FF 17: Baby wearing

Carrying your baby in a carrier or a sling on your body has many benefits to both of you.  For the carrier it allows you to have both hands free to do other things especially important with siblings.  Having baby’s weight, light as she is, close to your body decreases the  stress and strain on your muscles and joints minimising fatigue.  Having her close also increases your opportunity to be tune with baby’s needs and moods.  For your baby, when she is in a supportive and well designed carrier, she is protected, safe and warm.  She is snuggled close enough to hear your heart, your breath and your voice as she could in the womb. She follows your daily rhythm and routine and gets gentle sensory stimulation through your movement and experiences.

Peta Wilson, a Newcastle physiotherapist, designs, consults and sells wraps, slings and carriers.  She talks us through the benefits of the different options and what to look for to get the perfect fit for you and your baby.


Dorte Bladt: I’d like to welcome to Peta Wilson today. She’s from Moondani. Hello, Peta.

Peta Wilson: Hello

Dorte Bladt: Thanks for coming along.

Peta Wilson: Thanks for having me.

Dorte Bladt: So tell us a little bit about the exciting things you do.

Peta Wilson: Well, I’m a physiotherapist locally and I’m also a mom of three beautiful babies. From there, I started to wear my babies in various types of carriers and decided to start a business called Moondani.

I design fabrics and I make them into ergonomic, physio, myself-approved carriers so that they’re comfortable and they’re fitting well and also look very attractive.

Dorte Bladt: Very good. So you obviously have a bit of a creative side.

Peta Wilson: I do. I enjoy that side of it a lot.

Dorte Bladt: There seems to be a lot about baby carriers and lots of different options on the market. Can you explain to us why would you wear a carrier and what should you look for?

Peta Wilson: It’s very confusing especially for a new parent. They often want to get a carrier before their baby is even born so it can be a really tricky concept to get your head around.

But the reasons you might want to wear a carrier is, one, to be hands-free so that you can do other things. Babies like to sleep a lot. They like to cuddle a lot. They like to feed a lot. And it really helps if you can have a comfortable way to keep them close while you’re still interacting with the world. So that’s good for both mom and bub and dad and whoever is caring for the child.

There’s a thing at the moment. It’s called the fourth trimester, so it’s obviously something that’s been around since the beginning of babies and parents. But they’ve coined the phrase, the fourth trimester. That’s basically giving your baby a womb-like experience. They’re very used to being warm and cuddled in close and hearing the lulled sounds of their mother. Wearing your baby in a well-fitting carrier can give them that easier, gentler transition into the world after birth, which is really beneficial for all sorts of things. So their hormonal regulation, their temperature regulation, not to get into too much science about it but it just gives them that gentle transition into the world.

Dorte Bladt: I think the science bit is very interesting, though. There are so many physiological benefits from continuing being close to mum but we sometimes, in our little busy industrial world, we sort of forget… just stick them in the capsule in the car and stick them in the pram that looks like it’s a tank but it’s quite removed from the experience that they had before.

Peta Wilson: Yeah. I find from my own personal experience that having the baby close most of the time, it just puts them in sync with your own rhythms of your day.

Dorte Bladt: So it’s really interesting when you’re actually looking at that whole science behind the physiological changes that happens when you are carrying a baby close by.

Peta Wilson: Yeah, that’s right. I think we were talking earlier about the various containers that we put our babies in sometimes, the prams and the capsules. It does give us that bit of disconnect. Whereas when you’re wearing your baby in a carrier, it’s more… what’s the word?

Dorte Bladt: Intuitive.

Peta Wilson: Yeah, intuitive and attachment, I guess.

Dorte Bladt: And we have a little one sitting in a carrier right here who is very intuitive, or maybe he is more inquisitive.

Peta Wilson: Yes. He’s four months old and he’s just reached the sticky beak stage, though. We might touch on that a little bit later when we talk about carrier styles.

Dorte Bladt: I wanted to ask you, so there’s obviously different types of carriers. But maybe before we go to that, if you look at just the basic anatomy of a good carrier, what is it that you should look for to make sure that you get the one that suits any age?

Peta Wilson: There are so many different types of carriers. The main ones that are on the market at the moment would fall into the category of a structured carrier, which is more of a buckle-style carrier or carrier with a waistband and a body panel.

