by Tami Grosset
It seems that more and more frequently we are seeing babies both in OBG and other babywearing forums, being worn in carriers that are too big. Whilst its understandable that parents might want to save a few bucks and pop baby in a carrier that will ‘grow with them’ my concern, and that of many other babywearing advocates, is that babies in carriers that are too big are not being supported sufficiently.
Babies, especially in the 0-3 month stage, need really secure positioning in an upright chest to chest carry to ensure they do not become at risk of positional asphyxiation. Positional asphyxiation (PA) is where the baby’s position causes their airway to become blocked, usually by a kink in the airway, and ultimately stopping them from being able to breath. This flyer from Babywearing International explains a little more about PA.
Babies also need to be seated in a position that will ensure that their legs do not get over extended. With newborns this would mean either a froggy position, sometimes referred to as spread squat where their knees are high and hip width apart. After 3 or 4 months baby would be seated with legs wider apart, but still with their knees higher than their bum. When baby’s legs are over extended (ie when they are seated in a position which extends their legs to a too wide seat) they are at a higher risk of developing hip abnormalities. The International Hip Dysplasia Institute explain this further;
‘After birth, it takes several months for the joints to stretch out naturally. Babies that have been in the breech (bottom first) position may need even more time to stretch out naturally. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. During the first few months of life the ball is more likely to be loose within the socket because babies are naturally flexible and because the edges of the socket are made of soft cartilage like the cartilage in the ear. If the hips are forced into a stretched-out position too early, the ball is at risk of permanently deforming the edges of the cup shaped socket (hip dysplasia) or gradually slipping out of the socket altogether (hip dislocation).’
Whether or not parents are concerned about healthy hip development there is the discomfort of sitting in a wide legged position for any length of time. The Beltway Babywearers wrote a fabulous blog about this. I like the idea of an adult sitting on the floor in a wide legged position with straight legs to get an idea of how uncomfortable this might be for a baby in a too large carrier.
When trying on a carrier there are 2 things to look for when checking for a good fit for your baby.
Firstly look at the panel. Does it hug your baby smoothly all over? Is there wrinkling in the fabric? If there is wrinkling this is a tell tale sign that it does not fit your baby and it may not support them sufficiently to keep them from sinking chin to chest.
Next look at their seat from knee to knee. Can they bend both their legs fully and freely at the knee? If they cannot their legs are overextended.
Some babywearers will suggest that parents can make a too large carrier fit better by using an infant insert or a rolled up receiving blanket. After market products for most carriers are not safety tested. This includes manufacturers own infant inserts where they are not built into the carrier. Rolled up receiving blankets and towels are certainly not safety tested. Whilst an insert can resolve the issue of the width of the seat there may still remain the issue of the panel being too large and showing wrinkling, thus not supporting baby sufficiently to protect them from PA.
The purpose of the safety testing with regards to infant carriers is only to look at and test the carriers durability and strength. When the current ASTM safety standard was written the authors considered the issue of positional asphyxiation and decided that this was an area that was impossible to test. The standard protects our infants from PA through the mandatory information the manufacturers must provide in user guides, instructional information and weight restrictions. It is up to the user (ie you and I) to ensure that they have read and are following the instructions carefully and that their child fits the carrier appropriately.
If you are concerned that your carrier may be too large for your child there are a few options open to you.
*Visit the store where you bought the carrier and see if they can help you make an insert work for you, ensuring both width and depth are accounted for appropriately .
*Visit a local babywearing group meet and ask an experienced baby wearer to help you check the fit of the carrier.
*If the insert is not resolving the fit issues consider using a different, more size appropriate carrier for a bit, while your child grows big enough for your chosen carrier to work. Stretchy wraps and ring slings are often considered a great carrier for a small baby and can be bought brand new for very little. If you are on a tight budget you will find many low budget options for you in your local FSOT group and there is always the Canadian Babywearing On A Budget group found on FaceBook.
*If there really are no other funds for a second carrier you could just ask in your local babywearing group if anyone has a stretchy wrap or ring sling you could borrow for a short time. Here at OBG we have a loans thread (found in our FSOT group) and if you know of a family that needs a carrier and who has no funds you would be welcome to nominate them for a Babies of Peace carrier.
There are so many carriers now, from which parents can choose. It sure can be overwhelming and might seem like a pricey parenting tool. It needn't be overwhelming or pricey! Its understandable that parents will want to save bucks by choosing a carrier that baby will grow into. But its very possible to have the best of both worlds; an inexpensive carrier that fits right now and a possibly more expensive (although it actually needn’t be!) carrier for later on!