As new parents, you try to do everything right.
When it comes to how to hold your baby, sometimes you get way too much advice. Here are some things you can look for with your new baby to help with their development.
All parents are familiar with baby carrying systems. With these systems, the baby is strapped into a hard plastic holder. Such as a car seat or a stroller. Because of their convenience, the baby is often kept in this position for long periods of time, which may lead to plagiocephaly. The issue arises because your baby's skull is soft and if your little one spends too much time on their back it can actually flatten and deform the shape of their head. 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. Avoid keeping your children in these carriers for prolonged periods.
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 develops too shallow and this allows the femur (thighbone) to 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 that hold the legs in a tightly bound extended position. To avoid this, don't swaddle so tightly. Yes, I know this goes against what you were taught by the nurses at the hospital, or perhaps in some baby book.
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.
This is where the vertebrae can break, usually at the location of the pedicles. 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 with some severe conditions.
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 your 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 position that encourages socket development.
Gives a soft support for the head to prevent plagiocephaly.
Keeps the lumbar spine supported to prevent spondylolysis.
A few more general rules:
Avoid the use of jumping chairs that attach to the doorframe. 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 doctor or chiropractor. Often, hip dysplasia is missed by the family doctor and caught by the parents.
~Dr. Briana Clauss earned her doctorate from New York Chiropractic College in 2011. During her doctoral studies, Dr. Clauss expanded her interest in the sub-specialty of Maternal Fetal Chiropractic Care. She is specialized in the Webster-Breech technique and is currently enrolled in an extensive post graduate program in order to become a Certified Pediatric Chiropractic Physician. She practices in Midland Park at Nuzzi Chiropractic Family & Sports Center which is a wellness center that provides massage therapy, personal training, functional movement training and a lifestyle weight management program.