Benefits of Babywearing vs. Carseat carrying

Benefits of Baby-Wearing vs. Car Seat Carrying

By Dr. Andrew Dodge, DC

Carrying your baby in a baby carrier is better for your baby and better for you.

As a chiropractor that treats mostly expectant mothers and children, I see both baby-wearing and car seat carrying parents on a daily basis. I work with several other doctors in a clinic outside of Forth Worth, Texas, and collectively, we see much more car seat carrying than baby-wearing, and we try to discourage our patients from using their car seats outside of the car. Baby seat companies have made it incredibly easy for parents to transport their child in a car seat from house to car to final destination without ever having to move baby.  It is such an easy thing to do, and with many families with multiple kids and crazy schedules rushing from here to there, I completely understand and sympathize with parents that choose to carry their kids this way.  There are, however, many reasons why both my wife and I, as parents, and my colleagues and I, as doctors, do not recommend this type of baby carrying.  We will take a look at why baby wearing is one of the best things you can do for optimal structural, neurological, physiological, and emotional development for baby.

benefits of babywearing your newborn provides proper spinal positioning
A newborn’s spine in proper c-shaped alignment

Structurally, your newborn baby’s spine is a big c-shape.  Their posture is completely flexed, just like they were inside the womb. As their postural muscles get stronger, they are able to hold their head up and your baby develops the proper curve in their neck. Likewise, as baby begins to move around and crawl, they develop the proper curve in their low back.  These curves develop over the first year of the baby’s life and are important for your baby’s developing spinal cord and nervous system, as well as their spinal joints and hip joints.  When babies are worn properly by their parents and/or other caregivers, they are in a better biomechanical position for spinal and muscular development. In the properly worn position, gravity will aid in the development of postural muscle tone.

In contrast, when baby is laying flat on their back in a car seat for a prolonged amount of time, the gravitational effects on the spine begin to straighten the developing curves.  With prolonged time on their backs, babies can also begin to develop plagiocephaly (or flattening of the bones of the skull) causing deformation.[i]  Both of these changes can affect proper spinal joint alignment and weight-bearing biomechanics, ligament development and strength around the spine and hip joints, muscle tone and biomechanical development, and neurological development of the child.[ii]  Shorter amounts of time will not ultimately lead to drastic changes, but limiting the time your baby is in the car seat is structurally what is best for your baby.  So put them in the car seat when they are in the car, but when you get to where you are going have a wrap, sling, or soft structured carrier ready to go! This way you can keep hands free and give awesome support to your little one’s developing body.

Say what? Yes, you can actually boost your baby's learning by babywearing.

Neurologically, there has been shown to be accelerated brain maturation when infants are worn.[iii][iv][v] When your baby is being worn there is constant movement in all directions. Baby-wearing gives a huge amount of input into the baby’s vestibular system (the balance centers in the brain).  This movement not only helps to build those neurological pathways, but it also helps to build the part of the brain that gives tone to the core musculature and intrinsic spinal muscles that give the body the ability to balance, coordinate, and stabilize itself with simple or complex movements.[vi]  These are the first centers in the brain to develop and grow, laying down the foundation for the rest of brain and body development.  If this foundation is not strong, other parts that are built on top may not be as strong or developed as they could have been. Furthermore, wearing your baby gives them the best way to see, hear, and interact with the world around them.  Baby can look at all of the colors and movements, watch social interactions between their parents and others, and see facial expressions during conversation while feeling safe and secure close to mom or dad.  All of those things that seem so insignificant can have a huge effect on your baby’s developing brain.  Plain and simple: the more they experience, the more their brain develops.

benefits of babywearing the best baby carrier gives your baby a view that's good for their development
The more your baby experiences, the more your baby’s brain develops

