How you carry your baby does matter!
Have you ever even thought about this??? If not, then I RECOMMEND you do. 😉
When you are worried about something your baby does or does not do, you often think in terms of a worst case scenario. You tend to think that there is something “wrong” with your child. Whereas, if you take a look at what parents unknowingly do to their babies, it may turn out that children perform in one way or another for a reason!
Why don’t I carry my baby this way? Here are some of those reasons:
1. The pelvis bears weight in a way it should NOT, and it is positioned with a significant frontal inclination.
When you hold your baby by “pressing” his or her pelvis to your torso with one arm while controlling the child’s head with the other hand, you subject your baby to a number of undesirable experiences. These range from incorrect positioning of the pelvis to developing a tendency for arching of the back. To make things worse, the torso is also bent asymmetrically.
2. Too much stress is placed on the spine.
In this position, the torso is vertical. It goes without mentioning that the baby is not yet prepared to deal with this type of load. Working against gravity under these circumstances — when the torso is not stable enough — is a real challenge. There are reasons why typical child development follows a certain order. A baby achieves individual skills one after the other — from low positions, in which the baby’s spine is parallel to the ground; to standing up and walking…
3. The head is always turned to one particular side.
Maybe you don’t want to admit it, but most often this is the case. Usually, when you decide to carry your baby this way, his or her head is always turned in one particular direction. Most often this is toward the same side as the one on which the baby is being carried. If the head is on our right, the baby will be more likely to look to his or her left.
Someone may say, “What’s the problem — I can just change sides!” Yes, but is it that easy? After all, you also have your preferences — and you usually carry your child on the side which is simply more comfortable for you…
4. Body map problems.
This is related to the previous issue. Let’s say a baby keeps looking to the left and just sees his or her left arm and basically everything on the left. This baby might have a tendency to put his or her left hand into the mouth while the right one might be completely ignored. This child definitely has fewer opportunities to get to know the world, since one side is practically unused. In sum, the “body map” that is being created in his or her brain does not reflect reality.
Putting only one hand in the mouth or moving it to the back while lying on the tummy… Does this sound familiar? If so, maybe this is a good time to take a look at how you carry your little munchkin. 😉
5. ATNR — Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex problems.
In short, ATNR is a primary reflex wherein the position of the baby’s arms and legs follow the orientation of the baby’s head. When the child “looks” to the right, the right arm and the right leg are straighter than those on the opposite side. If the baby turns his or her head to the left, it is the other way around (similar to a fencer’s posture).
ATNR is an important reflex, but it should disappear by the end of the 6th month of life. Otherwise, it may cause problems with crossing the midline of the body. The child may have trouble passing toys from hand to hand or reaching for them diagonally. The child might also have a hard time achieving other skills, such as rolling over and crawling on all fours.
6. It is not possible for the child to join hands at the midline of the body.
Connecting hands at the midline of the body is an important element of early child development. By the end of the third and into the fourth month of life, symmetry is being achieved — and it should be reinforced. Playing with the hands above the chest and putting them into the mouth gives the baby a clear sense of the midline of his or her body. It also helps to reinforce symmetry and coordination.
By carrying a baby as previously shown, you take this opportunity away…
Favoring one side of the body, reaching for toys with only one arm, putting only one hand in the mouth… Yes, it’s all very likely to happen in this case. 🙁
7. Too much of arching of the back.
“It’s great that he straightens up! He strengthens his back while lifting his head!” — such thinking seems rational. However, the truth is this has nothing to do with proper development. The dynamics of a baby’s body in this “configuration” is completely wrong. The child does not strengthen him or herself in any way that is beneficial for further development.
Yes, the baby does strengthen the back, but at the same time, he or she stretches the front torso muscles and the abs. However, what the baby needs is good COOPERATION of those muscles. They should not compete, but should cooperate in a SUSTAINABLE WAY. Only then will your baby be able to control his or her body in a QUALITATIVE way — despite the presence of gravity.
Arching the back is one strategy your baby may use to control his or her posture while in this unfavorable position. In addition, if your hand is placed in the area of the baby’s neck, head, or between the shoulder blades, your little one receives a very strong message to “push” — and thus arches his or her back. As a result, the baby learns and remembers this mechanism, and repeats it during other activities. In effect, physiotherapists like me have a lot of work later on…
What do I expect from babies who are carried this way?
As a physiotherapist, I am keen to recognize problems in this regard; so the list could be really long. However, I promise I will limit myself to discussion of the most important things. 😉
– I expect such babies will have problems with correct positioning of the pelvis while lying on the back; they may have problems raising their legs above the ground; and when rolling over they might arch their backs strongly. In addition, your munchkin’s tummy may be bent too much when getting into an all fours position or when kneeling, standing up, or walking. On top of that, the baby might sit in the “W” position, using a wide base for support.
– Such children may favor one side. For example, they may look in one direction more often, turn more willingly to one side, prefer using one hand to play… Flat head syndrome? Yes, this might occur as well…
– There may be difficulties with lying on the tummy. Such babies may have problems with pushing up on uniformly straightened arms — one of the arms may lag behind. There may be difficulties with body symmetry in this position and unintentional rolling over from belly to back may occur. Your baby’s bum may have difficulty staying down (it will tend to go up).
– Problems with symmetry. If babies cannot connect their hands at the midline of their bodies and perform the “fencer reflex” (i.e. ATNR), their torsos may bend to one side — both when lying on the back and on the tummy.
– Stiffening of the body and clenching of the fists and toes. Since the torso remains unstable, these babies are forced to develop an additional form of posture stabilization. As a result, such babies will stiffen up while clenching their fists and toes. You may encounter trouble while caring for your baby on a routine basis (like with dressing and undressing). When lying on the back, such children might seem to be “stuck to the ground”. They may find it hard to reach for a toy or do it quite clumsily, not smoothly. Your baby may clench his or her fists while on straight arms, when sitting up, or changing positions.
Phew! That would be it for now…
I hope that I provided enough information to encourage you to take a closer look at the way you carry your baby on a regular basis. 😉
It’s such a small thing, but it does matter. 😉
WAIT A MINUTE!!! DOES THIS MEAN THAT I SHOULD NEVER, EVER, EVER CARRY MY BABY FACING ME???
Of course not! A baby cuddled to a parent in such a way that the baby’s body is resting on your chest is a fantastic way to carry your baby. This is especially true for newborns, who struggle with the amount of stimuli from the world around them — they will get real comfort from this position. With the sound of the parent’s beating heart and a gentle rocking motion from the rhythm of breathing, such a baby will find it easy to relax and fall blissfully asleep.
What’s another alternative for my baby?
For somewhat older babies who have come to terms with life on this side of Mom’s belly (about three months and up), you could use a position like the one shown in the picture below — but this is only one of many options. 😉
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If handling your baby comes naturally to you or not, you will find this guide on child development and playtime to be a crucial resource. Check out my ideas for playtime — from birth to first steps — in the following e-book:
E-book: A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR THE MOST FUN PLAYTIME WITH YOUR CHILD