New mums often wonder if babywearing is safe after birth. After all, their body just accomplished the toughest job they could possibly do - bring their baby earthside. Is it okay to put additional strain on the body and start carrying the baby in a sling?
Every birth is different and our bodies recover in a different way, but as long as you give yourself enough time, you should be able to wear your baby right from the moment when you feel ready. It might be just a few days, a few weeks or even a few months after birth - but anytime is the right time to start. Look at it as carrying your baby in arms (and most probably you are going to do it for hours in the beginning) and you will understand why babywearing is not much different. Well, it is actually better, because it helps to distribute the baby's weight evenly on our shoulders, hips and back (more about it below). If you are in doubt if babywearing is safe for you, seek advice from your health provider. However, keep in mind that not all doctors or physiotherapists are knowledgeable about babywearing and sometimes it is good to ask for a second opinion or schedule a joint appointment with your doctor and your babywearing consultant.
Body changes during and after pregnancy
During pregnancy, the mother's body is changing in several ways to support the growing belly and prepare for birth. The ligaments get more elastic and loose (mainly thanks to the hormone relaxin), the abdominal and pelvic muscles stretch, and the pelvis tips forward, which changes the overall posture from straight to forward leaning. Add on the overall weight gain and you’ll see that pregnancy can make the mother's body more vulnerable. The spine, abdomen and pelvis are some of the most impacted areas and possibly painful.
Following these developments during pregnancy, birth also brings about several changes and it usually takes some time before the body comes back to its pre-pregnancy shape and strength. But birth is not the end of the changes in our bodies, it is just the beginning!
Being a mother involves, between others, carrying the baby for several hours a day, lifting and putting them down again, (breast)feeding - with each activity requiring our body to use some of the muscles more than we think we even can...and hence again putting a strain on our bodies.
Coming back to shape naturally
So how can babywearing help us recover after birth? The first benefit is that slings or carriers help distribute the weight of the baby evenly across the back, shoulders and / or hips, so that new mothers can avoid putting the pressure on just one area of their body as in in-arms carrying. Whether you suffer from chronic pain or just can’t stand the feeling your baby's feet kicking your stomach, a babywearing consultant will be able to suggest you a style of carrying that will support your body in the best possible way. For instance, a simple woven wrap can be tied in dozens of different ways in order to make carrying as easy and comfortable for you as possible. Women who had a c-section and are still recovering will also be able to carry their baby high without additional pressure on their belly.
Besides taking the weight away from your arms, babywearing from the beginning helps to build up our strength and tolerance. Carrying the baby who is becoming bigger and heavier means our muscles need to slowly adapt and get more toned. A good wrap job helps us maintain a good posture as well as alignment and over time our bodies come back to their pre-pregnancy posture. Day by day, carrying also becomes easier.
Have you heard about babywearing workouts or dance classes? It is no joke, you can exercise while carrying your baby in a wrap or carrier and it is a great way to burn calories without having to find a babysitter! It’s also a good option when you can’t always get out and walk with the pram. Additional bonus - exercising while babywearing counts as bonding time with your baby and you can make it even more fun by singing or making funny faces.
Exercising with your baby can also contribute to your little one’s muscle development and hence improve their motor skills (their little body constantly needs to adapt to your position and it counts as ‘’tummy time’’). And remember that your baby learns from you, so if they see how important exercise is and that it is a part of daily life, they will want to do it too when they are older. Whether you exercise with your baby or just wear them for a short time, it is important to remember to shift them around the body regularly (e.g. from front to back, from the left to right hip) as this will help build the overall endurance symmetrically and ensure you have no muscle pain.
Babywearing vs. pushing the pram
Walking is one of the best exercises a new mum can do after giving birth. It helps the body slowly get in shape without putting it under too much strain, especially in early weeks. If you are a new mum, chances are it will be your first time to push a pram for longer than five minutes. However, how you push the pram is very important. If you are not pushing it in alignment with your body (which happens more often than we think), you might end up with some issues like a wrong body posture, wrist pain as well as shoulder and neck pain. Besides, when you go out with the pram, the places you can visit are limited to those which allow a relatively easy ride, so if you are a nature lover it's bad news. Similarly for city people - high pavements and omnipresent stairs are your worst enemy. And if you think that your coffee sitting in the mug holder will survive the bumps - you are wrong...
If you wear your baby in a wrap or an ergonomic carrier, your body automatically takes the anatomically correct position. Baby's weight is well distributed, helping you to improve the posture and simultaneously tone muscles. If you carry your baby regularly, your body will adjust to their increasing weight and you won't suffer from back or arms pain. Gradually extending the length of your walks while carrying your baby close in a comfortable wrap will help you rebuild your strength and at the same time release endorphins - the natural feel-good hormones. Not surprisingly, carrying a baby is also an excellent method of losing pregnancy weight. For an average sized woman, walking for 30 minutes can result in a 110 calorie loss, but walking with a 10kg+ toddler on your back can result in a 230 calorie loss – that's more than doubled! And to top it off you will be able to access any off road places and keep both hands free (unless like me, you like to sip coffee on the go :) ).
However, regaining physical strength is just one of the goals after pregnancy and birth. Postpartum period might be challenging in many ways and mental wellbeing is even more important, especially for mums who had a traumatic birth or go through postnatal depression. I wrote another blog post about how babywearing can help us tackle baby blues, but in short it can help us reduce the production of stress hormones, come back to our usual activities quicker, build a stronger connection with the baby and therefore become more confident as mothers.