It is common for daddies to play rough with their children from an early age.
And holding babies by their ankles in the upside-down position is one of their favourite ones.
Unsurprisingly, most babies love such interaction to bits!
After all, they spend a great deal of time head down while in the womb. So being held in such a manner by their dad only brings all the good memories back.
But is this idea of “fun” safe for my baby, or should I avoid it?
Let’s discuss the dos and don’ts of holding babies upside down, shall we?
Is It Bad To Hold a Baby Upside Down?
Such a form of rough play has its benefits, but it also poses a few risks parents should know about. Firstly, overexcited babies squirm a lot. So there is a risk they will wriggle out from your grasp and fall on their head. Secondly, when suspended in an inverted position, their heart and brain are under tremendous stress caused by a sudden blood rush. At the same time, other organs, such as the lungs, are at risk of oxygen deprivation caused by the larger organs pressing on them in the upside-down position. Also, if not handled delicately, there is a small risk of giving your baby brain trauma, such as shaken baby syndrome. Or when pulling their legs (literally) – causing thigh bone slips out of its socket (hip dislocation).
1. Risk of Slipping and Falling Down
The chances are your little one will get very excited when tossed and turned up and down, spun around or held upside down.
We, adults, might find it odd, but babies thrive on adrenaline and enjoy intense activities. Which I talked about this in my post: Why Is My Baby A Fearless Adrenaline Junkie?
However, what we need to remember is – that babies, when aroused by hanging by their ankles, are like wiggly worms.
Which, of course, poses a risk of slipping from our grip and falling down on their head.
Naturally, this can be very dangerous and cause serious head injuries resulting in visits to emergency rooms.
As such, common sense is quite essential when engaging in these types of games with babies.
How to Safely “Rough Play” with Your Baby
2. Blood Overflow & Oxygen Deprivation From Vital Organs
Now, moving on to what is actually happening inside your baby’s body and the risk they are exposed to when held upside-down.
Because there are reasons why humans evolved to walk upright and not in inverted positions…
Let’s start with the brain.
The brain is a sensitive organ and likes consistent blood flow. Too little blood flow will cause fainting and losing consciousness. Too much blood in the brain will cause a stroke.
So, when we flip babies upside down, there is a sudden rush of blood flow to their brains from their lower parts.
And their brain reaction is to prevent the excessive volume of blood from entering it using the blood-brain barrier – a protective element of their central nervous system.
Despite the blood-brain barrier intervention, there is still the potential for damaging the blood vessels, which can be very dangerous and lead to brain haemorrhage.
Secondly, in the upside-down position, your baby’s delicate lungs are getting squeezed by larger and heavier organs such as the intestines and liver.
These organs normally sit below the lungs – and rightly so.
Because the lungs are being squished, they cannot absorb sufficient oxygen in such squeezed circumstances… Therefore they may be at risk of failing.
And finally, their hearts may also be subject to tremendous stress. In the upside-down position, your baby’s heart will have to work really hard as it becomes overwhelmed by the extra blood it needs to pump to the brain. And this may lead to failure in all the essential functions.
Okay, so to reassure you, these risks are low if you don’t overdo the rough play and keep it reasonable.
And, once you see any sign of discomfort or your baby simply had too much – you should stop immediately.
And how long can they be in the upside-down position?
Probably no longer than a few seconds at the time.
Although, I didn’t find any official recommendations in that regard if such ones even exist.
Also, on the flip side, I should mention that there are some health benefits to inverse poses.
(Perhaps, that’s why this position is commonly practised in yoga asanas.) Specifically for babies, one of those benefits might be that hanging upside down stimulates their vestibular system. Which is their sense of balance. Also, as a bonus, they can see the world from a completely new and exciting perspective.
Why Kids Need Rough and Tumble Plays – Prof. Jordan Peterson
3. Shaken Baby Syndrome
Okay, so before you freak out when you learn about the shaken baby syndrome, you should know that rough play and holding your baby upside down won’t cause it.
Nevertheless, because the tiny possibility exists, I thought I should mention it.
So, shaken baby syndrome involves a severe brain injury causing permanent brain damage or sometimes even death.
And this trauma is caused by forcefully and violently shaking babies by their shoulders, arms or legs.
In other words, this is physical child abuse, not a game!
So, assuming your rough play doesn’t involve any violent shaking, but you delicately handle your baby – you shouldn’t cause them any traumatic internal injuries.
Nevertheless, it’s worth knowing the risks of mishandling your baby or taking rough play one step too far.
4. Chiropractors VS Enthusiastic Daddies
You may have heard that some chiropractors hold baby upside down by both or sometimes even by one leg. That usually happens during the first chiropractic visits.
The aim of this rather controversial – yet legit examination technique is to check whether the legs are the same length, verify the spine, and the movement of the neck, etc.
And the reason parents decide to take their newborn for chiro assessment is the concern for their spine health and posture. That’s because, in the last week of pregnancy, babies were cramped in the tight womb and suddenly straightened out after birth.
And this takes its toll on babies’ spines, often causing torticollis, or other conditions.
Whilst I won’t be commenting on whether this type of exam is appropriate, there is little scientific evidence to support chiropractic treatment in infants. So, I’ll let you decide whether you want to give it a go.
Nevertheless, there is a difference between holding the infant in this unprecedented manner by a specialized paediatric chiropractor and an enthusiastic daddy.
The chiropractor is arguably more gentle than the dad who may unintentionally dislocate the baby’s hips or accidentally pull some muscles, damage nerves or blood vessels!
That’s especially true for babies with hip dysplasia. Because the bones of a baby’s hip are much softer than those of an adult.
Plus, when the hip joint of those babies was not formed properly, the tight bone could easily dislocate.
For example, by forcefully and abruptly hanging baby upside down by their ankles…
Newborn Infant First Chiropractic Adjustment- 5 hours old.
Final Few Lines
So, to wrap it up and answer the question directly – no it is not necessarily bad to hold baby side down.
But you need to use your common sense and do it right.
So, hold your baby in such a manner only for a few seconds, and only if they enjoy it!
There is no point in doing it if your baby is in obvious distress.
Also, be extremely gentle when handling your baby. So, you can avoid giving your baby a potentially life-threatening injury.