Babywearing comes down to two basic things – first is keeping a child secure in the carrier, with airway safety being the very first consideration, second is preventing falls.
But it’s not always the baby we’re trying to keep from falling. Which means that baby carrying is also about controlling the adult to keep the baby safe. Which means the adult has to mind their speed, stability, all while managing obstacles while carrying.
When cycling, the most important thing to mind is protecting the baby in case of a fall. Helmets contribute greatly to injury prevention while cycling. Below is information from a website maintained by Chris Gilham, an Australian journalist. Currently, most provinces and territories require helmets be worn.1
I also spoke to Kendra Runions, a feeding support consultant in Eastern Ontario2. She worked for 2 years selling specialty safety equipment for power sports applications and some of the families she helped had riders were as young as two years old.
When I asked Kendra about helmet wearing, this is what she said:
“I could easily write a novel on just helmet wearing. Is it a correctly fitted helmet? Is it optimal materials to withstand the most
likely crash scenario?
All of these factors should be in play when choosing a helmet from tricycles to tobaggans and dirt bikes.”
Do you feel adults can gauge whether a helmet is properly fitted and safe for their child?
“No. Honestly a lot of adults don’t know even how to fit a helmet for themselves. An incorrectly balanced and fitted helmet can cause a more severe injury than would have been originally sustained even in a relatively minor accident. I’m talking tip over and fall accident. All of these factors should be in play when choosing a helmet for everything from tricycles to toboggans to dirt bikes.”
What happens to the body dynamic forces when a baby is worn on the body?
“First off your center of gravity is shifted. I’ve consistently warned adults of having other adult passengers because there is some input required for manoeuvering and if your passenger does the wrong thing it can definitely throw you off enough to cause an accident. Now just think of how unpredictable kids are, along with having their leverage points reduced when wrapped or carried and just basically being too short for their legs to reach anything.
Velocity, distance, gravity, pretty much every force could potentially be encountered based on what type of accident could occur. The possibilities are literally endless.”
What about if the baby is worn on the back?
A back worn child is actually what I picture by default. Everything I have mentioned is at play. This is where I want to note that in the event of most accidents, especially low speed, think under 5 km/hr, your back passenger will end up off the vehicle before you. There are many scenarios in which the driver will remain with the vehicle but the passenger will not. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. In order to absorb impact and mitigate potential damage to the human body its better on us to take space to stop v.s. one fast and sudden stop. Everyone has heard “tuck and roll”. A back worn child cannot break free from the adult to do this. Any adult with a child strapped to them is no longer the correct shape for their own body to make the adjustments it
needs to maximize their own injury protection. The adult will most likely be fighting base protective instincts in order to try and shield the child.
Can you always protect your baby in case of an accident? NO.
Think about the difference if you fall while walking, versus if you fall while biking. Now add a baby in the mix on a parent’s back or even in the front. It changes the centre of gravity, which with experience you can accommodate for, but it also adds a weight. If a back pack can go flying off your body when you get into an accident while cycling, or you crush it with your body, think about replacing that very same backpack with the weight of a child.
Additional to the information from my interview with Kendra, here is an excerpt from iBike, an American organization centred around cycling information and safety about cycling while babywearing:
“The conservative approach is that taking an infant on a bike in a backpack has risks and is potentially dangerous — and it is illegal in some jurisdictions. Some of the issues are: The center of gravity is higher; if you wear helmets, your helmets may banged together; the child is quite vulnerable in a fall because the distance is higher and there is a greater chance of the infant ending up underneath the adult in a tumble; and the backpack provides less protection than a child seat or trailer. Slings would present similar issues, though in is a sling the child is lower down and their head is better supported, so it unlikely for the adult and child to bang heads — it is also unlikely that the child would be wearing a helmet.” 3
Should you cycle with your babes? Absolutely YES!
There are many great ways to cycle with your kids. You can use a trailer until they are old enough to sit unsupported, at which point you can move to a bike seat, as Lauren has with her child here. Lauren lives in Ontario.
Trailers can be be found for affordable prices on second hand boards, and now is the time to start looking. Often, you can buy a trailer or bike seat and then use the money from the resell to by your children their first bike.
1. This website tracks all bicycle helmet laws from countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. You can check it out here. For more about bike helmet legislation in Canada, visit the Canadian Pediatric Society here.↩
2. Kendra is the owner of Full Circle Feeding, a business that helps families with breastfeeding, chest feeding, and just feeding their babies. They specialize in working with traditional and non-traditional families. From her website, “Non traditional family unit? Grandparent feeling out of touch? Nervous new father feeling left out?” Visit their website for more information.↩
3. To read more about what iBike has to say about early helmet wearing and babywearing while cycling, visit this page here.