To Stroll or Not to Stroll

When you have a baby, you get a stroller. Is there even a question? Yet one of the most important lessons taught by Katy Bowman, my most influential movement teacher, is to examine from the body’s perspective the furniture, the devices, the habitat we put ourselves—and our kids—in. For the sake of our health, we need to question the use of things as prevalent and universal as strollers.

Like most parents, when my first child was born, I didn’t know what I’d need for a baby except by looking at those around me. I probably would have purchased a stroller simply because it seemed like everyone else had one. Or two. But let’s look at the use of a stroller from the point of view of the body. There is nothing inherently wrong with the act of pushing a baby on wheels but for the fact that it’s replacing time you would otherwise spend carrying him in your arms. There is a huge value to the physical closeness of carrying your baby, both for you and her. There are also great physical benefits of using your body to carry her body.

When a baby sits in a stroller, he is in a very passive position, preparing his body only for a future of sitting in other reclined seats. In another human’s arms however, she is more upright and free to move. Feeling the resistance of gravity, her little body will naturally be encouraged to start holding itself up, torso and neck working to keep close to you, arms and legs learning to cling to you. While stroller-carried babies obviously accomplish these valuable motor skills in time, it must be done despite the passive positioning that they are so frequently placed in. Developing new skills and muscles will be more effective if one doesn’t need to unlearn bad habits first.

The benefits of in-arms carrying translate to the carrier as well in the most naturally progressing weight training program ever. As baby gets bigger, your arms get stronger to match. If you only ever carry your baby from car seat to stroller, your muscles will not keep up with your growing baby and it will get harder and harder to carry him. Soon you will find yourself relying on the stroller simply because your back or arms can’t handle that chunky 20- 30 pounder. No matter how many devices you have, there will be times you will need to hoist your child’s weight, and how much better that will be if you have the strength to do it!

That all being said, I can see some times it would be very nice to have a stroller. I am a normal human, and I get tired, too. However, not having a stroller at all is the same as not having ice cream in my freezer. If it’s just not available, I can’t use it. (I definitely have ice cream in my freezer though, because I have my priorities). It also means my walking-capable child can’t beg to sit in it. Kids who grow up with a stroller in regular use will learn they can ask for it. Just like ordinary humans, they will want that free ride with all their snacks and toys at a hand’s reach. Not only will a kid carried in-arms learn to walk sooner—because your tired arms are going to plop them on the ground more often—but they will have no choice but to walk more and more when there is no stroller to fall back on when they get moody, tired, or upset. It’s not always an easy time, but a lot of things that are worthwhile are going to seem like more work at first.

My 2.5-year-old currently walks 2-3 miles with me. There is ample stopping for poking at slugs and conversing with flowers. We do all the usual whining and cajoling. But she is so capable, and often refuses my offers to carry her. I write this on the brink of adding a second child to the mix, and perhaps my opinions will change once I have two bodies to transport. Or, maybe my feelings will be reinforced when my older child is more capable of carrying herself, leaving me free to deal with the new baby. Is that naïve to think? I certainly don’t regret going sans stroller with the first one. When she was tiny, it felt good to have her close. When she learned to walk, it felt easier to be able to pick her up and put her down based on her and my energy levels. Most importantly, carrying my child, while tiring like a gym workout, kept me strong like a gym workout. This strength gave me more freedom to live my life and competently take my child along for the ride.

Being able to carry one’s baby is a functional movement that I’m very passionate about. I’ve felt firsthand how simply practical it is, and I see in my community how our culture neglects this vital movement. I would love to work with you to help you to be able to carry your baby without pain or injury.

What about baby carriers? These devices that strap the baby to your torso are super helpful when you need your hands free for other stuff, and I’ve used them a lot. However, they aren’t the same as in-arms carrying. Although baby carrier companies will advertise how they allow for “ergonomic,” well-centered positioning of the baby, there is no one “best” position for your baby. Carrying a baby in your arms means you will often switch up the position, changing up the work your arms, back, and core are doing. While it seems better to carry a more balanced load, centered in a baby carrier or backpack for instance, you will actually develop more balanced strength in the long term if you constantly vary how you carry your load (baby).

What other strollers do you use without thinking about the consequences that use has on your body? Do you ever wish you were stronger and yet opt to outsource body movement to cars, shopping carts, backpacks, kitchen appliances, power tools, or other “energy-saving” devices? Carrying things with your arms—and using your upper body for a variety of movements—is essential for keeping your tissues (such as your shoulders) mobile, fluid, and balanced. It’s also a good way to prepare your body for the work of carrying a baby (and don’t forget that after your babies are grown you might get to carry grandbabies one day). It may not seem easier in the moment to carry your groceries home in your arms, but I find it is more convenient in the long term to be strong and healthy.