Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Soft Structured Carriers- Are They Optimal For Newborns?

by Tami Grosset

Recently I discussed the importance of positive babywearing advocacy and made a clear distinction between safety and a carrier being optimal. To recap; 'safety', in my opinion, is where the carrier carries a risk of serious injury or death whereas 'optimal' refers to the carrier supporting the baby in such a way as to allow the infant to naturally develop, unhindered by the carrier. This item continues the discussion of positive advocacy by asking babywearer advocates to be accurate with their advice.

One of the issues that I've become aware of, through comments and advice given on various babywearing forums is that in which people are guarded against using a soft structured carrier with a newborn because it is not optimal for baby's development. It is argued that a soft structured carrier cannot possibly support the C shaped spine and the M seat that is beneficial to normal spine and hip development. Usually this advice is followed up with recommendations for newborn wearing to be accomplished with wraps or ring slings where the hugging fabric of the carrier is more able to snuggly hold the baby in the optimal position.

But what is this optimal position? The optimal position for any carrier is to mimic the position in which a baby would be held if they were carried in a parent's arms. When a baby is carried upright and chest to chest in a carer's arms their body adopts its natural shape with the spine nicely curved into a C shape and the knees bent up so the legs and bum create an M shape, sometimes referred to as a froggied or squatting straddle position. A carrier that supports this position would be considered optimal.

Photo by Kim Brooks of Breathe In Photography

After reading the advice that SSCs are not optimal for newborns I decided to contact Manduca,  a leading European SSC manufacturer, to get their perspective on this issue. The Manduca is a very popular carrier in Ottawa. The carrier is very adjustable which makes it a carrier that will fit comfortably almost any body shape or type. It is also super adjustable for the baby with a built-in infant insert and the height of the back being zippered up or down to allow for a smaller or taller baby. The Manduca was exactly the kind of SSC that such comments were being aimed at; a SSC that was designed to carry a newborn all the way up to toddlerhood.

Manduca were very helpful in my inquiries and quickly responded thus;

'Are soft structured carriers (SSCs) sub-optimal for carrying newborns and small babies with regard to spinal development?

We have been asked this question before. We cannot, of course answer this question for all SSCs but there’s one thing we can say. We think that our Manduca baby carrier is not sub-optimal for newborns and small babies. On the contrary, we think that Manduca is a good alternative to using a wrap.

There is no doubt that a wrap or sling provides the optimal support for a newborn’s spine, if it is tied correctly! In everyday life you often see wraps tied incorrectly or too loose, maybe because the parents have not made themselves familiar with the correct way to tie a wrap. Often new parents are overwhelmed with advice on how to use it correctly or are intimidated by the large amount of fabric with which they are required to wrap. In addition to that, there are some parents who just don’t want to use a wrap or sling. Parents choose their carriers for many different reasons. Whatever their reasons are, our goal is to offer an alternative to the classic wrap for those parents, so that they and their babies can enjoy babywearing, too.

With this picture we would like to illustrate that our Manduca and the integrated infant seat allows a correct C-shape of the newborn’s spine.

To achieve this C-shape, our Manduca has:
Additional tucks in the lower part of the back panel: 
The child’s bottom slides deeply into the carrier so the newborn can adopt the physiological M-Position and this leads to the correct C-shaped spine.
The infant seat:
 Makes the child sit a bit higher in the carrier so that the traction of the shoulder straps does not affect the spine but instead the sacral bone.
A new accessory, Size-It:
 This reduces the Manduca’s seat to the individual length of baby’s legs and also provides for a higher seated position.
The patented back extension:
 This allows the newborn’s spine to be supported from head to bottom.
No padding in the back panel:
 The lack of padding offers optimal fitting of the fabric to the newborn’s spine.

For all these benefits to become effective, it is crucial that the Manduca is used correctly, as with a wrap. For example, it is important not to pull the shoulder straps too tight to allow the back to be rounded. Our revised instruction manual graphically illustrates the correct use of our carrier.
Wickelkinder does not want to give an explicit recommendation on whether to use a SSC, a wrap or a sling. We believe in variety. We know that many parents use both wrap and Manduca. They decide each day which type of carrier to use based on their activity and mood. After all, it is variety and change that is best for spinal health, for babies and parents alike.

Again we are reminded that it is the practice of using this carrier correctly that causes it to be optimal, and not just the product itself. Clearly this particular carrier has been designed with newborn positioning in mind. I would suggest that most if not all ergonomic soft structured carriers will offer the same 'in-arms' positioning and if in doubt a parent can try the carrier out to see if the baby is held by the carrier in the same way; with a C shaped spine and an M seat.

Arie Brentnall-Compton, Canadian Babywearing School, said in a recent interview with 'Bun In The Oven Consignment' that there are no benefits to babywearing. Instead, she says  

'Baby wearing is the biological norm; babies are born expecting to be carried from birth until they can walk on their own.  There are many reasons to babywear, from simple practicality (Walk your dog!  Get laundry done!) to important health interventions (normalised breastfeeding experiences, reduced postpartum depression & parental stress, etc).'

As the babywearing community our focus should be on encouraging parents to wear their babies; to encourage the biological norm. Offering inaccurate advice does not encourage parents to babywear. It confuses, it scares and it intimidates; it discourages. The direct result is that another baby is likely not worn.

Let's all be positive and accurate babywearing advocates! 

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