Then from there you could go to a woven wrap, which is just one long piece of fabric that’s tied various ways. There’s also a stretch version of that. And then there’s also a ring-sling style which is a one-shouldered sling style of carrier.

So regardless of which type of carrier you go for, the main principles we’re looking for is to have a supportive base, if we start there, so that the carrier supporting the child from the knee crease to the knee crease under their bottom and that puts them in a more optimal hip position.

So we talk about the ‘M’ position of the hips and that’s actually the closed back position of the hips. So where the joint surfaces have the most contact with one another is an optimal position to have those little baby joints developing in. That’s the main thing for the baby’s hips.

From there, we wanted to support up the natural curves of the baby’s spine which tend to form a C-shape when the baby is facing you. And that’s very important because the curve of the spine is to support the head and the neck development.

So we need a carrier that supports the back. If the carrier is too loose, then the baby can fall into a very deep C-shape, which is not what we want. We’re looking more to just support the natural curvatures.

So those are the main things for the baby.

Dorte Bladt: Can I just keep you on the baby then. I’m sorry. This is not going to be very structured because I’m interested. So you were talking about the ring-sling or that’s where I have noticed lots of little babies, tiny little babies are being carried almost like you would carry them in your arms.

Peta Wilson: The cradle style.

Dorte Bladt: Exactly. That does not support the M-shape of the hips. What is the thought on that?

Peta Wilson: I just realized we’re talking about lots of letters here now, just to give you the idea of the shapes that we are trying to support with the baby. But we try to keep that support through the spine, to support the head, to support the airways. So we avoid chin-to-chest postures.

And in that cradle hold, it’s very difficult for a baby to push their head back, especially very young babies, and they can tend to end up in that chin-to-chest position where their airway is not supported and they can actually find themselves in respiratory distress, which we avoid at all costs.

Dorte Bladt: Absolutely.

Peta Wilson: It’s also harder to, if the carrier fabric is coming around and covering the baby’s face, it’s much harder to monitor. So we always recommend an upright posture as the safest way to carry a baby of any age because we can monitor them more easily.

There are a lot of acronyms and things out there to just give you a bit of a checklist to go off. T.I.C.K.S. is one of them, that you might see on the internet. Or Close Enough to Kiss is a simplified version of that. So having your baby close to you with their head close enough for you to kiss without straining your neck. That’s putting them at their right height so that they’re visible and kissable.

Dorte Bladt: Visible and Kissable. So you can make sure that they are breathing, they’re comfortable, they have their right temperature, they’re not getting too hot and they’re not…

Peta Wilson: That’s right. It does make it quite easy to do that if they’re in the right position.

Dorte Bladt: So what I have seen people, I’m going back to this cradle one and what mums have told me, the ease of the cradle is because they can breastfeed on the go, but I imagine that that would be with an older child.

Peta Wilson: Not necessarily. You can, for short periods of time, put them in the cradle position. But when a baby is breastfeeding, they’re in quite a different posture to sleeping in a cradle hold. Their chin is extended up off their chest. Otherwise they can’t drink, so they can’t use their jaw and they can’t feed properly, which prompts the mother to then change their position.

Plus, I don’t know for other people but for myself, when I’m feeding my baby, I’m very aware of what they’re doing because they’re physically connected to my body. You’re looking at them and you’re listening for them swallowing. Are they drinking?

Dorte Bladt: And are they comfortable and …

Peta Wilson: That’s right. Generally, if your baby is drinking then they are breathing and they are swallowing and they’re doing all the right things. But then if your baby does tend to nod off after a feed then you just readjust them and bring them up. Generally, at that period of time, they’re ready to go to sleep and they snuggle in and go to sleep.

Dorte Bladt: That’s good. So with the different types of wraps that you’re talking about, you said a stretchy wrap or… what did you call the other one?

Peta Wilson: A woven wrap.

Dorte Bladt: Yes. So what’s the difference and what would be… I don’t suppose you can necessarily explain how you would wrap them because it probably depends on lots of things: baby, age and muscle strength and mom’s shape and all that sort of stuff. But what would be the benefit of one over the other?

