Do I need a high back carry?
So if you’ve been carrying for a while and in the babywearing Facebook groups you’ve probably seen people talking about back carrying and how it needs to be high. So let’s examine why that’s said and what is true about the height of a back carry!
Let’s go back to back carry basics
What are the fundamentals of carrying? Your carry needs to be safe and ideally comfortable. Safe means secure – not falling out – and able to breathe. You need to be able to monitor your little ones breathing and ensure they aren’t slumping down.
So how does that relate to the height of a back carry? When you’re back carrying it is harder to see your babies face than when they are on your front. So you need to find ways to do the monitoring of their breathing. One way is to have your baby high up so that they are visible over your shoulder or resting on the back of your neck. But you can use a mirror, windows you’re walking past, random strangers or your selfie camera to check a baby or child who is lower down as well.
Typically very young babies (under 6 months) are more at risk of slumping whilst awake because they usually have less core strength and lower muscle tone. These babies will often benefit from higher back carries because the height can give you extra reassurance. However once your little one is sitting unaided this risk lessens and as long as you can use other methods to monitor safety, the height of your back carry isn’t a specific safety issue.
There are lots of ‘rules’ thrown out there about back carrying, but understanding why they are used and what they mean will help you find the right option for your family.
But what about comfort for me?
Everyone has a height of back carry that is comfortable for them and it’s not always high! Some people are far more comfortable carrying weight in the small of their back and on their hips and some people are happier with weight on their shoulders and top of their back. This might also change as your child gets older and longer! I am definitely in the lower back carries are more comfortable camp – I cannot get as comfy with a high back carry!
It is worth experimenting with what feels right and comfortable. You can do this with a doll or teddy, or if you have a rucksack with a waist band you can test how it feels at different heights with or without a waist band – which may also make a difference!
Let’s talk about the physics of a back carry
Your centre of gravity is the point of your body where it is in balance and gravity appears to act. On different people with different body shapes the centre of gravity (CoG) will be in slightly different places but broadly it is above your hips in the centre of your body. As you move it also moves and adding weight you are carrying also changes your centre of gravity.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a workplace manual handling video you will know that advice for carrying heavy objects is to keep them as close to your centre of gravity as possible – so for many people this is close to your body and low on your back. This advice exists because it is easier to compensate for the change in balance adding weight to your body brings – a weight high on your back changes your centre of gravity more and your body will need to do more work to compensate.
You can see this in practice with hiking rucksacks – where the weight is packed into the bottom of the rucksacks, then sturdy waistbands help the weight be distributed through your hips and shoulder straps are there to stop the weight pulling away from your centre of gravity but don’t bear as much of the weight themselves.
How does this relate to back carries?
So with regards to carrying, if you want to do a high back carry then the weight of the child might have a big affect on how this feels for your body. With a newborn or small baby weighing just a few kilograms then a high back carry might be fine for your body, but as your child grows their weight will affect your centre of gravity more and more and you may find that lower back carries are more comfortable.
When you are carrying something on your back you engage your core muscles to compensate for the weight pulling away from you. If you can direct weight into your hips you change what muscles you are using, which might work better for your body shape. If you have the weight directed into your waist or rib cage then again different muscles will be working to keep your body balanced – which works for you will take some practice.
Do different carriers carry at different heights?
Yep! Buckle carriers, meh dai and half buckle carriers are all designed for low back carries with a waist band on your hips or waist. Onbuhimo are designed for high back carries. A woven wrap can do both depending on the carry you choose – a ruck carry is high whilst a double hammock is low. There is a some flexibility in this, but the choice of carrier will affect how easily you can achieve a high back carry if that is something that you want or need to do.
Does the size of my child affect the height of my back carry?
Yes! Have a look at this image of Jen’s back and the length of my dolls – one roughly the size of a 4 month old and one the size of a 12 month old.
Jen is showing different places where you could put the waistband (or wrap pass) on their back and the distance from there to their shoulders.
When the length from the waistband to your shoulder is shorter than the length of your baby’s back, when you put them in the carrier their bottom will drop lower than the waistband. This has two common effects
- The waistband will be pulled diagonally down. Unless the waistband is extremely tight, it will be pushed down your body and pull your baby’s weight through your body rather than evenly distributing it when they sit on the top of the waistband
- It will shorten the panel of the carrier because some of it will be between you and your baby. This can make the carrier less supportive at your baby’s shoulders or mean that they appear to grow out of the carrier much faster.
Moving the waistband further up your body will increase your likely hood of these two issues, and it can become an issue when you are short and carrying an older or taller child as well.
Tips and Tricks for a comfy back carry
- Try out different carriers, ways of carrying and different heights to find an option to suit you. We have a range of different styles of carriers to hire, or you can access support at your local sling library.
- Remember that your growing child will change what feels comfortable for you when carrying. As they grow and change you might need to change how you carry.
- Think about how to adjust and tighten your carrier. Different carriers adjust in different ways, sometimes very different. Before tightening you need to move the slack to your tightening system!
- Don’t worry if your most comfortable option looks different to someone else’s.
- Above all, stay safe! Remember the two key points – your baby is safe and secure.