Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Extreme Babywearing: Fun or Foolish?

Babywearing has a lot of lingo. It takes awhile to figure out what a veteran babywearer is talking about sometimes.
I mean, if I told you, "I took that 4.6 and I started with a hip scoot onto my back, then I rucked the shoulders but changed my mind and went with a tibetan tie... I know, I know, I could just do a double hammock, but I didn't want to adjust the center mid-tie," you would probably have me committed.

(However, all the babywearers out there followed what I said and each of them probably had a better idea for what I should have done because if you can count on one thing in babywearing it is that we are always coming up with new ideas for how to tie a baby on.)

On top of all the lingo, we also have a lot of catchphrases. "Close enough to kiss", "Spread the babywearing love" and "chin off chest" just to toss out a few.

Of all this babywearing specific chatter, there is one specific quote that I have heard the most since I began to babywear: Safety First.

Safety first means a lot of things. Check baby's positioning and monitor him while he is sleeping. Be careful walking through doorways. Have a spotter when you are learning a new carry. Be quiet, the baby just fell asleep! (Okay, that one goes for all parenting, but seriously, when you have a baby who hasn't been sleeping great who finally passes out, it WON'T be a safe situation if someone wakes that kid up!)

Today we are going to talk about safety in babywearing in regards to what you are doing when babywearing. While I personally love to proudly brag up the fact that you can do ANYTHING while wearing your baby, it seems I need to clarify that. You CAN do nearly anything while babywearing. That doesn't mean you SHOULD do certain things.

I live in Idaho and we are an outdoorsy people here. We have lakes, mountains, hot springs and lots and lots of cows. The winters are frigid and the summers are steaming. We ski and snowmobile December through June (seriously) and we water-ski and cliff dive in August when it is finally warm enough to do something fun. Extreme Sport's middle name should honestly be Idaho.

With that in mind, I've seen some seriously extreme babywearing around here from time to time. I am ashamed to say I often mentally cringed when I saw it but said nothing for fear of "rocking the boat".
Yesterday I read an article that tipped my little boat over and I can't just sit back anymore. It is about a young mother who is defending her choice to wear her baby while she is rock climbing. (You can read the article HERE.) There is a picture with the article of this mother rock climbing 30 feet up with her baby on her back in a carrier. The mother is wearing a helmet and the baby is not.

Okay. I'm not going to judge this person as a mother because my thoughts are that I don't want her to judge me as a mother. We all make different choices and I don't want someone judging me because I do all sorts of things some would find completely horrific (*cough* cosleeping, extended breastfeeding and virtual schooling plus I refuse to buy garbage bags *cough*). However, I am going to judge this woman as a babywearer and my judgement is that she is not honoring "Safety First" when she is babywearing while rock climbing. Now, while I am a bit of a babywearing expert, I am NOT a rock climbing expert. So I asked a few what they thought. The overwhelming concensus was there are too many variables in rock climbing to make it a smart idea to strap a baby to your back for fun. Even worse, that baby is not capable of understanding the risks of their situation so if they were to be injured or killed it is even worse. Simply, rock climbing while babywearing is taking an unacceptable risk.

The long and short of it is this:
If you have to wear a helmet or any other special safety gear to participate in an activity you should NOT be wearing a baby while you do it. (Unless you in a life or death situation. Then do what you need to do to for you and your little one to survive.)

Now I'm going to get specific about things that just are NOT safe to do while babywearing:
  • Rock climbing
  • Skate boarding
  • Roller skating
  • Skiing (and all derivatives)
  • The Luge (is it luging? Either way, I actually don't know that anyone should attempt this, but I digress)
  • Snomobiling (I was raised by a professional and I am certain my dad would agree with me, not a smart idea)
  • Sky diving
  • Kayaking and rafting
  • Hockey
  • Parkour 
  • Bicycling (and any and all derivatives to the more or less extreme side)
  • Anything that involves being in the air yet not in an commercial or other passenger airplane
  • Atv riding
  • Surfing 
  • Water skiing
  • Swimming (I don't mean hanging in the kiddie pool with a baby in a carrier or jumping around in the ocean while the waves go up to your thighs, I mean swimming laps type swimming)
  • Juggling with knives or fire
  • Pretty much anything involving knives and fire
  • Horseback riding 
  • Bull riding
  • Mud wrestling
  • Sumo wrestling (however, toddler wrestling is approved as it is usually inescapable)
  • Gymnastics
  • Recreational drug use
  • Drinking (alcoholic beverages and hot drinks specifically, though I have been know to spill some Kool-aid on a newborns head when I develop that dreaded "hole in lip" so if you don't want your baby to have a spot on their head dyed "Rockin' Ragin' Red", maybe be careful with all beverages. Also, I'm not talking a glass of wine, I'm talking throwing back shots or frolicking about with scalding hot tea or coffee. I have a child with a scar from scalding hot water for tea that she got as a toddler. It happens)
  • Driving (a baby carrier does NOT replace a car seat ever ever ever)
  • Drag racing
  • Shooting guns (this comes from someone who believes in the right to bear arms, in case you were wondering)
  • Dog sledding
  • Committing petty crimes such as breaking and entering or vandalism (really I think that grown ups should be avoiding this too, but at the very least don't give your kid a record before they are old enough to use the potty in jail on their own)
I think that I covered most of the important things and some of you may feel like I was stating the obvious. Here is the deal: I have seen many of these activities attempted by parents wearing their babies. I have had parents ask me if these activities are safe in the past and while I've said "no" when asked, I realize now that if a few people are asking there are probably a lot more people who would benefit from know this information too. So, there it is. You CAN do nearly anything while wearing your baby, but you SHOULDN'T.

