Baby Carriers - the adults movement pattern

In my work I have met Runa Gustafsson, a psychologist who also works with body therapy. Runa's knowledge of the body, posture and balance has naturally caused her to observe children in baby carriers. She has observed children and also the adult's body's physical behavior when carrying the child. The movement patterns of the adult and the importance of the child are rarely taken up in the facts about the baby carriers. Read Runa's wise thoughts about the effects of adult movement patterns on the child's development:

How we use baby carriers

When an adult carries a small child in a baby carrier, a complex movement pattern is under way. We need to pay attention to how it happens, as it is essential for the child's development. First a background as an introduction.

Background introduction

Different thoughts, needs and motives lie behind parents' choices to wear a child in the baby carrier, including the desire for physical closeness with their child and developing a positive connection. Another desire may be to have hands free while carrying the baby. There are different models of baby carriers on the market, including models where you can carry the child forward, that is, the child's face turns outward without eye contact with his parent. Some parents opt out of this option because they want eye contact with their child, and also to protect the child against too much visual stimulation. On line articles focus mainly on ergonomics of the carrier, discussion of eye contact or not, and on the positive effects of using the baby carrier.

Some articles emphasize the importance of correct use of the children's legs and hips in the carrier and clarify how the legs of the child should not hang down straight, but be in an M position to benefit the hips and the child's maturation process, thus avoiding hip instability. Carrying the child centered is stressed. Several articles warn against having the child forward looking with the body leaning forward creating weight bearing and center of gravity on the frontal genital area and pubic bones, instead of the sitting bones.

There are articles and blog texts highlighting the importance of seeing their child, and above all that the child can see his parent for support, security and confirmation. A young child hanging in a harness and forward facing is not only exposed to an unnatural posture but also to intense visual stimulation. If this happens in a stressful chaotic environment, the child can not avoid it. We adults can walk away if it's too tiring.

Communication and Development

In 2011, Swedish television included a scientific study by Suzanne Zeedyk about the importance of placing children in a rearward-facing pram, where children and parents can see each other. The study describes how this position promotes the child's communicative ability and linguistic development. Through eye contact between the child and the parent, you can share experiences in their non-verbal and verbal communication, and the child gets help to interpret inner and outer stimuli. The child receives confirmation. This position does not prevent the child from seeing and experiencing the environment. The child can alternate between being able to see the parent and see the rest of the world. The parent's presence and attention is central. In addition, this position means that the parent himself can more easily perceive his child and respond to the child's expressions and behaviors, which creates more security. It is easier to comfort and support your child in eye contact.

It is also easier to see when something is going on when in an eye contact, for example, to see when a sleeping child is waking up, and as a parent you can meet the child's gaze and perceive the child's condition and respond to the child.

An essential dimension is missing

However, with regard to articles and marketing that pay attention to different aspects of child carriers, I find a missing dimension. This dimension is essential and crucial to how the carrier can be used and affect the child. It is the significance of the adult's own physicality and h o whe/she moves with the baby carrier and the child and how this movement pattern influences the effect of the baby carrier and its impact on the child.

Unfortunately, I note that there are parents that carry in such a way that it can create a risk for negative development of the child. I have been able to see signs of stress reactions in children and that parents do not seem aware of how the bodily and psychological interaction between them and the child can affect the child's motor development and sense of safety. I will seek to explain what I observed and how I reflect it based on my theoretical and practical knowledge and clinical experience as a psychologist, body-oriented psychotherapist and rolfer®.

Movement patterns - and its different dimensions

Several factors are important to consider when using baby carriers. As a parent moving with stress, clumsily, fast, jerky or swaying from side to side, it leads to the initiation of movement forces that allow the child's legs and arms to move (fast) in different directions, which means that a force and stress move in against the child's body, usually central to the hips and to the spine, and it can become too powerful and difficult for the child to handle. The child can defend himself or protect himself by pushing against the adult or tense muscles at different places within the body to cope with the stresses. There are children that hang "tilted" in the harness (sometimes almost diagonally), making it more difficult, difficult or impossible for the child to focus his eyes and head in a centered way.

To walk clumsily and not pay attention to the position and movements of the child's head can cause a major strain on the neck, with the risk of serious injury or neck problems as a result, now and in the future. I have seen how children lie with their head extended backwards or to the side while the adult moves hard and without rhythm. It can create a kind of shaking violence on the child's neck and spine. Shakes can take place laterally or vertically (as bumps up and down), depending on how the adult moves. I have seen situations where the child's neck could be broken. The little child becomes vulnerable and exposed in this situation. I have seen children collapse giving up. Most of us adults know how it feels awkward and inconvenient to dance with someone on a dance floor that does not feel good to dance with. Perhaps we are trampling each other on the toes and experiencing a disharmonic interaction, and within us we wish the dance will end soon so that we can leave the floor. The little child can not choose, the child has to endure, and one way to do it if stresses become too strong is to disengage. If this mechanism happens often and for a long time, it can lead to stress symptoms and imbalances in the nervous system. I have seen children's eyes stare and look tense, signs of stress in the autonomic nervous system.

Hands that embrace

Another important dimension to think about is not to use baby carriers instead of your hands. It is valuable to respond carefully and caress your little child with your hands or with one hand. The hands also support the child, embrace the child so that they can feel safe and experience the adult's presence. The baby carrier should not replace hands and human support. It can rather serve as a relief for the adult, perhaps because it will be easier to carry the weight of the child. Considering the baby carrier as a practical attire, where the child can hang freely while the adult engages in another activities means risking not being aware of the child's bodily position. A hand on or around the baby carrier has an influence on the parent also, thus providing more direct feedback from the child's body. The early phase of a child's life is based on feeling safe and taken care off, being able to rest safely in the arms of the adult. In being held the child can develop from his or her own abilities and also develop in its natural curiosity and playfulness. If the child becomes insecure due to strong forces on his or her own body, the child devotes time and focus to endure, or to survive and handle a strong strain.


