Thursday, August 21, 2008

Babywearing, Part I: Bucket Babies

bucket baby
n. 1. a foal or calf nursed by hand; 2. an infant perceived to spend an excessive amount of time in a portable car seat.

Portable infant car seats. They're great for keeping your baby safe in the car, but how do they rate as infant carriers for outside the vehicle?

Most, if not all, parents have used these baby-containers-with-a-handle to tote an infant while out and about. Convenient, right? Baby goes in car seat, baby-in-car-seat goes in car, baby-in-car-seat goes into the store, baby-in-car-seat comes out of store, baby-in-car-seat goes back into the car. No unbuckling, rebuckling, strollers, nasty shopping cart baby holder, etc. But is it really that great for baby? And is it really that great for mom?

First, let's look at it from the mom's (dad's/caregiver's) perspective. Let's talk ergonomics. How do you usually carry the car seat? In one hand, bent kind of sideways so it doesn't bang into your legs, with your other arm stretched out for counter-balance. Yeah... not so good. Consumer Reports says that using an infant car seat to carry your baby "can be a killer on your wrists, elbow, lower back, and neck if you tote it by the handle or if you string it on your forearm like a handbag."
“The greater the horizontal distance from the weight you’re carrying to your torso, the more stress on your joints, discs, ligaments, and muscles,” says Mary Ellen Modica, a physical therapist at Schwab STEPS Rehabilitation Clinics in Chicago, IL. “It’s equivalent to walking around with three or four full paint cans in one hand--something most people wouldn’t do, but they’ll carry a car seat that way.”
A better way to carry the car seat is in front of you, with both hands on the handle, and close to your trunk and centered at your waist. However, just the repeated mechanics of removing/replacing the car seat with the infant in it causes a severe risk for back injury. Chiropractor Dr. Diane Benizzi DiMarco, in her article Post Partum and Beyond: Managing Back Pain in Women says,
The mother/caregiver who chooses to remove the entire car seat with child is exposed to aberrant posture and lifting motions. Removing the infant and car seat simultaneously is common when the infant is sleeping and does not transfer well out of the seat to a crib. It is also common to remove the infant within the car seat when the infant cannot hold its’ head erect or cannot sit up in a seat provided by a shopping [cart] or again, if the infant is a sleep. An infant who weighs 12-15 pounds and a car seat that weighs 10-15 pounds can impart excessive biomechanical stress to the spine. Mothers/caregivers normally lean over the back seat from the back car door, unlatch the seat and proceed to lift with outstretched arms, to carry the seat or place it where they intend. Continued repetition of this spinal abuse can result in spinal injuries including injury to the disc.
It seems that infant car seats are pretty rough on mom's body. Is there another way? Well, you could go this route. How about attaching the car seat to your body with a harness!

(If this seems incredibly bizarre to you, you'll enjoy this article at Thingamababy. She says, "Now, there are two types of parents reading this article. Some of you are looking at the product photo and thinking, 'Hmm, that's really interesting.' The other group is looking at that photo and thinking, 'What the hell is wrong with our society?'")

And really, is it that convenient to lug your baby around in a car seat? Before we got rid of our portable infant car seat in favor of one that our babies were much more comfortable in, I too used it from time to time to carry the babes in. So quick, so easy, he won't wake up... But he usually did wake up because both Moses and Judah HATED being in the portable car seat. Which would leave me to carry the baby in one arm while pushing a cart or carrying the stupid car seat in the other arm. If he did stay asleep, I was still left carting this unwieldy thing around, setting it down, picking it up in the other hand, and cursing myself for not just putting the baby in the sling.
Ah. The sling. Could this be the better way? Most moms who have forsaken the car seat carrier in favor of some sort of soft baby carrier would give a resounding YES! And although they can't say so themselves, I think the babies would agree.

One of the deepest needs of young babies is to be close to - i.e. in physical contact with - their mother. In The Vital Touch, one of my all-time favorite books on the importance of touch and infant development, author Sharon Heller says,

Does it make a difference how baby is transported? Judge for yourself. Carried, our infant experiences body warmth, frequent position change, deep pressure touch, containment, and rocking, to say nothing of the opportunities to balance her head, upright her posture, or use her muscles for clinging.
All this is lacking when the infant is carried in a car seat. Or stroller, for that matter.
As for all the variety of stimulation during carrying - the frequent kissing and stroking of hair, nose, cheeks, eyebrows, and forehead, the change of positioning, the rearrangement of clothing, the swaying side to side and back and forth - it all but disappears during wheeling.
There are other developmental worries for babies spending too much time in infant car seats.