I realize I am risking offending people I know by writing this article and I apologize for any offense given as that is certainly not my intent. I'm not casting any judgement as a parent, but as a babywearer, there are just some things that are not safe for the general public to attempt and someone needs to say so. I hope you can respect where I am coming from and know I write this out of concern for the safety of babies and parents who don't fully understand some of the risks they are taking when they choose to pair babywearing with certain activities.

I also know that there are some cultures where it is the norm to ride a bike everywhere or a horse or perhaps your only means of travel in the winter is by snowmobile. You are probably an expert at those means of travel and I doubt you would take any unnecessary risks with your child during these activities. The key to all of these is the risk level and how necessary it is. Another key here is having the ability to assess your situation and know your level of expertise and then being able to make a safe choice for that situation. Take horseback riding and babywearing. Riding a sleepy horse in a circle is one thing, barrel racing is entirely another. The problem is that not everyone knows their limits or cares and so there needs to be some sort of safety line drawn in the sand to assist those who aren't sure what is safe and what is not. When in doubt, just don't. Your baby is too precious.

Safety first. Always.


  1. I am a roller blader, i have bladed since i was small, i have been a mother for 7 years almost, and a babywearer almost as long, i would never EVER EVER consider blading with my children while worn, and i consider myself a pretty competent skater, but all it takes is one stone, one second of distraction, which happens ALL the time with a baby being worn and we could both go down. IMO the woman rock climbing is really irresponsible

  2. Oh, I love this post. I know it is meant to be serious, but I hope some of the humor was intended, I LOLed just picturing someone babywearing and doing the mentioned activities. 1

    1. The humor was intended. I am a bit too silly, I admit it, but I can't really do anything with an entirely straight face. Grown up fail.

    2. Sadly, I have seen people babywearing while horseback riding through the woods! It's actually the only people I've seen babywearing other than me & my grocery shopping lol.

  3. You just have to ask yourself "Would I be okay strapping myself to a rope using a baby carrier instead of a harness?" Logic says no...get a full-body kids harness and their own helmet. Our rule is that the kids can go up as high as they can climb on their own then they're done. No need to raise foolhardy children with no respect for risk while endangering them in the process.

    1. I agree. Good for their confidence and ability too - to only climb as high as they can on their own. :)

  4. Our family does snowmobile. They make child harnesses that replicate carriers for snowmobiling with children. After exploring both options, I have used carriers with my toddler and preschooler to snowmobile once they were strong enough in the neck to support a proper snowmobile helmet (about 18mo). We stay on trail at all times and keep a pretty slow pace.

  5. You forgot to mention pole dancing. I don't think those upside down moves are safe.

  6. I really wished for a magical, miraculous, baby carrier that would pass crash tests when my daughter was small. Instead we rode the bus a lot.

  7. This post made me laugh but also shake my head because I know some people do these things. For instance, I love horseback riding. Although the American Indians babywore and rode as a matter of general rule, it's not something I would ever attempt.

  8. Hi. I'm a rock climber (and highly qualified instructor) and a babywearer. Wouldn't do this myself. That baby should at least have a helmet on! I have belayed (guy at the bottom) with a sleeping (helmeted) baby on my back. Risk of rock fall is greater down there! She was top roping so couldn't really fall if her belayer was on to it. Still too dodgy looking for me.

    Just for your interest there is a German woman who has invented a full body helmet for a baby worn in a sling on your front as you ride a bike! There was a photo and article about it in German online, but I don't have the link sorry.

    Cheers for your post.