Where is YOUR Waistband & How does it contribute to Back Pain?

WOne of the things I find incredibly restorative is being in the forests in and around Vancouver.  But, these trails are SO busy, especially on weekends.

When I’m out on my walks, I see many types of people… from keen folks heading to the backcountry to families going on a nature adventure with their small kids.

I also see many newer parents out on the trails, carrying their tiny babies close to their hearts in a range of carriers. I also see how uncertain these new baby-wearers are. They have their Ergo or Tula (or other brand) carrier shifting around with each step, and are holding their precious cargo with their hands “just in case”.

I am drawn to these new parents, knowing that I could, in a very short conversation, help them build their confidence with babywearing and this new gig of parenting.  Conversations happen…

Me: “That’s a nice Ergo carrier”

New Parent: ”Thanks, it’s the first time we’ve used it…”

Me: ”How is it feeling? It looks like you could use an extra hand to get the fit snug”

New Parent: “I don’t know…”

Me: “could I give you a few tips? I’m a chiropractor and trained babywearing educator… I just would love to see you both more comfortable”

New Parent: “Thanks… I’d love that”

In most of these cases, I’ve helped the person lift the waistband up to the natural waist, and tighten up the straps a bit.  Sometimes I’ve loosened the straps around the shoulder. Sometimes I’ve helped them learn how to get their baby’s legs into an “M” position.

Recently though, I learned that there was some controversy about where to place the waist band in a structured carrier. (Ie. Ergo, Beco, Tula, Lillebaby to name a few).

Standardized Instruction

In 2017, I was a part of the CBWS (Center for Babywearing Studies) training session that was organized by several long time members of the Babywearing from the Valley to Vancouver FB group.  Along with a number of other experienced babywearers in Vancouver and area, I spent an entire weekend and more going over safety and methodology for using a range of carrier types, from ring sling and wraps to soft structured carriers and meh dais”

CBWS has standardized ways of instruction, and one thing that they
were very clear about in the session about SSCs was that the “waist belt goes around the waist” rather than the hips. It also should be snug enough that baby is not sitting on the waistband but in the panel area instead. It also ensures that the TICKS checklist is maintained easily. (T = tight, I = In view, C = Close to Kiss, K = Keep chin off chest, S = Supported back)

Think of it as if you didn’t have a carrier… where would you naturally end up carrying the child?

Most of the time, children are carried at waist or bent arm height. ALL carriers, whether stretchy wraps, SSCs, Asian inspired carriers, woven wraps or ring slings, are simply aids in carrying a child close where you would naturally want to do so, with the benefit of being hands-free.

That being said, there are vast differences between types of carriers, even in the same category or brand of carrier. An Ergo does not fit like a Tula or a Beco. An standard Tula does not fit the same way as a Tula Free to Grow. In my experience, I find that generally, people with smaller torsos really love the Beco brand, while people with longer torsos prefer the Ergo, and people with wider upper backs like the Tula. Personally, I hated the Ergo and the Beco, but loved the Tula, and loved wrapping even more.

But what about my low back pain? 

From a chiropractic perspective, having the waistband lower may temporarily alleviate back pain, but it simply translates the weight lower on the body, and puts the wearer at a higher risk of hip and tailbone pain. In addition, an initial belt location lower on the body is not the maximally snug area, so there is more risk of shifting of location. Carriers should NEVER move once Baby is inside, unless on purpose by the wearer.

In reality, the biggest help to back pain in babywearers is to address exercise systems and work on re-engaging the pelvic and abdominal core muscles in the post-Partum period. A great physiotherapist can help with this. However, if simply looking at the location of the waistband, holding the extra weight (ie baby) higher and closer to the body keeps the body more centred and less vulnerable to a physical strain or sprain. Hence… waist, not hips.

You can always ask for help

It’s so hard to know what the “right” carrier is, and new parents are often so overwhelmed by options that they often just go with what their friends have. I recommend expectant families not purchase a SCC until after baby arrives because it is virtually impossible to feel the “fit” while pregnant. And I strongly recommend using a stretchy wrap or k’tan for the first 6 wks, as it’s easy and comfortable on any recovery process (although I always recommend waiting until the “all clear” from their birth provider before any babywearing as too much pressure on a scar can prolong healing time).

I also recommend that parents come to a babywearing drop in so that they can try a range of carriers out in person. We have FREE drop ins about once per month so that I can help with specific fit and usage questions.

Remember, we are ALWAYS here to help you!

~ Dr. Anne ~