Dr Golly on why he LOVES Baby Carriers and Baby Wraps

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June 25, 2024
13 min read

Our babies love to be close to us

When my first baby was on the way, one of the items at the top of my list to buy was a carrier. 

I love carriers, particularly in the early days/weeks. 

They keep our babies close to us, which is so important in the first few weeks of newborn life. They also maintain a baby’s upright position (if your baby has colic, they’ll love this) and, most importantly, they keep your hands free!

In this blog, we’ll talk through the best type of carriers and wraps, safe hip positioning when your baby is in the carrier and the safety acronym (TICKS) that everyone needs to remember when they put a baby in any type of carrier, to avoid suffocation risks.

Plus all the FAQs I get on carriers including, strangely enough: Can I go to the toilet with a carrier on?!

Everyone always asks me my thoughts on the best types of carriers.

  • As a paediatrician, I try to remain brand agnostic when it comes to most baby items … particularly carriers. When an item is literally attached to your body, everybody has a different idea about what feels great on them
  • There are many different types and styles, and everyone has their own preference, what feels terribly uncomfortable on one parent can feel perfect on another 
  • My key advice is to try it on before you buy and listen to parents who have a similar body shape to you.
  • Also, a carrier that suits one parent may not be suitable for a breastfeeding parent
  • The right carrier for you is the one that feels great 

Wraps Vs Carrier? ANSWER = BOTH! 

My usual advice for parents is to ‘buy less stuff’ in the newborn period, but when it comes to carriers, I think this is a category a new parent can happily invest in both items and to continue getting value from them as your baby grows.

Body Wrap Carriers:

  • In the first four weeks, I love the stretchy body wraps that are tied around you.
  • These are a (very) long piece of rectangular fabric wrapped entirely around your body and when tied correctly, your baby is completely secure, in a lovingly warm parental embrace 
  • How to tie these correctly is stepped out below
  • I like these body wraps early on because your baby is completely fitted to your body with no gaps on the side and…
  • You can tighten to fit literally any size or shape

Harness carriers:

  • Once your baby is larger/heavier you’ll probably need a more structured carrier to protect your own back and keep your baby comfortable and safe
  • I recommend a carrier with padded shoulders and adjustable waist bands, so it’s comfortable and easy to share between parents
  • Before you buy, ask the store if you can try it on or borrow one from a friend 
  • If you’re putting a newborn or small baby into a harnessed carrier you may need to use a ‘newborn’ insert, each brand is different – always read the label and safety advice 
  • Harnessed carriers are fabulous because when your baby is big enough, they can face out and look out at the world (they will you older baby LOVE this!) 

No matter what type of carrier you select, there are two key things to remember:

  1. Healthy hip positioning
  2. T.I.C.K.S

Healthy hip positioning

Correct hip positioning means your baby’s:

  • hips are spread so their legs straddle your body, around your torso – like a koala hugging a tree
  • knees are spread apart
  • hips are bent so the knees are slightly higher than the bottom
  • thighs are supported
  • this positioning creates what we describe as an ‘M’ shape 

The ‘M’ shape encourages healthy hip development. If your baby is at high risk of hip dysplasia, time in the carrier is often recommended to help reduce the risk – but only if the hips are correctly supported. 

Carrier positions not recommended in the first 6 months for prolonged use are: 

  1. Narrow based carriers – the legs don’t create the ‘M’ shape.  The thigh is not supported to the knee joint, the resulting force on the hip joint is not ideal for developing hips
  2. Slings sometimes referred to as a ring sling – the cradle position holds the thighs together
  3. Outward facing positioning

What changes at 6 months? By 6 months, most babies have nearly doubled in size, the hip socket (acetabulum) is more developed and the ligaments are stronger, so hip dysplasia is less likely to develop.

Use the T.I.C.K.S. rule to position your baby safely in a sling or carrier and avoid suffocation risks.

Tight:

  • The sling or carrier should be tight, with the baby positioned high and upright with head support.
  • Any loose fabric might cause your baby to slump down, which could restrict breathing.

In view at all times:

  • You should always be able to see your baby’s face, simply by looking down.
  • Ensure your baby’s face, nose and mouth remain uncovered by the sling and/or your body.

Close enough to kiss:

  • Your baby should be close enough to your chin that by tipping their head forward, you can easily kiss it.
  • You can purchase newborn insert cushions for many carriers which will help keep your baby at the correct (kissable) height.

Keep chin off their chest:

  • Ensure your baby’s chin is up and away from their body.
  • Your baby should never be curled so that their chin is forced onto their chest. This can restrict breathing.
  • Regularly check your baby, as babies can be in distress without making any noise or movement.

