Category Archive Backwearing

Sanity through babywearing & cross country skiing

I have very fond memories of getting out to do winter activities with my dad when I was little – all sorts of things like skating, skiing, sledding, building snowmen, to name a few. These memories are so precious to me, that I wanted to do the same with my kids.  However, as I learned when I became a mother with a nine to five job, weekends quickly fill up with swimming lessons,  gymnastics and other commitments, I found it challenging to find the time to get out and actually enjoy the winter months.

But life really changed once my second baby was born. My first child, unlike my second child was extremely colicky and fussy for the first year of his life and the only thing that calmed him down was taking him out for long walks, which was easy since he was a summer baby. Babywearing was a lifesaver. It quickly became an important part of our lives, and I soon realized that getting out for walks together was calming for both of us, and helped me shed the baby weight much sooner than anticipated.

When winter rolled around, getting out for walks was much harder because many of the sidewalks in my neighbourhood were not plowed. When I expressed these difficulties to my family doctor, he had some really great suggestions. My doctor is a huge advocate of getting children outside as much as possible, no matter what season is. He made reference to Sweden, where it is the norm to bundle up your babies, as early as the day they are born, and get them outside for their naps. He pointed me towards some additional information on this Swedish model on outdoor napping, that I found interesting:

In Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, outdoor napping is recommended by doctors and is common both at home and at state-run daycares. Research by Marjo Tourula, from the University of Oulu in Finland, has shown that napping outdoors in frigid temperatures improves quality of sleep and increases duration of sleep in babies and toddlers. Many Scandinavian parents believe that the fresh air helps children eat better, be more active and promotes better health by reducing coughs and colds. The sounds and smells of nature are also quite soothing and may boost brain development. It’s often quite common to see sleeping babies in the cold weather, all bundled up in strollers outside coffee shops.1

My family doctor is also a huge advocate of exposing children to all sorts of different outdoor activities from a young age and he went on to tell me some stories about when his daughters were young.  He explained that he had taken both of his kids out cross country skiing when they were little and would strap the youngest to his back. Knowing that I had been an avid skier for most of my life, and that I was also big into babywearing, he suggested going out on the trails while carrying my youngest baby on my back.

So I decided one day to try it out.

I am so glad I did — my 6 month old LOVED it!

The first time I tried cross country skiing with my baby, I anticipated being out for about 20 minutes, as I was unsure how this would all work. Well that plan quickly changed as my baby immediately got comfortable up on my back in the carrier and dozed off. And meanwhile, I was having such a great time that we ended up  staying out for an hour. I ended up going back out two more times that week because we both loved it so much! I would stay out for about an hour each session, however would keep going if baby was still napping at the end of the hour.

My baby’s favourite thing was looking over my shoulder, and with the motion and fresh air, he quickly fell asleep. And for me, I find it so incredibly calming to be outside in the middle of winter and magical when you are lucky enough to get out when it’s snowing! It’s also a chance for me to get some peace and quiet during the day. If my baby was is being a bit fussy (teething, tired, gassy, etc), usually a trip outside calms him down right away, and I can relax and not have to focus on soothing him or calming him down as nature does that for me.

Getting out cross country skiing is great exercise. When I first started skiing with my son, I forgot how many muscles were involved, and quickly realized that it truly was a full body workout. AND remember, you have that added weight on your back, so it really challenges you!

I was so excited about this new activity, that I perhaps overdid it a bit in the first week and did not listen to my body like I should have. My advice would be to start a bit more slowly, and try it 1-2 times in the first week and then see how your body is feeling. I was so sore after that first time that I ended up needing to take the next week off to rest. But the following week I got right back into it.  It took me about a month to build up enough strength to make it more effortless. One of the great things about having a baby, is that they are constantly growing and getting bigger. So even when my body got used to using all the muscles involved in cross country skiing, the weight of an ever growing baby added a constant challenge, so it was never truly effortless. It was the perfect way to challenge me.

Another thing I loved about being able to take my son cross country skiing was that it is an activity that we do together, just the two of us. I grew up skiing, both cross country and downhill and am so comfortable being on skis, it’s like second nature to me. Since I never considered attempting something like this with my first son (mostly since I was not into babywearing the first time around), this will be a wonderful memory of something special that I did together just with my second son. We also got to see also sorts of cool wildlife. We saw bunnies, foxes and even a few deer!

I am so glad that I got into babywearing (especially back carrying), because it really opened up a lot of opportunities that I might not have attempted otherwise!

Want to hear some pieces of advice I wish I’d gotten? Go with someone.

The winter I spent on maternity leave was pretty mild so the cold wasn’t a major concern, but one time, my son lost his mitt and I only noticed this after taking him off my back when I got back to the car. If you’re just starting out, it might be useful to go together with someone else so you can help each other get your babies up on your back (as it can be challenging with carriers and snowsuits). This way, you can also spot check each other’s babies for lost mitts, hats, etc.