On the contrary, when baby is spending prolonged amounts of time in the car seat (even with the ability to hold their head up), it is very difficult for baby to see much of the world around them.  They see only what they are set in front of.  The only movement that baby gets is when the car seat is picked up and moved from one spot to the next.  Baby does not experience constant variable motion like when baby is being worn.  From the standpoint of brain development, babywearing is definitely the better option. Physiologically and emotionally, babies, especially newborns, can rely on their parents’ physiology and emotions to help regulate their own.  When baby is worn with consistency, parents can more easily pick up on little cues that their child has (i.e hungry, tired, over-stimulated, too hot, too cold, etc).  When changes in physiology happen in baby, they in turn cause physiological changes in mom or dad to help regulate themselves.  When your baby is close to you they can regulate their breathing rate, heart rate, body temperature, emotions, stress levels, and immunity levels.[vii]  This is one reason why kids become “clingy” when they get sick.  While being close to you, your child can increase antibody production and increase their body temperature to fight off illnesses. In a chapter she wrote in the Behavioral Management of Health from Preconception to Adolescence, Dr. Maria Blois, MD examined the research relating to physiological changes that occurred when babies were worn and concluded, with citation of fourteen separate studies, that:

There is strong evidence to support the use of kangaroo care [baby wearing with skin-to-skin contact] for preterm babies with benefits that include shortened hospital stay, decreased morbidity, higher exclusive breastfeeding duration, increased weight gain, improved state regulation, and improved maternal sense of competence. Evidence-based benefits of KC for term babies included improved state organization and motor system modulation; improved extrauterine temperature adaptation; and an analgesic effect… Simple holding, without the skin-to-skin contact, was found to reduce crying, and the provisions of soft carriers led to mothers who were more responsive to their babies and to babies who were more securely attached. [viii]

benefits of babywearing provides proper postioning for baby's developmentBeing able to connect on such an intimate physiological and emotional level allows moms and dads both to nurture a deep and lasting bond with their children.[ix]  Without holding your babies close and wearing your children these physiological and emotional connections do not take place.  Car seats cannot help regulate your child’s temperature, improve their immune function, help them to gain weight, calm them and reduce stress levels.[x]

When it comes to baby-wearing and car seat carrying there is really no comparison.  Baby wearing from every developmental aspect is far superior. For short term uses the car seat is not going to be terribly detrimental to baby’s development, but given the option, when the car stops, the car seat stays in the car and I am putting a carrier on and wearing my child.

About Dr. Andrew Dodge, DC

Dr. Andrew currently lives outside of Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife Nicole and their 9-month-old son Luke. He is a chiropractor in a family clinic in the area, treating mostly expectant mothers and children. He is opening his own clinic in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia this fall, where their children will be able to grow up around extended family. In addition to his doctor of chiropractic degree, he is also in the process of certifying for a diplomate in neurology as well as an advanced certification in pediatric care. Dr. Andrew and Nicole are enthusiastic babywearing advocates and will be establishing the Shenandoah Valley’s first babywearing library!

Looking for a great carrier that can help you get your baby out of the carseat and on to you? Click here to go to our shop…


[i] Timothy Littlefield, et al., “Car Seats, Infant Carriers, and Swings: Their Role in deformational Plagiocephaly,” Journal of Prosthetics & Orthotics 15 (July 2003): 102-106.

[ii] Barney F. LeVeau and Donna B. Bernhardt, “Developmental Biomechanics: Effect of Forces on the Growth, Development, and Maintenance of the Human Body,” Physical Therapy 64 (December 1984): 1874-1882.

[iii] Mark S. Scher, et al., “Neurophysiologic Assessment of Brain Maturation after an Eight-Week Trial of Skin-to-Skin Contact on Preterm Infants,” Clinical Neurophysiology 120 (October 2009): 1812-1818.

[iv] Esmot Ara Begum, et al., “Cerebral oxygenation responses during kangaroo care in low birth weight infants,” BMC Pediatrics 8 (November 2008).

[v] Rejean Tessier, et al., “Prematurity and Morbidity: Could KMC Reverse the Process?,” Current Women’s Health Reviews 7 (August 2011): 254-261.

[vi] MW Morningstar, et al., “Reflex control of the spine and posture: a review of the literature from a chiropractic perspective,” Chiropractic And Osteopathy 13 (August 2005).

[vii] Susan M. Ludington-Hoe, “Evidence-Based Review of Physiologic Effects of Kangaroo Care,” Current Women’s Health Reviews 7 (August 2011): 243-253.

[viii] Maria Blois, “Birth: Care of Infant and Mother: Time-Sensitive Issues,” in Will Gordon and Jodie Trafton, ed. Best Practices in the Behavioral Management of Health from Preconception to Adolescence (Los Altos, CA: IBP, 2007), 108-132.

[ix] R Tessier, et al., “Kangaroo Mother Care, home environment and father involvement in the first year of life: a randomized controlled study,” Acta Paediatrica 98 (September 2009): 1444-1450.