For the young infant, they [car seats] offer too little restriction of movement; for the older infant, too much, especially in the trunk area. Explains Sandra Edwards, an occupational therapist..., neurological development progresses best in an environment that encourages opportunities to explore and experiment with movement. "Devices that restrict movement may deny the child important opportunities for sensorimotor development." Little wonder babies get restless when tied down in these seats and grapple to move about and to upright themselves.
Plastic infant seats are also stiff. Babies' soft, flexible bodies are suited to fold into the crook of an arm, nuzzle into a neck, enfold into a breast, not to press against rigid, unyielding surfaces. Infant seats are a particular problem for children at risk for motor delay, explains occupational therapist Patricia Wilbarger, since they position babies "so that the back muscles can become abnormally stiff."

This can then cause problems with muscle flexibility, as well as with muscle development. Babies carried in-arms "use their head, neck, and shoulder muscles to stabilize themselves and establish stronger trunk stability. Those muscles may develop sooner in babies who aren’t carried around in a car seat," says Consumer Reports.

Carrying also provides "vestibular" stimulation, that is, stimulation through motion. The vestibular apparatus is located in the inner ear and its job is to maintain equilibrium. When babies receive movement in all directions (up and down, back and forth, side to side), they learn to balance themselves and keep their heads and bodies in a neutral position - no small feat for a wobbly infant! When in parent's arms, babies receive all three of the types of movements they need to develop their vestibular system. Not so much in the plastic seat. (For a great in-depth look at the effects of vestibular deprivation, see Heller's chapter "Rock of Love
" in her book The Vital Touch.)
So next time you're running to Target with your baby, consider tossing a soft baby carrier into your diaper bag and carrying your baby next to you instead of in the car seat. Your baby might wake up? Well there's a good chance the soothing motion of your walking, the sweet smell of your body and the familiar sound of your heartbeat will cause baby to drop peacefully back to sleep. There are plenty of comfortable, ergonomic, easy-to-use soft baby carriers on the market right now that are easily as convenient as hauling that darn car seat around, and waaay more beneficial for you and your baby. Here's one last plug:

The average Western infant gets touched 25 percent of the day or less. By nine months of age, touching time goes down to 16 percent of the day. In a model day care center, [researcher] Tiffany Field and colleagues found touch time to average only around 14 percent of the day for even young infants. As for actual holding time, between the ages of three weeks and three months, the average Western infant is carried a little more than two and a half hours a day.

Infant seats do nothing to promote attachment between mother and baby. The mother's body draws the baby into a pulsing circle of warmth, softness, and roundness that contains and cushions his shape in supple, receptive contours; that adjusts and adapts in sync with his turns, squirms, and stretches; that massages him with slow, fluid motions that vary his day and give rhythm to his existence. This cements the connection between mother and child; plastic containers do none of this. As such, they dramatically change the baby's sense of life and human relationships.


Susan said...

Great post! You should be writing these for magazines - so well written, documentation very credible and of course, the photos of these adorable children and beautiful mother make your points so well! (and I'm not just saying this because I'm your mother.) It's all true.

Lorrie Morgan said...