Later that season, once I was comfortable and had built up enough confidence skiing with my baby on my back, I decided to be a little more adventurous and take both kids out with me one weekend. My 3 year old had never been cross country skiing before, but I decided it would be fun to get him out to try it. What I did not anticipate was how often a 3 year old would fall over on his skis, and how challenging it would be trying to pick him up while carrying a baby on your back on your own skis! Many lovely strangers ended up coming over to help my 3 year old get up. But needless to say, that skiing session did not last long. Although the skiing that day was a bit of a failure, we still made the best of it as there was ice fishing nearby which my three year old was absolutely fascinated by. The next time I attempted cross country skiing with both kids, we ended up going as a whole family so that my husband could help our 3 year old.

Another piece of advice? Rent the gear.

I found it was easier than trying to get all the gear into your car and get out to the trails, and there are so many places you can rent your gear from, really simplifying getting out. I live near Gatineau park, and our Gatineau Plus cards offers free 1 hour cross country ski rentals at a few locations (we went to Lac Leamy near the Casino du Lac Leamy). And many times during the work week, there were so few people there that you could often take the skis for longer than an hour.

Since starting this activity with my youngest child, it has become a fun family activity. We even meet up with some friends and their families sometimes and get everyone out to enjoy the winter together. In the spring, we sometimes opt for snowshoe rentals instead, and bring along a bag of seeds and go out and feed the chickadees along the trail, which the kids absolutely love. This love of skiing and the outdoors has also paved the road into a trying out downhill skiing with my oldest. Last year, he was old enough to put him into downhill skiing lessons at Camp Fortune. I was amazed at how quickly he picked it up and within a month, we were able to take the chair lift up and ski together down the beginner hills, and eventually the intermediate hills by the end of the season. Much like cross country skiing was a special activity that I shared with my youngest, I am finding that downhill skiing is a special activity that I love spending together, just the two of us, with my oldest. I have also inspired others to get their children into skiing this winter, and will likely be joining up with some friends and family to go downhill skiing this winter.

I truly feel like this first step of getting out cross country skiing with my youngest has reignited my love of being outdoors in the winter. I have also realized that, especially with children, you really have to embrace the winter months and get out there. We have a small sledding hill across the street from us which I love taking the kids to every weekend, and love seeing their thrilled little faces, big smiles, laughter and happy screams of glee as they “rush” down the hill with all the other neighbourhood kids.  I am really hoping that I am helping my children create wonderful winter memories and helping to create a new generation that loves experiencing our beautiful Canadian winters.

 

_________
Footnotes
1. Read the research by Marjo Tourula here.

2017 Award winners

You know what I realized during this whole process? Canadians really love and appreciate the support they’ve received from others in their community. First there was the nail biting vote for Canadian Babywearing Educator of the year, which came down to only a difference of a few votes for this year’s winner.

 

Canadian Babywearing Educator of 2017

Congratulations to Cindy Larrivée, this year’s recipient of this award. Cindy has won a manduca brown baby carrier from our GOLD sponsor.

Cindy was nominated by several people in her community for this award, and you could tell they really appreciated all they did for her.

______________________

The award for best babywearing group brought out everyone. We received a total of over 19,088 votes. What I learned? Canadians love their babywearing groups and see them as an essential part of their parenting journey. To all those who volunteer to help parents, I would like to thank you.

Best Babywearing Group in Canada of 2017

Congratulations to the Renfrew Babywearing Group. You have won a manduca brown baby carrier from our GOLD sponsor for your learning library.

 

 

Backwearing – for all parents

webpic-jennarbackwear2

There has been a real change in the language around back carrying these past few years. It has now become normal to view it as dangerous and to be avoided until babies are at least six months old or are able to sit on their own.

It didn’t used to always be this way. And when I look at the overall history of babywearing, carrying your baby long term on the front is so rare, to the point where long-term front wearing is a modern invention. Backwearing is done successfully in many other cultures and babies start to be backcarried as young as 2-6 weeks of age on their mother’s back in various African nations, and in Asian cultures like Japan as of approximately four months of age.1

As Bisi Osundeko says in Joy and Joe’s Dear New Babywearer Book:
“The world is revolving, and many modern families live (in) areas where babywearing is not as dominant. I have heard several stories of people being accosted at car parks and shopping malls because they were attempting to do a back carry.”2

Brenda’s story here in Canada started much the same way:

“My back is so weak. I think I was ridden with guilt at wanting to back carry even though everything I read and everyone I spoke to said, “No way José.” I was supposed to want to front carry only so I could snuggle and love my small baby. Not want to shove him to the back and wear him like a backpack. But I wanted to take care of his needs and not be in pain. He needed to be held and I needed to not hate holding him because of the pain.”3

Parents who turn to backwearing in are often made to feel like:

  • They will kill their baby.
  • They are inferior parents.
  • They are not good enough, strong enough, or healthy enough to babywear.
  • Your baby’s needs are more important than yours – that of your body, of your living situation, of your life.
  • You do not have a normal family, and you don’t count.

Who exactly are we targeting with this language?