[x] S Mooncey, X Giannakoulopoulos, and V Glover, “The effect of mother-infant skin-to-skin contact on plasma cortisol and beta-endorphin concentrations in preterm newborns,” Infant Behavior & Development 20 (October 1997): 553-557.

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  1. I have a horrible back, but I have LESS back pain from carrying baby in the infant seat then when I wear him. So not sure how you came up with back pain from carrying the car seat.
    Don’t get me wrong though I’d love to be able to baby wear, but my back locks up after about 20mins. :( Plus, wraps and slings are so dang expensive, not every parent has $200 or more to spend on an infant car seat and then for a wrap/sling.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Sarh! Would you mind letting us know what type of carrier you’ve been using? A poorly designed carrier will place the baby’s weight on your shoulders and strain your back, whereas a well-designed carrier will place your baby’s weight on your hips, reducing back and shoulder strain. If there’s a babywearing group near you, or a good babywearing store, maybe you can go on in and check out some carriers that are designed to take the strain off your back. We hope that helps and we hope that you find a baby carrier that isn’t painful for you…babywearing is a wonderful practice for so many reasons! We hope you find your babywearing happiness! :)

    2. I have mild scoliosis, and chronic back, neck, hip and knee pain. I can’t carry my heavy babies around in a carseat. My carriers keep my little ones close to my center of gravity so that I can carry them pain free. I can’t even carry them on my hip because it causes me pain.

      I am saving money by not buying an infant carseat for my third baby. I will use the convertible seat I already have. I also don’t spend money on strollers, because I don’t use them. The vast majority of my carriers have been bought used, for anywhere from $10 to $70. I am also now sewing my own, and they cost me around $35 to make. If you can get in touch with some knowledgeable babywearers, they can probably show you how you can even use fabrics around your house!

    3. Sarh S there is a group on face book called the babywearing swap. you can buy used wearing devices. All different prices! Also if you still can’t afford it you can always just carry your baby in your arms!!

    4. Ever think of using a stroller instead?

      Also, I made my own sling for a few bucks worth of fabric. It’s really super simple.

    5. granted this post is 2 years old, but carriers are not 200$! I just had my first child about 2 weeks ago, and I use this carrier here.

      http://jjcolecollections.com/agility

      cost like 40$. put it on like a tshirt, very easy. I put it on, carry baby to the car, put the baby in the carseat. When I get to my destination, I simply put her in the carrier and go.

  2. Just wanted to say, to help save money, skip an infant car seat altogether! I got a convertible straight away for my daughter and wore her in a Moby wrap until she got too heavy for it and it bothered my back. Than I got a boba. Both I bought used on craigslist for over 1/2 price.

  3. Slings have limitations too and also carry the risk of cranial deformity. As with anything, parents just need to be mindful. You can make anyone believe anything if you only use references supporting your own argument.

    1. I’d really like to know what the risk of cranial deformity is from baby carrying. As a paediatric therapist I have never heard of this and seriously doubt that there is any true risk. However, please do let me know what you mean, maybe you have misinterpreted something or if not, I need to know so that I can advise my patients appropriately.

  4. I have done both. If my son was sleeping, I would leave him in the car seat and carry him that way. A lot of the time I used my baby bjorn. Also living in the Northeast – In Maine, it was easier to use the car seat in the winter, as they were already snug and warm.
    I think what ever works for each individual.
    I am pregnant with my second (due any day now), and my son is 18 months old. I think I will be using the baby bjorn a lot more, as it will be tough to cart around a car seat and a little one who loves to run.

  5. I just had my first baby and I wear him all the time! Its so east to just put him in the wrap and I cab do anything! I was aware there were benefits but not like this! Thank you! Oh and to sarah, I got my sling free and my moby (which can hold a baby till they are 35 pds) eas on tgirty bucks! And I use it everyday worth every penny!

  6. I’m wondering if you can speak more about improper babywearing (what comes to mind is bjorn and other crotch-danglers) vs. car seat carrying. Obviously we would prefer if all babies were worn upright with proper knee-to-knee support, but since bjorn has a corner on the babywearing market…. which is better for baby as far as physical development? Carseat or crotch-dangler?