Very well-written article, Missy, as Sue pointed out! I have to weigh in with some counterpoint, though. I was intrigued by the article b/c my husband has actually been toying with an invention similar to (only much less cumbersome than) the Flying Falcon. And I was the one who asked him to create it! I used my infant carseat almost everyday. Because we are often on the road, my kids are all great travelers and don't mind their carseats. When they were infants, I was able to get work done at chuch with them sitting in the seat looking up at me, babbling, and playing. I tried soft carriers, which quickly hurt my back (even good ones), were cumbersome to try to get anything done in, and seemed restrictive to my babies. None of them liked them. I am a firm believer that a child feels safest and most comfortable in what s/he knows best. For our kids, that was their infant seat! (All 3 also loved the Kelty backpack that Scott has taken them outdoors in often, but those are not soft carriers).
One of the best pieces of parenting advice I have been given is, "Do what works best for you and your family." Despite having 3 younger sisters, I was not a "traditional" woman for whom mothering came naturally. I was fine leaving my babies, rarely breastfed, and slated plenty of "me-time." This was how I function(ed) best. To some, that modus operandi may seem cold, uncaring and selfish... maybe even that I'm ruining my children. However, Scott and I are both highly intentional parents. We are a team and are, I believe, in tune with our children. We regularly evaluate our lifestyle choices. I challenge myself daily to stretch beyond my temperament's natural tendencies and to become a more well-rounded parent. We do not practice attachment parenting (I am SOOO not cut out for such) nor do we practice the Babywise/Growing Kid's God's Way extreme. We sit in the middle, employing Love & Logic and Dr. Kevin Lehman's Reality Discipline/First-Time Mom suggestions. We have come to greatly value balance, and have learned not to go to extremes regarding parenting, theology, or most any other issue. We definitely maintain strong convictions, however, usually one can find benefits and helpful ideas on both sides of the argument.
There are always statements from experts and studies that seem to "prove" opposing viewpoints. I teach KinderMusik, for example, and LOVE the program. I tell parents about the musical as well as developmental benefits their child is receiving...things like vestibular stimulation. However, I certainly don't believe that a child without KinderMusik is destined to develop at a slower pace, or worse yet, acquire some life-long deficiency.
We as Americans, with our vast array of classes, gadgets, toys, and parenting techniques are so into the "things we need to do" in order to raise a healthy child, that it is daunting. I tried to "do it all" with Dacotah, and realized after some tear-jerking "counseling sessions" with Sue, that I just needed to do what worked for us. "Learn your limits," she said. It has been a treasured piece of advice. If I had tried to practice AP, I speculate that, due to burn-out, I would be unable to homeschol today--a choice that Scott and I have made (at least for now). It is a stretch for me, a person who requires space and alone time to function best. When my friends ask how I do it, I tell them that without acres for the boys to explore each day, I don't think I could!
I think it is sad when (as in the Thingamababy blog), one has to judge a mom for using a carrying strap on her HARD infant carrier. There is so much pressure placed on moms today, and it is sad to me that a woman has to feel ashamed for bottle-feeding, or not using organic food, or placing a child in daycare. However, judgements passed by other moms can contribute to making others feel guilt (a negative emotion that we harbor way too much of on our own!)
So, to all the babywearing moms out there (and I have a few friends in this camp), hats off to you and your love for your babies! Just please don't begin believing that yours is the only RIGHT way to raise healthy children. In my opinion, it may be one of several. I look at my kids and they sure seem intelligent, happy, independent, flexible, and developmentally right on least so far! I know, I know..time will tell. We just have to do our best in our own way, under the Lord's direction.

Anonymous said...

Sue, what about the picture of the handsome hubby??
Honey I wish you would have used the picture of me with Moses in the wrap mowing the lawn, Baby Bjorns aren't exactly AP!!

Leah Miller said...

Isaac slept in his carseat until he was 7 months old (even though he grew out of it by 4 1/2 months). He loved it so much- would scream when I tried to cuddle him, arch his back when I would try the sling, etc. But since he was about 15 months old, he (to my joy) has wanted to cuddle. So, we've been making up for it. Now he says "up please" and I always pick him up. I love it.

melissa said...

Lorrie, thanks for your input, I appreciate hearing everyone's differing views.

I do apologize if anything I said came across as being a judgement that "contribute[s] to making others feel guilt." Using an infant car seat doesn't make anyone a bad mom and babywearing doesn't make anyone a good mom.

My only aim was to alert moms (parents) of the potential downsides of a common Western practice (excessive carrying of babies in car seats) and bring awareness about a potentially beneficial alternative (carrying your baby in a soft carrier).

I myself don't wear my babies everyday and have carried them in their car seats. I hope my readers will hear me say that I only hope to encourage thoughtfulness about how you carry your baby. If you feel convinced that the car seat is the best place for them, then there's no need to feel guilt!

And one certainly doesn't have to practice Attachment Parenting to find benefit in sometimes swapping a sling for the car seat. To a certain extent, I would agree that all parents have to "find what works". Leah commented about how her youngest wouldn't sleep anywhere else but the car seat at first, but now she enjoys wearing him more often. That's a great example.

I do think that most Western moms and babies (including myself and my children) would benefit from more physical contact throughout the day. Here I'm simply talking about one way to incorporate more mama/baby touch and connection - I leave each reader to judge wether they want to put into practice some of what I've talked about.

Sirena said...

I'm on both sides.. we have seat time and we have wrap time. I better use them, I sell them! I do love them and with Joe is was the only way I could get him to burp/sleep during those months of colic! Now I'm just so sad that he can get out of the Bumbo seat. That thing was marvelous!

Mike and Katie said...

I'm Elisa's cousin great post about bucket babies! I loved my wrap and think it has to be more cofortable than being strapped to the carseat.

Did you mention the flat head and neck problems that come from to much car seat time?