Peta Wilson: I’ll start with a stretchy wrap. They’re probably one of the more popular carriers for a newborn. The stretchy wrap is made of generally stretchy jersey fabric. They’re great for newborns because they’re very womb-like. It’s like swaddling and they can wriggle and move but they’re held in quite close.

But after generally about eight kilos, they tend to feel a little bit heavy on the wearer. From there, if you like, the wrapping process… I say if you like using your stretchy wrap then you’ll probably like a woven wrap, because it’s a similar style of wrapping and wearing but it’s a more supportive way to do that. And using a woven wrap, there’s not that stretch factor.

So it’s not recommended to use a stretchy wrap, actually, you just don’t use a stretchy wrap on your back because bub can actually fall out. So no back carriers in a stretchy wrap. Whereas a woven wrap gives you a lot of different carries that you can do. So you can do a front-carry, a back-carry and do those things quite safely and supported.

Dorte Bladt: Okay. And with all those front, side, back, you can still use the woven wraps with supporting the M-shape in the hips.

Peta Wilson: Yes.

Dorte Bladt: Provided you know what to do, of course.

Peta Wilson: Yes, that’s right.

Dorte Bladt: Is there an age that you would recommend changing the position of the baby? When they’re little and brand new, you would expect them to be faced to your body.

Peta Wilson: Yes.

Dorte Bladt: What about turning them out? What about having them on your back?

Peta Wilson: Yes. A lot of people do like the idea of their baby facing out into the world so being able to see everything and see what’s going on and interact with the world. There’s nothing wrong with that. But forward-facing in the carrier, I don’t necessarily recommend for various reasons. And if they do want to do that, short periods of time.

For the baby, the reasons I don’t recommend it is it doesn’t necessarily support that C-shape of the spine. It tends to put them in more of an extended posture. That affects how well they can hold their head. So certainly not for babies younger than four or five months.

Dorte Bladt: So once they get really good control of their head themselves.

Peta Wilson: That’s right. So being able to see out in the world, my son has just reached that four-month stage where he’s wanting to sticky beak at everything. He wants to look and see what I’m doing. He’s craning his neck around, pushing out from my chest. So to me, that signals it’s time to look at some hip carriers so he can be moved around to my hip.

That gives him the ability to see what I’m doing and interact with the world and smile at everybody and be very cute. But when he’s had enough, he can then learn to snuggle in. That tells me, okay, he’s had enough stimulation. Before he gets overworked and over-tired, I can address that. So those are the main reasons for the child.

For the wearer, when you’re forward-facing in a carrier, your load, which is the baby, is pulled further away from your body. So a biomechanics kind of…looking at the physics of it, you want the load that you’re carrying to be as close to your body as possible, as close to your centre of gravity.

Dorte Bladt: Yes. They get heavy very quickly.

Peta Wilson: They do. So if you hold something very light in your hands in front of you versus holding your arms extended out in front of you, that load, which is the same, is going to feel very, very different. It’s going to feel much heaving holding it out in front. That’s just the way to remember that you need to keep your baby in nice and close. And the bigger they get, the more important this is for you.

Dorte Bladt: You’re talking about the hip placement. I find that really interesting. I would imagine that it would be very tempting to have the baby strapped to the same side, preferably. It would probably the mum’s non-dominant side. But from a baby stimulation point of view, it sounds a little bit like it would be quite important to remember to swap sides. What’s your opinion on that?

Peta Wilson: Yes, for both really. For the wearer and for the baby. So most ring-slings are designed that you can wear them on either shoulder. So if you just change it up a little bit, it’s generally not a problem. It’s a fairly balanced carrier if you have it tightened correctly because you have the weight distributed across your shoulder and then across your body to the other side where the baby is sitting. But, as you say, you want to give them different views of the world and have them moving their neck different ways.

Dorte Bladt: Depending on how sticky beaky they are, they’ll have their head turned the same way all the time.

Peta Wilson: That’s right. You want things to be balanced. Although in that position they can look both ways.

Dorte Bladt: Yeah. With the stretchy bands compared to a much more expensive, fancy, imported carrier with lumbar support and bells and whistles, what’s your opinion on… well, probably usability for the parent carrying the baby and for the support and structure of the baby? What are you thinking on?