  7. Wendy I would day any baby wearing is better then none. Preferably it is better to use a carrier that promotes the m shape when sitting in them, rather then forward facing carriers and also is a lot easier on your back as it holds babies/toddlers close to you, but if you really badly want to use a forward facing carrier then that is better socially/developmentally it is better for them them to be stuck not seeing much. I never thought I could bw after trying few times with my forwards facing carrier later I contacted a bw group and tried out difftent carriers now I bw all the time no problem with right info and trying out to see what carier suits your body type to be most comfortable.

    1. Amaila, there are a few ways parents of multiples can wear both babies at the same time. The most practical way is with a woven wrap. One baby is worn on the back and one on the front. When they are really small (newborn), both can be worn in front using a woven wrap. Another way, and mostly used if you are wearing one older child and one small baby, is to wrap the younger baby on your front and then use a soft structured carrier to wear the older child on your back.

  8. I wear my baby (3rd son) everywhere, as I did his brothers. Although the one place I need to carseat carry is at my chiropractor’s office–I can’t wear him during my adjustment! He’s been twice now, and he was taken out, adjusted, changed and nursed, so it wasn’t too bad for him. I always feel like I’m undoing my adjustment as soon as I pick up that damn heavy carseat!

  9. Great article! Does any of this apply to back sleeping? Will back sleeping cause the same spinal issues?

  10. I carried my kids and grandkids, mostly with a hand made sling.with arthritis in my shoulders and elbows made car seats a pain to deal with. Also with cranky babies, it is easier to soothe them. It’s also a pain to keep undoing then hooking the seats back up. I have experience of 9 kids over 25 years. Body carrying is easier than car seats!

  11. I worn all of my babies and loved it. SO much easier then dragging the heavy car seat everywhere. I don’t even own a stroller and I have a 5 mo old, I just wear him everywhere. I have had bad back problems since I was a child, and wearing using woven wraps has made it possible to carry my kids without pain. Well worth the $ and so much better for bonding and attachment for the baby and mama! I see parents struggling all the time with heavy car seats or consistently unhappy children at the store or mall. All while my little guy is happy sleeping or taking in the world. Baby wearing has saved my sanity and let me enjoy my children and life even more!

  12. Would you say your article would apply to all baby devices? The rock n play, swings, bouncers, etc? As much as I’d love to, I simply cant hold my baby all the time, nor would he even allow it.

  13. So glad I started using a carrier early on. I am a long time sufferer of back pain but I have found that since I started baby wearing my back has actually been much better. I have gradually been building up more back and muscle strength and hope to continue baby wearing up to about 2 years old!

  14. Car seats are for the car. Babies love being carried in baby carriers. I’ve used Moby wraps, hotslings, an ergo and have even carried my child and a friend’s child in a moby, it was the quickest way to get two babies to take a nap and they must have been 6 months old. One on front and one on back. Car seats might be bad for the back but I think they are just bad for baby development. Carried babies are stronger and happier. I can’t imagine not wearing. The hotsling allowed me to nurse while grocery shopping, no car seat allows for such easy feeding while continuing a necessary task. Obviously nursing while grocery shopping is not idea but it was easy and the baby was happy and I didn’t have to leave to find a place to sit the carrier down and take the baby out. The more moms carry the more it becomes the norm.

  15. I love the article and stopped using a carrier with my second. I’m pregnant with my fourth and was just wondering if there were any good mother/baby chiros in the El Paso area you could recommend?

  16. Excellent article – I loved watching my niece experiencing the world attached to her mother in the early years. She was comfortable, engaged and safe. Thank you for sharing this information!

  17. My back hurts when I wear my babies for a while. I have an ergo. And a kokopak. I can’t figure out why, so I just rotate between carrying/swing/play under mobile, etc. when he and I both are content with changing things up.

  18. Is 3 minutes of LAZINESS, really worth HARMING your baby’s BRAIN AND BALANCE???

    FYI Because of my babies issues, we are unable to wear-carry him… so he’s stuck in a car seat wherever we go… Most people know that it is taxing on the mother’s body…

    WHAT YOU DONT KNOW ABOUT CARSEATS IS:
    In addition to what this doctor said…
    Because he can only be carried in a car seat he is developing a flat spot on the back of his head. At 7 months old, most babies can sit-solo… mine can not BECAUSE THE CARSEAT CAUSED FLAT SPOT RUINS HIS BALANCE. And my baby’s doctors say that if we can not find Any possible way to correct it in the next few months then HIS BRAIN WILL NOT BE THE CORRECT SHAPE…

    Stop being selfish and lazy… GET YOUR BABY OUT OF THE CARSEAT!

