Friday, September 25, 2009

Babywearing & Exercising

One of the major reasons parents love to babywear is because it allows them to continue their active lives! Hiking, cross-country skiing, Nordic walking, even a walk around the block, can all easily be done with your baby (s) along for the ride. Any low-impact activity can be done while babywearing- high impact sports, like running, cause too much jarring to be safe or comfortable.

Fitness instructors have caught on & there are now many fitness & dance classes offered to new parents, designed for you to participate while wearing your baby. I think these are wonderful, because they recognise a baby's need to not be separated from his mother, as well as the mother's need to get out & exercise.

It is essential, when doing any physical activity, to be sure that the carrier you are using is appropriately supportive for you & your baby, and that your baby is properly positioned. This applies to all situations- the walk around the block, or the mom & baby exercise class.

FAQ about babywearing while exercising:

How should I position my baby?
The photo on the right shows a well positioned, properly
supported baby:
*baby is facing inwards (a back carry is also fine!)
*rounded spine
*knees higher than bum, in the frog position
*legs out
*baby is high on the wearers' body (close enough to kiss)
*fabric is carefully tightened around baby, spread from one knee to the other
*baby's head is tilted back, face uncovered, to ensure that there is no risk of the airway becoming blocked

Everyone in my class faces their baby out-
why shouldn't I?
I always recommend against wearing your baby forward facing, for many reasons.
Firstly, the above guidelines for positioning cannot be met- they are important because babies rely on the frogged legs & rounded spine to properly support & distribute the weight of their head & upper body. This is especially important when you are moving around.
Secondly, when a baby is facing away from you, their weight is hanging off your body, as opposed to cuddling in to it- this causes strain on your lower back, shoulders & especially your pelvic floor (which can lead to incontinence, particularly after pregnancy/birth).
Lastly, many babies exhibit signs of stress while facing out- flailing their arms & legs, splayed fingers, or balled up fists (relaxed babies have relaxed hands), loud vocalisations, etc.

How can I keep myself comfortable?
When your baby is properly supported in the right carrier, you should feel comfortable while wearing them. Muscle strain is a sign that something is not right. Some tips to keep in mind:
-Maintain your own posture- contract your stomach muscles & keep your core stabilised
-Use only 2 shouldered carriers, with the straps properly centred on the balls of your shoulders, never your neck
-Wear your baby high on your body- in either a high back carry, or close enough to kiss in a front carry
-If you are wearing for a longer period of time, re-tie your carrier every so often to distribute the weight to different muscle groups
-Remember that babywearing is weight bearing exercise- you will be using more energy to do less work than if you were not carrying!

Which carriers do you recommend?
-A woven wrap is most appropriate, providing the most support & flexibility
-A mei tai or SSC (soft structured carrier) can work well also, paying special attention to the baby's spine being rounded & the fabric supporting the baby from one knee to the other.

*I recommend avoiding using stretchy wraps- they do not provide the support that a baby needs to maintain a safe position while you are exercising. I am especially concerned with positional asphyxia- this is caused by the collapse/closure of a baby's airway due to the weight of their head. This can happen when a baby's head is tilted down, with the chin against their chest.

There are 2 exceptions to this rule- the Gypsymama/Wrapsody Stretch & the Calin Bleu Fleece
both of which have widthwise stretch, but very little lengthwise stretch. They allow for proper tightening & will not sag with use. They are not considered true stretch wraps as such- most people refer to them as hybrid wraps.

How long can I wear my baby for?

This questions has 2 answers! If you mean per day, the answer is, as many hours per day as you & your baby feel comfortable. If you mean for how many years, the answer is that many babywearers continue to wear well into childhood. I always bring a wrap or 2 when hiking with my kids, now ages 7, 4.5 & 2.5. The little ones like to take breaks on my back when we go for longer distances. A wrap is also my backup safety plan- if someone injures them self, they can be easily carried out.

How do we handle inclement weather?
We are Canadian- we handle inclement weather for most of the year! Luckily, there are many innovative products designed to keep you & your baby warm & dry while babywearing. We have sourced our favourites for baby & parents , from legwarmers to babywearing jackets. These all make babywearing practical & fun all year round!

I hope this helps you to feel confident in heading out to have fun & keep fit with your baby! We would love to hear your favourite activities to do with your little ones :)

Second photo by Trish Agrell-Smith


  1. What about the feet? When hiking in the winter I have a hard time keeping the little feet warm while the baby is on my back. Any hints?

  2. Depending on the age of the baby, I have used baby leg warmers pulled over the feet, wool boots &/or feet tucked into my jacket. I have found that the carrier I use affects our overall warmth, so I choose a wool wrap for colder days.

  3. Great information Arie, thanks so much!!