see babies carried is through baby wearing, which is carrying you little one is held to your body by a soft fabric carrier. These can be slings, wraps or mei tais. I’d encourage you to look at each option and choose the one that you like best.
With proper positioning, baby wearing:
- Keeps the hips in the postion that encourages socket development.
- Gives a soft support for the head to prevent plagiocephaly .
- Keeps the lower spine supported to prevent spondylolysis.
A few more general rules:
- Avoid the use of jumping chairs that attach to the door frame. This forces the babies spine to be in weight bearing position before it may be ready.
- Avoid carrying your baby in the outward facing position. Facing in holds the hips in a better position and allows the baby to keep their neck in a good position while sleeping.
- Ensure that your carrier doesn’t let the legs just dangle down. Aside from just being uncomfortable, it does nothing to ensure proper hip development.
- If you notice hip clicking, leg length differences or uneven skin folds in the legs, be sure to have you baby evaluated for hip dysplasia by your family gp or chiropractor. Often, hip dysplasia is missed by the family doctor and caught by the parents.
I hope this article helped. If you have any questions about your childs development or would like us to check their spine and hip health, give us a call in our clinic: Pure Chiropractic, Nanaimo, 250-585-8866.
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