Peta Wilson: What I tend to recommend when I’m doing a consult is whatever works for you works. Everybody is different. Everybody’s body is different. And there are so many different carriers available. But what I find disappointing is when someone is given a carrier that’s not suited for their body. Or it’s not suited for the way they want to wear their child and they’re stuck with it. And then we have to do all this sort of problem solving things to try to get it to fit well.

So getting a consult before you buy a carrier is probably the best way to go.

Dorte Bladt: And can you get a consult before you actually have the baby?

Peta Wilson: Yes. So we have local groups all over Australia, local baby-wearing groups. I can give you the link for an Australia-wide baby-wearing support group and they can direct you to a local meet. They usually volunteer run meets where you can try various carriers and find something that suits you.

Dorte Bladt: That would be really useful.

Peta Wilson: Yes. In Newcastle, we have the Newcastle and Hunter Baby-Wearer Group. I volunteer to be a peer educator in that group and we run meets. I also do personal and private consults or small group consults for that, just to allow people to try a range of things and see what’s going to work for them.

Dorte Bladt: Which would be really useful, because often it is someone, somewhere that is really kind in saying you will find this usually but, you’re right. We’ve all got different shapes and different preferences. So it’s important that it fits.

Peta Wilson: That’s right.

Dorte Bladt: What about the, from a chiropractic point of view, we often talk about the carriers for a stimulation point of view for the baby. What can you tell us about the stimulation benefit that the baby would get?

Peta Wilson: Well, there’s lots, really, and on lots of different levels. But if you talk about it from a fourth trimester, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that already, we’ve talked about that already, but the fourth trimester is basically mimicking those womb-like conditions beyond the womb. So we’re trying to keep on stimulating those vestibular systems that are developing while the baby is in the womb.

So they’re floating around in space there and they’re learning what happens when we tilit this way and we tilt that way, and the brain is developing and the muscles are developing in response to that. So using a carrier, you can imagine your child is having those gradual changes, gentle changes in movement when you’re moving around and that continues to stimulate that vestibular system, which has an offshoot for lots of different body systems so it’s really important for their developments.

I think it’s as important to carry your baby no matter how you do it as it is to do tummy time or to have them in those other lying down and learning to roll and doing all those other milestone practices.

Dorte Bladt: It basically comes back to that whole thing of, like you said, the stimulation but it’s about where am I, what am I doing. Whereas if you’re on the floor, you tend to only contract certain muscles. At least when you’re up with mom, you’re not necessarily contracting but you are being moved and your little brain is active the whole time.

Peta Wilson: Responding to that.

Dorte Bladt: Yeah, which is exciting. What about backpacks? We’ve spoken more about the little babies. What about the bigger ones whilst they get to be a little bit heavier?

Peta Wilson: So when they start to be able to sit for short periods of time and they’ve developed their core stability and their neck support, then you can start to look at back carries. And you can do that in various types of carriers. You can do back carries in all of those styles of carriers.

Dorte Bladt: Basically you’re saying once the baby is comfortable sitting by themselves, they can be in a seated position more so they’re not… well, many of the carriers these days, they’re not necessarily supported so much. They’re just sort of sitting in them. But that’s okay once they’re comfortably sitting on their own?

Peta Wilson: Well, I still like to see them well supported, so the same principles apply, really, from the front to the back. The hips should still be supported and the wearer should still have the weight distributed evenly.

So when I’m designing carriers, that’s what I’m really looking for. Does it support the baby well, or the child well? And I design carriers all the way up to pre-schoolers.

Dorte Bladt: Really?

Peta Wilson: Very large children in this game.

Dorte Bladt: I don’t want to carry a pre-schooler.

Peta Wilson: But if you had a well-fitting carrier, you could.

Dorte Bladt: That’s true.

Peta Wilson: So people do ask me a lot at what age can I use this carrier to? So I say basically, for a woven wrap, as heavy as you would like to carry them. The carrier will support them.

Dorte Bladt: The carrier is strong enough to support them.

Peta Wilson: They’re strong enough to support them. But it really just depends person to person and you have to make that decision depending on what suits you.

Dorte Bladt: Yeah. You’ve spoken a lot about hip support and leg support. I often find when mums come in and they have been given this carrier, I’m horrified because there’s no neck support. What’s your thought on that?

