Babywearing or Car Seat...How Should You Carry Your Baby?

By Dr. Bryant Harris
Babywearing or Car Seat...How Should You Carry Your Baby?

Did you know that transporting your baby horizontally (ie. a car seat) put stress on an infant's body?

Laying an infant on their back in a stroller is actually physically and emotionally stressful, and can be developmentally inhibiting.

What is preferred to optimize the physical, emotional, and intellectual growth of a baby is being carried or worn in an upright position with proper support to the legs.

But what do we see more often than not...

The overuse of car seats.

Yes, they are convenient. You can transport baby from house to car to the final destination without having to move the baby (or wake the baby).

Don't get me wrong, I can sympathize with parents who choose to carry their kids this way - they may have multiple kids and crazy schedules rushing from one place to the next; generally as a singular parent in that moment.

But, I do not recommend this type of baby carrying (well not for extended periods of time).

Reason being, when a child is born they are born without any of the "normal" curves in their spine.  Those normal curves develop over time as a means of adapting to gravity.  A baby's posture at birth is a state of flexion; curled up, mimicking being in the womb.  But, as the muscles that support the babies posture begin to get stronger, they are able to hold their heads up and develop the proper curve in their neck (the cervical curve). Similarly, once baby begins to crawl, the curve in the lower back, and all the muscle that support it, develop.

When babies are properly worn, they are in better biomechanical position for spinal and muscular development. This is due, in part, to the function of gravity in the development of muscle tone.

So, what do you believe happens when babies lie flat on their back in a care seat for a prolonged period of time?

Instead of gravity working to develop good posture muscle tone, the effects being to straighten out those developing curves.  Babies can develop plagiocephaly (flatting of the bones of the skull) and deformed bodies with poor muscle tone.  

Those changes can adversely affect the child's proper spinal joint alignment and weight-bearing biomechanics. Ligament development and strength surrounding the spine and hip joints can be hindered. Lastly, biomechanical and neurological development can be delayed.  

I say all this to tell you that you should be limiting the time your baby is in a car seat - it is structurally and neurologically best for the child.

So, a car seat should be used when?

In the car...

But, when you get to your destination, have a wrap, sling or soft-structured carrier ready to go!  

This way your hands are free and you are giving your babies developing brain and body the support that it needs and desires.

Better Brain Development with Babywearing

How?  You may ask...

When a baby is held upright, they are allowed to practice compensatory movements, increasing muscular strength and allowing for more control over their fine motor skills.  

The baby's vestibular system (the balance center in the brain) gains a huge amount of stimulus when the parent walks, stops or turns.  This allows the neurological pathways responsible for the development of core musculature and intrinsic spinal muscles to develop aiding in the bodies ability to balance, coordinate and stabilize itself with simple or complex movements.

Basically, it provides a strong foundation for the brain and bodies development.  As we know, if the foundation is not strong than the other parts that are built on top may be less developed than they should be.

Additionally, baby wearing allows for the developing brain to receive constant input.  When carried upright, the baby is able to view the world unobstructed from a safe place and can learn about everything around them - social interactions, facial expressions, see colors and movements, etc.  Newborns rely heavily on their parents' physiology and emotions to aid in regulating their own which leads to the parents having a better understanding of their child's little cue (ie. hungry, tired, over-stimulated, hot, cold, etc..) When babies are close to their parents, they can regulate their breathing, heart rate, body temperature, emotions, stress levels and immunity.  Unfortunately, these positive effects cannot be experienced in a car seat.

Ultimately, there is no comparison between baby-wearing and carrying a baby in a car seat when comes to a child's development - baby wearing is far superior.  But for short-term use, the car seat won't cause that much havoc on a baby's development.  Knowing this, you might consider once you put the car in park, to leave the seat in the car and put on a carrier.

For more information regarding babywearing, please visit your local chapter of Babywearing International.  Babywearing International is an awesome resource and support group that also has a babywearing lending library so moms and dads can try different styles and brands of carriers before they go out and make a purchase.

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