What is In-arms Carrying?
In-arms carrying tends to be viewed by society as holding your baby. While it is of course a form of carrying, there is so much more to it than that. Here are the 3 main categories of carrying:
This is where the caregiver does the majority of the work and bears most of the baby or child’s weight. Passive carrying promotes stillness and rest and is useful when babies are tired or asleep. It can also usually be recognised by full body contact. This sort of carrying is what makes caregivers feel that their baby or child is too heavy to carry.
Active carrying is where the baby does at least 50% of the work, often much more. In most cases it’s defined by the baby clinging with their inner thighs, calves, ankles and feet, or some combination of these. A clinging baby/child is a lighter one – their perceived weight is much less than in passive carrying. Active carrying usually involves some disconnect of their upper body from the caregiver, and is used most when the baby/child is active and alert, wanting to engage in with their environment and caregiver. It is a developmental process, movement and exercise.
Independent clinging is defined by the baby/child holding on to the caregiver’s body with no support from them. They do all of the work to hold on. It differs from the full body contact seen in passive carrying as having no support from the caregiver means they must usually use their whole body to cling, so it’s easier for them when in full contact. The exception is when they cling with only their legs.
Carrying is a physical developmental process and usually takes years to fully complete (being able to hold on independently for extended periods of time). It begins as a reflexive process and as babies develop their muscles, spine and motor skills they gradually learn to cling voluntarily. If they are not encouraged to do this, they are likely to lose the skill until it is re-taught.
Every baby is different. Just like with other skills we each have our own potential “clinging capacity” built in. There is a wide spectrum – some will be extremely natural clingers who are able to cling even if they have not participated in active carrying before, and others will find clinging harder even if they have always been carried actively. Working with their in-built abilities increases their chances of developing normal clinging behaviours, but some babies will have developmental issues or specific conditions which may affect carrying.
A normal developmental process would see them building up their upper-body strength from birth onwards in shoulder hugs and front carries, then transitioning to the hip once they have good upper-torso control. From here they begin strengthening their lower-torso and legs, gradually increasing their leg strength from when they are sitting unaided. As they grow bigger (legs grow longer) and their leg strength increases (walking independently) their clinging capacity grows even stronger. By the time they can physically hook their heels around the caregiver’s body and hold onto their shoulders, they should have the ability to cling independently to the caregiver’s slightly angled back (with a stacked spine) for short periods of time. As they get taller and stronger they will cling for longer and the caregiver won’t have to angle their back at all.
It’s important to raise awareness about active carrying as it is a normal part of their development. As an added bonus it’s easier on our bodies and helps us carry for longer periods of time without needing to rely on carrying aids as much. As little is known about active carrying in Western society it means that it can all be a bit confusing, especially when there are conflicting schools of thought about how we should hold our babies. On top of this, babies and children do not simply learn to cling and apply it to everyone who carries them. Carrying behaviours have to be learned to be applied each body the baby/child is clinging to. They have to learn different ways of clinging to different bodies, and it’s common to find that the person they cling to best is their primary caregiver (who is usually the gestational parent also).
This website aims to help demystify the carrying process and encourage caregivers to “tune in” to their babies and children to learn the unique carrying language for their dyad. Stay tuned for more blog posts exploring the many aspects of in-arms carrying!