Peta Wilson: So neck support. So I like to look at neck support from the base up. It’s not really good enough to put some sort of neck support if the rest of the carrier is not functioning well. So when the baby is sitting in a wide-based carrier, their spine is supported adequately, their neck is going to be better supported from the start.

With a woven carrier such as a wrap or a ring-sling, you can actually use a little washcloth or perhaps use the tail of the sling and just roll it up and have it just giving that little bit of extra neck support if you feel like you need it. But I do find that as long as the rest of the carry, the way that you’ve wrapped the wrap is done securely, the neck is well supported.

Dorte Bladt: I think I might not have clarified that. The point that I have been trying to tell parents is that when the baby falls asleep, it is important that the head is supported. I think that was probably what I was trying to say. So making sure that the wrap comes up… of course, if you have a wrap just stretch it up.

But some of the carriers only go to the shoulders and I personally see that as a challenge. One is that it’s not good for the baby’s head. And then mum often feels that and then she holds the baby’s head in place. That sort of defeats the purpose of having a carrier because she doesn’t have her hands free to deal with the other two-year-old that’s running around.

Peta Wilson: Yeah. That really depends on the carrier. If you’re unsure about your carrier, it’s a good idea to go to a meet or to see someone like myself who can give you some advice on whether that carrier is still fitting your child. I do that because my business is… well, I sell worldwide, but the Australia-wide people can do that via messenger and send me photos and I can say this carrier is getting a little bit too small.

So a general rule for that is younger babies, they need to have the carrier coming up to the base of their neck at the back. As they get older, they can manage with the carrier sitting lower towards the shoulder blade, the top of the shoulder blades, but really no shorter than their armpits. They need to have the support.

Dorte Bladt: I definitely agree with that.

Peta Wilson: A lot of carries have hoods as well, which you can use to… when the head lolls back a little bit, that can actually happen when they’re relaxed, especially an older child or a toddler. The hood can sometimes be helpful too.

Dorte Bladt: It can be the support. So my understanding is that you have an area or a place where people can actually come and have a chat to you.

Peta Wilson: Yeah.

Dorte Bladt: So how do they find you?

Peta Wilson: I’m very easy to contact. You can contact me via my website, my email, Facebook page, Instagram page, YouTube channel.

Dorte Bladt: You are that generation, aren’t you?

Peta Wilson: Sort of. I’m on the cusp. I’m just clinging in there. But I’m happy to be contacted by any of those means. And I do consults over at Bennetts Green, so I have rooms over there where I have various carriers there to try and I have people coming every week to speak to me and to see.

Dorte Bladt: So if people do look you up in Instagram or Facebook or wherever, how do they find you?

Peta Wilson: Okay. So my business is Moondani. Probably the easiest way to find me is on Facebook because there’s not a lot of Moondanis on Facebook. And message me from there. But my website is www.moondani.com.au and my Instagram is @moondani_australia. I’m just starting the YouTube channel so it has a few videos on there at the moment and it will be growing over the next few months with lots of education as well as different ways to use various carriers safely. So I plan to do a lot more education because I think it’s so important.

Dorte Bladt: It is.

Peta Wilson: To not only make it safe but enjoyable. And I encourage people just to not give up after trying one carrier because there are so many options that can suit you.

Dorte Bladt: And just really finishing up, do you have a particular burning advice that you would tell parents that are looking… let’s just say they are looking to purchase something for a baby that is not born yet. What would your main advice be to look for or to consider, I suppose?

Peta Wilson: I’d just say consider things that are outside of the box, if you like, or outside of the mainstream because there’s so many options and there’s so many different styles of carriers that you can use. They’re not always going to be what you’ll find in a store, in a supermarket, in a chain store.

So my advice would be to join the baby-wearing community on Facebook. From there, your eyes will be opened to so many more options. I never knew such a think existed when I started looking at this purely from the fact of the point of view of a mother looking for a tool to use to soothe the baby while doing other things.

Dorte Bladt: Taking care of a two-year-old and a four-year-old.

Peta Wilson: Yes. So my advice would be just to broaden your search a little bit. Get someone to advise you and maybe try some different ones before you buy.

Dorte Bladt: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time, Peta. That was really interesting.

Peta Wilson: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.