Supported back:

  • Your baby’s back should be supported in a natural position with their tummy and chest against you.
  • When bending over, support your baby with one hand behind their back.
  • Bend at the knees, not at the waist

Confidence with carriers (wrap or harness) is key:

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know that one of my core philosophies is that ‘babies drink more than milk’ – they drink all our emotions. So if you’re a hot sweaty flustered mess when you put your baby into the carrier, your baby will pick up on this and respond in kind.

Tips to build carrier confidence:

Tip 1: Practice practice practice

  • If you’re not confident putting the wrap or carrier on or off, practice! 
  • Practice tying your wrap
  • Practice clipping your carrier 
  • Practice moving a teddy or a doll in and out 
  • At the start, practice with your partner, there’s a bit of an art getting babies in and out on the right angle – you’ll get there, just practice. Then try to manage it solo.

Tip 2: Try the carrier or wrap when everyone is calm

  • Practice with your baby when there’s nothing big on and you’re not rushing out the door to a deadline 
  • Don’t try the carrier for the first time when your baby is really unsettled  

Tip 3: Wear comfortable clothes underneath

  • You may have read this on a few memes about parenting being the biggest endurance sport there is… that’s why parents are always in activewear (and it’s pretty much true!)  
  • When you’re wearing a baby in a carrier, the more comfortable you are, the more relaxed you’ll be and the more relaxed your baby will become
  • As your baby is directly on your chest, the closer you are to wearing tops with smooth natural fibres and less buttons/zips/chords, the safer and more comfortable it will be for everyone 
  • If there’s a chance you think you’ll get hot (which you often do when you have the cutest human hot-water bottle that ever existed on your chest) have a light shirt or tshirt underneath and put a cardigan or jacket over your shoulders once the carrier is on, this way it’s easier to cool down when you need to 

Tip 4: Wear sneakers or supportive shoes

  • If you’ve got the carrier on for a while, particularly if your baby is finishing off a nap in there, wear runners or supportive shoes that will support your back in the long term – and make it easier to go for a walk
  • In the short term it will make it much safer as it’s pretty easy to trip over in thongs or heels (seriously, hoping no one considers wearing high-heels with a baby carrier?!) 
  • Avoid shoes with buckles – mainly because it’s impossible to get them on/off when you have the carrier
  • Pro-tip: put your sneakers on before you put the carrier on and double-tie your laces (these can be as tricky as buckles at times!)  

Tip 5: Minimise tasks that require you to bend

  • While most blogs about baby carriers talk about being able to complete chores around the house (yes it’s valuable having your hands free and being able to walk around) but remember that it’s very hard, if not impossible, to bend with a carrier
  • So doing things like picking up washing baskets and getting to bottom drawers or dishwashers can be challenging, work out what you can achieve and don’t pressure your body into manoeuvres that don’t work for you or your baby
  • If you do need to bend over, support your baby with one hand behind their back. Bend at the knees, not at the waist

I’m a big believer in assisted carrier-naps for little babies who wake early. This is because: 

  • When your baby is close to you, they’ll almost instantly re-settle and this helps keep the routine on track
  • If you’ve signed up for my sleep programs – you’ll know how passionate I am about babies linking sleep cycles and getting nice long stretches of sleep so they wake hungry for better feeds, thereby accessing all the calorie-dense hind milk
  • I favour carriers rather than your baby sleeping directly on you (which they love) because you have your arms and legs free, allowing freedom of movement, improving both your physical and mental well-being 
  • If your baby has an assisted nap in a carrier there is some extra safety advice you’ll need to follow – never fall asleep in a chair or lie down with your baby in a carrier

Watch out for low roofs & overhead fans:

If you’re like me and lift your baby high and put them in legs first through the top of the carrier you need to be aware of the space you’re in, overhead fans can get dangerously close and if you’re getting off a flight, the overhead cabins are always high risk for a head bump (if it sounds like I’m talking from experience, it’s because I am!) 

Baby carriers at the airport:

Baby carriers are a fantastic choice for parents at the airport, your hands are free and your baby is close to you. Just be aware that as you go through security you’ll need to take the carrier off and send it through security scanning, while you walk through with your baby (even if it’s a wrap). Most parents get a shock when advised that they can’t walk through – particularly if the baby is snuggled up fast asleep, time your run if you can.

Is there a time limit you can keep a baby in a carrier for?

For newborns, you’re feeding them every 3-4 hours, so time in the carrier will essentially be limited by feeds.

Even as your baby grows, I’m less worried about the time in the carrier and more concerned about hip health and general safety guidelines when you’re wearing the carrier.