  • Solo parents, single parents.
  • Stay at home parents.
  • Parents with multiple children of varying ages.
  • Twin parents.
  • Parents of babies with disabilities.
  • Parents who are in pain.
  • Parents whose bodies are just a little bit different.

Shari’s story is a common one:

Stay-at-home mother“At around two months my big baby was now too heavy for the Moby and it hurt my back and it began to stretch out. So I began looking into other options, that’s how I found out about wraps, mei tai and eventually the woven ring sling. Of course soon he was much too long for a front carry, but then we just switched to a back carry and he could go anywhere with us. By the time I had my last baby, my middle was almost 2. My last baby seemed to be the neediest baby in the world and I was run ragged chasing a two year old around all day and nursing. This is where babywearing was a life saver! I was able to back carry my infant around the house while still being able to entertain a rambunctious toddler.”4

 

 

webpic-carolynmoffat1

Or how about this common parenting experience from Carolyn:

“As a sole parent to a clingy baby on the 98th percentile for weight, backwearing was the only way I could get things done. She was too heavy and bulky to wear on my front during chores, but on my back it was bearable. We indulged in front carries for short walks and bedtime cuddles.”5

Taking backwearing away as an option from parents based on fear is wrong.

 

What are the advantages of backwearing?

  • Safer footing for the parents. You can see where you are going and can avoid obstacles much more easily. Also, once the weather turns and you start having temperatures hit below zero. If you need to increase your traction, invest in some boot grips or retractable walking canes.
  • You can reach things more easily.
  • Protective of the parent’s back. The front part of your body is all soft tissue and does not have the advantage of the spine to help lock things into place. This means you are putting a lot of pressure on your shoulders, throwing your whole body out of alignment and aggravating injuries. I have seen women who would have abandoned babywearing had they not been able to backwear.
  • Can be used to accommodate almost any adult physiology as the baby can be worn high, on the mid or low back.
  • Enables parents to continue with proximal care.6
  • Allows parents to be responsive, active parents through what I like to call the communication loop – parents are able to hear, feel, respond do their baby’s needs because they are worn.
  • Easier to monitor your child when they are worn.
  • Improves and decreases stress and anxiety in both the parent and the child.
  • It is incredibly empowering.

Objections to babywearing are based on a lack of know-how and are not actually based on being able to accommodate baby’s physiological needs in a safe way.

As a babywearing educator, I feel it is my job to empower parents to backwear safely.

The argument that we frequently hear, that unless a baby is physiologically capable of holding up their own bodies, you should not backwear is utter claptrap. Because then what other choice are we left with? That babies should all be kept in some sort of basin and off the body. The only difference between wearing on the front versus the back is the “out of sight” aspect. Which can be accommodated for if taught properly.

What do you need to consider to backwear safely?

  • For a younger babe, a carrier should form and hug its body. It must hug its contours, leaving no gaps and be able to snugly hold the baby in place. This is to prevent the baby’s from collapsing forward.
  • You must be aware of your child and check in with them often. If you use a high back carry, this means having them against the skin at the base of your neck so you can feel their breath. It means stroking their feet taking advantage of the Babinski reflex.
  • The right kind of carrier or this stage of life. Carriers that work well for back wearing young babies form tightly to the body and include wraps (of all lengths), mei tais, onbuhimos, and podaegis.
  • Structured carriers as they are not easily customizable. Wait until your baby is tall enough.
  • Have someone experienced. Experience is defined in hands on hours and in years of helping parents with this skill.
  • Have a spotter.
  • Practice awareness. Quiet all the noise around you and focus on your child: Can you feel their body moving with their breath? Can you feel them moving? The more you practice, the better you will get.
  • Stroke the bottom of their feet. If they react, you are okay.
  • Take advantage of any reflective surface to check in regularly with your baby, or buy a retractable mirror to help you peek at your beautiful squish. Or use the selfie mode on your smartphone.

We, as a culture, are still learning to become babywearing masters and being new to babywearing makes it okay to be hesitant about backwearing your baby. But to say that it cannot be done, or should not be done is entirely false. Go to a babywearing group meeting, watch videos, get expert help.

 

webpic-brendalavallee1What did Brenda do, given her history of back injury?  “I wore my 4 month old on my back when he reached almost 20 lbs because I found a babywearing group leader that was willing to teach me how to do it safely and I remember crying in joy that in could still wear and be pain free.”

Let’s follow Bisi’s advice. She believes “that we as a community need to uphold each other at all times because some new babywearers need this the most.”

 

 

 

 

____
Footnotes
1. The History of Onbuhimo, Masayo Sonoda, PhD
2. Joy and Joe’s book
3. Brenda Duke is a teacher on her maternity leave, she has two boys.
4. Shari Rozon is a stay-at-home mother, she has three boys.
5. Carolyn Moffat is a midwife and sole parent two girls. A sole parent is when there is only one parent in the family.
6. Proximal care is when parents chose to hold their babies a fair amount of time, and to respond immediately to their needs.