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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Perfect Every Time Cross Carry

The Cross Carry (usually abbreviated fwcc, for front wrap cross carry), is a great first carry to learn. It works well from newborn on up. As with all babywearing, your baby's safety is your own responsibility- wrap carefully!

This is a teaching wrap- notice the opposite coloured rails, which can help you maintain awareness of which rail you are working with. Here, the top rail is lightly coloured.

Most woven wraps have a middle marker- find it (or the middle of the wrap) & you are ready to get started! Place the centred wrap over your chest...

& bring the wrap around your back, twisting your wrists to keep the wrap from twisting on your back. Bring the tails back over your shoulders.

Take a minute to straighten & snug up the cross you have made on your back.

Place your baby over one shoulder...

& settle him down into the pocket.

Adjust the wrap around him, seating him in it & helping him into the frog legged position, with knees higher than bum.

Notice the top rail- it matches with the fabric nearest your neck. This tells you the fabric isn't twisted.

Grab the top rail & pull straight up to tighten each half of the cross on your back.

Maintain tension on each tail once you have tightened.

To make sure the wrap perfectly supports your baby's spine in a rounded position, tighten each tail strand by strand, working from one edge of the wrap to the next. Tuck one tail between your knees while you work on the other.

When you are finished, bring both tails out in front of you,

cross them underneath baby's bum and bring the tails around your back.

Tie in the back.

Before you're ready to go, adjust your wrap if needed. The baby's legs should be spread at a 30-45 degree angle (this demo doll's very short legs make that difficult, resulting in the odd leg positioning in this pic!), with the bum lower than the knees. It helps to push gently up on the baby's feet to seat them deeply in the wrap & make sure the spine is rounded. Keep the rails at the sides of your baby's body.
Ready to go!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Instructions for using a Nursing Shawl

This is the most special carrier in my collection- a nursing shawl dating from the last quarter of the 19th century (it's around 125 years old). It is a twill weave, made of 100% undyed wool. It came from the Ceredigion region of Wales. The fringes are 9 inches long, which was standard for Welsh nursing shawls, and hand twisted.

Modern babywearers usually call these Welsh shawls (siol fagu in Welsh). Wales seems to have the strongest cultural memory surrounding the use of nursing shawls (in Welsh, the term used for carrying in a shawl is to cwtch, pronounced kootch, which translates roughly as cuddle), although they were in common use in Ireland, Britain & Northern Europe throughout the last several centuries. It is likely that they have been in use for as long as craftspeople in these areas have been weaving wool garments. They remained more or less in use until well into the 20th century- a Scottish man I know remembers his mother carrying him in one! Shawls were the traditional & common woman's garment, it goes to say that babies would be wrapped & carried in them to keep them safe, warm & fed.

There are very few online resources to access information on using a nursing shawl- as part of our International Babywearing Week celebration, we decided to create our own! In these photos, I am using a 10lb demo doll, although I have carried babies ranging from 2-6 months in it. The traditional carry shown here leaves one arm free for the wearer & allows for partial use of the second hand.

Fold the shawl in half, making a triangle

Wrap it around your shoulders

Place the baby high & offcentered...

& wrap the corner of the shawl around the baby...

bringing the baby back in towards you.

Take the other side of the shawl,

bring it under your arm, keeping it taught

& bring the point of the shawl across the baby

& tuck the point of the triangle around the baby. The weight of the baby pulling down on the fabric holds it together- there is no tying or knotting.

Done! The baby rests in the crook of your arm while you go about your day.

Photography by Trish Agrell-Smith

Nursing Shawl purchased from Jane Beck

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Perfect Ruck

The elusive is the fastest carry to do once mastered, uses little fabric & is supremely comfortable. I believe (as per my ClauWi training) that the "kangaroo" carries, where only one layer of fabric covers the baby, are the most supportive (read comfortable) due to the fact that they can be perfectly tightened. Back carrying maximises the convenience of babywearing, as well as being the most comfortable place to carry a baby.
All of these factors mean the Rucksack carry is the ideal carry for many wrappers! To kick off International Babywearing Week we are excited to post our instructions for The Perfect Ruck.

First, the disclaimers: This carry & these instructions are assuming that you are an experienced wrapper/babywearer, as well as that you are familiar with safe ways to put your baby on your back. If you are not, stay tuned- detailed instructions for those aspects of babywearing will be here soon! You will be able to try The Perfect Ruck once you have mastered safely putting your baby on your back. Your baby's safety is your own responsibility- wrap with care, please. Lastly, I only recommend/teach back carries with woven or gauze wraps. DO NOT back wrap with a stretchy wrap! One exception - Gypsy Mama/Wrapsody is made with a type of fabric that is wide enough & can be safely tightened in a back carry.

SO, here it is!

Start with your baby centred on your upper back, with your wrap centred & draped overtop. Pull your top rail tight to keep your baby in place

Tuck top rails between your knees, reach back between your baby's legs & pull the fabric underneath them, making a seat. It should cover their entire bum & thighs, stretching from one knee to the other. Pick the top rails back up, holding on tight to maintain the tension.

Hold one bottom rail in your right hand, top in your left. You can tuck one tail between your knees while you work with the other.

Bring the rails together by folding the wrap underneath itself, matching up the top & bottom rails. Lift the wrap up off your shoulder as you do this, allowing the wrap to continue to fold down your back. This tightens up the sides of the pocket being created for the baby, keeping the carry safe & stable. Repeat on other side.

Hold both rails in front of you, pulling the fabric tight. Pay special attention to the top rail- your baby should be pulled flat against your back.

Bring the tails straight back underneath your arms...

Cross the tails and bring them back under baby's legs to your front. Maintain the tension on the wrap at all times, so you don't lose the careful tightening you have done!

Tie in front- either a half or a full knot. Push your baby's feet up to seat them deeply in the wrap & help ensure their rounded spine.
You have finished your Perfect Ruck!

Photography by Trish Agrell-Smith

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fall chores

I spent a warm fall afternoon working outside with my kids today. We supplement our natural gas heat with a woodstove in the winter months (Oct-Apr), which requires cutting, hauling & stacking a huge quantity of firewood. Since we are a rural, homeschooling family, I expect & need their help with chores like this. There is simply too much to be done for one person- we all need to participate.
My 7 year old hauled wagon loads with sticks for kindling, making a big pile near the woodshed. The 4 year old helped unload the wood from the wagons & wheelbarrows we used. My 2 year old alternated between loading & pulling. When he got tired, towards the end of the afternoon, he asked for "up in a carrier, Mom." Out came a wool wrap (Didymos), up went the baby, & we were ready to keep working. This reminds me why I love babywearing- I can easily meet the little ones' needs to be with me, to sleep, to have a ride on Mama's back, while I am getting work done that cannot be delayed.
Women everywhere work this way with their children- littler ones being carried, bigger ones helping & learning. It's important to me that they have the opportunity to contribute to our family; that they see how we all work together to keep our life running smoothly.