Two other items to consider if you’re wearing your baby for prolonged periods:

Why is your baby having so much time in the carrier?

  • In the first 4 weeks, your baby will sleep anywhere, they won’t get ‘addicted’ to contact naps, you can snuggle and cuddle as much as you want
  • After 4 weeks, I like babies to be having some (not necessarily all) sleeps independently in their own bassinet
  • If you’re relying on the carrier to get any sleep at all and your baby won’t go to sleep independently in their bassinet, there may be something that’s driving the unsettled behaviour and discomfort. See my blog on colic to dig deeper into this theme
  • After 4 weeks, sleeping on you can become a negative sleep association and you can end up with a baby that refuses to sleep independently. See my baby sleep programs for more on this 

Are you protecting your own physical and mental well being?

  • Core to my philosophy as a paediatrician and baby sleep and settling specialist is the ‘emotionally available parent’ 
  • Lot of parents become fixated on being physically available for their baby. Yes, I love the concept of baby-wearing for this reason, but at some point you’ll become drained and your back will start aching 
  • If you’re exhausted, tired and aching, you’re no good to your baby, so teaching them the skills to sleep independently is one of the greatest gifts you can give your baby and your baby-parent relationship

General FAQs I get on carriers and wraps:

Q1: From what age can a baby go in the carrier? 

ANS: Most structured carriers have weight recommendations that usually start around 3.2kg, every brand is different and I urge all parents to always read the label instructions for the brand you have chosen.  There are no age restrictions on the stretchy body wraps, what I do recommend is feeling really confident when tying wraps, so when you insert your baby everyone is safe and calm.  

Q2: Can premmie (premature) babies go in a carrier?

ANS: Talk with your paediatrician about this one – premmies can have lots of complications so I don’t want to provide a blanket yes to this question. Again, the stretchy wraps are probably going to be best in the early days for newborns and small babies; consider your baby’s weight – not chronological or corrected age.

Q3: My baby screams and cries when they go in a carrier – what do I do?

ANS: See all my tips on building confidence above. Practice when you’re calm and your baby is calm (absolutely don’t try and put them in if they’re hungry or you’re stressed). Switch which parent has the carrier on and see if that helps. Double check all their limbs are through the correct holes. My main advice is for you to stay calm (even if you’re not feeling particularly at ease). Your baby is resting on your heart so taking deep slow breaths will help – have calming music or white noise playing – make sure you’re not too hot or too cold. If they are a bit grizzly at the start, go for a walk in the fresh air – give it 5 minutes of calm walking and deep breathing or gentle swaying and patting before you pull them out – I’m yet to meet a baby that doesn’t love being tucked up next to a parent’s warm chest.

Q4: Hip health & carriers, if carriers are good for hips, is there a recommended amount of time to keep them in a carrier if your child is at risk of hip dysplasia?

ANS: There’s no set time and don’t force yourself to spend all day with your baby in the carrier – just know that when they’re in the carrier it’s good for them – as long as the hips are well supported and you’re following all the healthy hip advice and that lovely ‘M’ shape outlined above.

Q5: Can my toddler go in a carrier?

ANS: This depends on how big they are and how big you are – the answer is probably a general no, you’ll hurt your back and they are probably too big to be comfortable.  For limited times like airport runs, you might put a pre-toddler in the carrier but most likely a stroller will be more convenient for everyone. If you’re going on a big hike or walk, there are specific hiking backpacks that toddlers can go in – again all brands are different and all of them will have weight limits and guidelines – read these and follow them closely. Save back-carrying for when your child is around 1 year old and has great head, neck and upper body control. Prioritise your back always!

Q6: When can I face my baby out in the carrier?

ANS: Again this all has to do with head, neck and upper body control. This varies for all babies but usually around the 6-month mark many babies have nice strong neck control (from all that lovely tummy time) that they are comfortable facing forward – and most importantly, their head isn’t slumping over. Six months before you face them forward is also what the hip health experts recommend.

Q7: Can I go to the toilet when I have the carrier on?

ANS: For anyone who has done a lot of baby wearing, this is a VERY REAL and VALID question. Picture this scenario – you’ve had a baby that isn’t meant to wake up for another 50 minutes and you are about to wet your pants (I’m not a post-partum mother but I can only imagine this feeling is even more stressful for mothers). You desperately don’t want to wake your peacefully sleeping baby but you obviously don’t want to have an accident!  Here’s your permission to just go to the toilet and be as hygienic as humanly possible.  This is where comfortable clothes are advantageous, as they’re easy to pull down – if you’re wearing postpartum high waisted compression gear this can be really tricky… but I’ve heard on good authority, that it is absolutely possible to get down while wearing a carrier when desperate! 

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