  19. Thanks for the great article! I have two suggestions, however. The first is that you address the difference between wearing babies facing out versus facing in, towards their caregiver. My second suggestion is that you consider revising your logic! Baby wearing is not beneficial; it is simply the intended norm for our species. When babies are not worn, they are vulnerable to physical, mental, and emotional hazards and deficits. You may want to read more about how baby wearing shaped our species. http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/08/artificial-ape-man-how-technology-created-humans.html

  20. I would expect that back sleeping is not the same issue: babies asleep on a bed/mattress/basinette can roll and scoot around. If they are in a carseat, they are belted in and tipped at an angle so that they can’t change position or even change what parts of their bodies absorb their weight.

  21. It is a great idea, but all 6 carriers that I tried not only hurt my back, but none of my four babies could stand being worn for more than 10 minutes at a time. They were much happier in my arms or in the car seat.

  22. I love my mobi wrap! I just had my second child 3 weeks ago. I wear him all the time. My first child is 2. When going grocery shopping it’s great to be able to wear the baby and put my older son in the cart, I don’t know how I would fit any groceries in the cart otherwise. Also wearing them is an added little weight vest for burning calories. 😉 I would say the only problem I have with my mobi wrap is that it is too hot during these summer months for both me and baby at times, but if we are walking around inside it’s fine. I love it!

  23. Great article. This is something I am trying to raise awareness of through BabyBWell. We encourage parents to keep infant car seat use for car travel and promote a ’90 Minute Maximum Rule’ for car seat sittings. Check out http://www.babybwell.co.uk or find us on twitter @babybwell or Facebook. Thanks for sharing this article .

  24. Unfortunately, not all kids like to be worn. My middle two rode around happily in a Moby, Ergo, and Maya sling; whereas my “bookends” didn’t like them. My eldest HATED any kind of constriction (swaddles/wearable carriers) and my youngest will only endure the Maya for a certain period before she begins to buck and whine and hates the other types.

  25. Now you need to blog about the difference between crotch danglers (bjorns) and the carriers which are better for hips! How about a post about how dangerous it is to put the baby bucket on the top of the shopping cart?
    I’m committed to babywearing this one and using a convertible carseat from birth.

  26. I have one important thing to say about this. I saw my niece trip and fall while carrying her newborn. The fall was on her stomach and she twisted her leg so bad it broke. We often say how much worse it could have been if the baby wasn’t safely buckled in his car seat. The car seat went flying but he was uneffected. Had he been carried on her front she would have landed on him

    1. Hi Carla,
      Thank you for commenting! We’re sorry to hear about your niece’s fall, and we hope she’s healing well. One of the most important things when wearing our babies on our bodies is the to be aware of our footing and take extra care when navigating uneven terrain, stairs and the like. It’s hard to say if the fall would have been different had she had her baby on her in a carrier, because she would have moved differently and had a different center of gravity, but it’s certainly important to remain vigilant of your footing when babywearing.
      Many thanks again and happy babywearing!
      ~ Diana

  27. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I definitely enoyed reading it, you could be a great
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  28. I love my capsule, my 12 week old doesn’t like my baby bjorn carrier. I tried it shopping and my back hurt and she screamed. If I undid it and carried her she was happy but then I couldn’t push a trolley. :S yes I am a mum who now puts the capsule inside the trolley. Little miss sleeps so soundly and I get to take my groceries home.

  29. If you live somewhere with cold winters, the removable car seat is a Godsend. I am not going to stand outside my car with the door open and the -10 degree wind hitting me and my baby and then try to keep a hat and mittens on them while sticking them in my carrier (without a coat since they can’t wear one in the car seat anyway). I will wear my baby in the spring. Just thought that needed a mention.

  30. Hi, i am pregnant with my first baby. I have a question as to which kind/brand is the best carrier for both baby and me. Please advise, thanks!

  31. Hey. What if the baby is sleeping. It seems that if he is sleeping in his car seat then he wouldn’t be getting any of the mental stimulation from seeing things around him. Is it bad to leave him in their until he is done napping and then baby wear when he waked up or is that still too prolonged?

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