Common when stressed is to hold your breath, or breathe fast and superficially. The rhythm of breathing is affected and this the child can feel. One can describe the interaction between the child's body and the parent's body as a kind of communicative dance, where the child so directly and purely experiences the parent's outer and inner condition. If the parent is stressed, moves stressfully, and is more focused on other things than the presence of his child in the baby carrier, the child experiences this quality, in a non-verbal manner. The parent's own physicality is transmitted to the child. The early phase of the interaction between the child and the adult is fundamental to the child's development. It concerns the child's motor, emotional, mental, cognitive and linguistic development.

Balance development

When wearing a baby carrier, one should consider the child's sense of center of gravity in his body and in relation to how the effects of gravity in the gravitational field changes and creates complications. This ability to find inner balance, mobility and stability is a basis for good posture and function - even before the child learns to walk. From birth and the first months, the child is deeply involved in developing its balance, such as developing equilibrium reactions in all directions and adjustments in balance ability.


As mentioned earlier, articles on internet and also marketing of baby carriers focus on the concept of ergonomics. There are opinions on the market regarding ergonomics and the child's body that needs to be questioned and discussed. In conversation with pediatric physiotherapist Ulrika Myhr, we have discussed the perspectives on ergonomics that occur online and on producer websites, and thought about how the baby carrier's function can be developed in order to promote the child's natural development. I refer to Ulrika Myhr's article "Views on and reflections on the ergonomics of the carrier and the child's motor development" with a shorter summary of baby carriers and ergonomics, see link. As far as baby carrier and ergonomics are concerned, scientific independent research is needed on how the structure of the carrier affects the physique and motor development of the child, but also how parents' movement patterns affect the child, and how the interaction can take place and develop when using a baby carrier.

Ergonomics and movement

When I now demonstrate the ergonomics approach regarding the child's position in the baby carrier, it is important to emphasize that it irrespective of how ergonomic the structure and technology of the baby carrier is, the importance of being aware of how to move with the child in the baby carrier remains. How the parent's own bodily nature affects the child and the interaction between them. This dimension must be central to use.

The child's development is a correlation between the child's own abilities, the tasks the child receives and the environment the child is in. Gravitation and its fields are an invisible force we often overlook, but its effects are highly present and alive when both the child and the adult are moving together. Even subtle signals are important in the child's orientation towards staying upright and in interpreting internal and external signals. Here, we are not scientifically aware of how stress such as shaky movements affect the child's ability and capacity. Perhaps some children can handle this, others not. But I know that child physiotherapists are increasingly seeing serious neck problems in small children. These problems may also be related to the use of baby carrier with a negative movement pattern of the adult. Stressing patterns of movement therefore constitute a risk factor.

With this article, I would like to draw attention to the risks of not paying attention to the interaction between the parent and the child when using baby carriers. Becoming more aware of the state of mind and movement patterns of your own body is an important starting point for developing and promoting the child's motor function and physical self-esteem.

Recommendations Simple Guidelines

Here I recommend some important simple guidelines to promote and develop a positive body and movement pattern of the adult who wants to wear a wearer:

- Slow down, go slower, softer

- Remember to breathe without stress

- Hold your baby softly and firmly with your hands or with a hand, as primary support and holding

- Be aware that your body and movement patterns are important when wearing a baby carrier

- Have eye contact, for mutual communication

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the need for independent research on the effects of baby carriers, both in the short and long term. From what I have found, there is no research on baby carriers and the interaction between parents and children in the baby carriers. However, until we get more scientific knowledge about the possibilities and risks of wearing harnesses, I would like to emphasize my patterns of movement and gestures, and their importance in the interaction between the child in the carrier and the parents, based on my observations and clinical knowledge of bodily structure and posture. This is to minimize harmful risks and instead promote positive development.

I suggest that the producers in their marketing and user manuals clearly draw attention to and clarify this dimension. A salesman in a store and knowledgeable about baby carriers said "it's just putting your child in a carrier". It's not just putting a child in a baby carrier. It is a dynamically complex motion pattern that is ongoing in motion, and this must be noted as it is important for the child's well-being and development.

Stockholm, 29 August 2017

Runa Gustafsson

Licensed Psychologist, Licenced Psychoterapist

Certified Advanced Rolfer ®

Runa Gustafsson has a long clinical experience as a psychologist and psychotherapist with specialization in psychosomatics and the interaction of body and mind. Knowledge and experience about how early trauma and tension patterns in body and psyche are important to this article. Runa Gustafsson has previously worked in the county council as a child and family psychologist with a focus on language and communication development. As a rolfer, Runa Gustafsson has long-term experience of how individuals' early bodily tension and movement patterns shape an individual's bodily stance and balance, including in the myofascial system, movement patterns, nervous system, and even emotional development. Runa Gustafsson is active at her own private practice in central Stockholm., www.runarolfing.seAs a pediatric physical therapist in primary care, attention is drawn to the fact that a new inactivity problem has arisen where healthy children acquire physical disabilities already during the new-born period. The children are too passive, to be compared to "orphanage passivation" and when the children are passive for a long time one risks permanent problems and a "wrong programming" of basic neuromotor systems. Sweden has been at the forefront of child health care internationally. Today, Sweden is behind countries like the Netherlands, Canada and the United States in the ability to see and remedy the negative consequences of the supine position (lying on the back) of infants and its consequences.