Why Babywearing is Best for Your Baby- and You
Babywearing is a practice which has existed for thousands of years. Only in the past hundred years or so have strollers, car seats, and the like become more popular “baby holders”. However, modern babies’ needs haven’t changed from what they were 100 or 1000 years ago. Babies were created with a need for high touch, and babywearing allows you to meet that need while carrying on your life. I believe babywearing is one of the best decisions you’ll make for your baby and yourself, and will result in a happier, more confident, more sociable baby.
Studies have shown that babies who are held more cry significantly less. With their emotional needs met, and residing in a secure, safe, trusted place, they are content and enjoy more quiet alert time. Certainly, especially for some babies, babywearing doesn’t totally eliminate crying- but it meets vital needs and cuts down the amount of time spent crying. Many parents are worried about “spoiling” their babies with constant touch, meeting needs immediately (which naturally tends to happen when the mother is carrying the baby much of the day), and so forth. On the contrary, it produces stable, social, well-balanced, trusting children. Infanthood isn’t the time to teach “patience”- they need to learn to trust you first, then when your baby turns into a toddler and kiddo, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to teach patience when they actually know what’s going on. Research has shown that excessive infant crying has lifetime negative effects- including greater aggression and violence tendencies, much higher chance of ADHD and ill school performance, social ineptness and distrust.
As you snuggle with your baby throughout the day, they’re learning to trust you completely. They’re being fulfilled in ways that only physical touch will do. And while they’re snuggled into their safe nest, they’re developing quickly emotionally, socially and developmentally. Dr. Eckhard Bonnet, a German pediatrician, says by the time a child is 1 ½ - 2, he can almost always tell within a few minutes of meeting them whether they were a sling baby or not. This is because of their greater self assurance, independence, deeper trust, creativity and ability to integrate as well as greater physical strengths. If you’re concerned about a sling baby being socially inept, developmentally behind, or emotionally dependant, think again. Because of the extra attention these babies receive, rather than being spoiled and always demanding your attention, they’ll grow into more responsible, self-confident children.
Babywearing isn’t just for your babies, either. Don’t reserve it for the 0-6 month phase only, or even 0-12 month. Your toddlers need cuddling just like your babies do! Especially if you have toddlers and babies, own multiple carriers so that your toddler and baby can be carried if you’re doing a family thing. Wear your toddler when the baby’s sleeping. You might need to look for a different carrier than what worked when your child was a wee one. Different carriers work better for different ages, so explore as much as you need to till you find what works for your baby. Wearing a 30 pound hunker might sound intimidating, but if you wear your baby from infancy on, your strength will gradually grow with your baby’s weight.
Babywearing holds lots of benefits for you as a mom, too. One is the confidence boost it gives you as a mom. It can be frustrating to have a little one who cries a lot for no apparent reason, and as a new mom, it can greatly shake your self confidence. But when your baby rides along with you through the day, they’re naturally much happier, and you feel better equipped for your job. My daughter and I enjoyed our days so much more because of babywearing. As an infant, she was naturally extremely fussy, and the sling didn’t totally cure that, but as a general rule, she was much happier in it than out. And since she wouldn’t nap down the first few months, either, the sling allowed me to carry her all day and still get stuff done- another huge benefit. You can wear your baby while continuing to go about your day, keeping house, teaching other children, playing with your toddlers or preparing dinner. Certainly, some tasks are easier to do without a load in front of you, and now that Viviana does nap down, there are some tasks I opt to wait on till her nap time- but anything is possible with babywearing. This factor cuts down significantly on stress, as well. Many moms feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of time a newborn takes and wonder how they’ll ever get anything done. Babywearing’s the perfect answer- helping you to get through your day without jipping your baby of the time he needs with you. Baby’s always within kissing and snuggling range, too. Because of the oxytocin release that occurs through touch and breastfeeding, when you wear your baby you’re calmer and far less likely to fall prey to post partum depression. Another great benefit is the ability to nurse discreetly on the run. I love sitting down to nurse my daughter, enjoying lots of smiles and cuddles as she eats. But sometimes your little one just needs a little snack or meal at the “wrong” time, like during last-minute dinner prep, or when you’re on a walk- especially during the first few months when they nurse constantly, or during a growth spurt. And then, nursing while wearing is the perfect answer! The sling or other baby carrier holds the baby in place and if worn correctly, allows for hands-free or one-handed nursing. It works perfectly for shopping, too. The first few months of Viviana’s life, I think I probably nursed her every time I was in any store- it kept her happy and content, and enabled me to fly through the store at my typical pace. Just watch out for the people who don’t realize what you’re doing, and would like to “take a peek”! Yet another bonus benefit is the built in exercise, all day long, as you’re working to get your body back in shape. And, if you want one more thrown into the list, it’s kind of nice not having to haul around a bulky car seat. When you babywear, all you need is a piece of fabric. People haul around this huge container, which seems rather inconvenient.
Dads shouldn’t get left behind, either….babywearing is a great tool to help them bond with their littles. Dads have extra work to put in to create strong bonds with their little ones, and babywearing helps wonderfully. In babywearing, Dad can snuggle with his baby and toddler while going for a walk, instead of pushing them in a stroller. Or they can ride along as he does stuff around the house, till the little one is old enough to walk along and “help”. They’re also a great tool for older siblings. I formed a really special bond with one of my brothers in particular because of how much I carried him around in the ergo. We both loved it!
Ultimately, I believe babywearing can help you achieve an optimal lifestyle for you, your baby, and your other children. As you change your mindset on what babies need from our plasticized society’s cries back to the basics and God’s intentions, babywearing will become as natural as breathing and you’ll find the baby years much more special and enjoyable.
Destroying Myths Surrounding Babywearing
There are a lot of myths when it comes to babywearing. Any of us who’ve practiced babywearing have gotten at least some of the typical questions or comments… “You know those things are dangerous”; “Can your baby breathe in those?”; “You’re going to hurt your baby’s back”; “He’ll never learn to crawl or walk if you carry him around all the time”…and so on. As parents, our baby’s safety and well being is our number one concern- and that’s why I have a sling baby!
Over the past several months, since the recall of the Infantino Sling Rider, questions about safety have been especially prominent. We don’t want to use equipment or create practices which could injure or even kill our babies. However, as Maria Blois doctor, author, and babywearing advocate proclaims, it isn’t the act of babywearing that’s unsafe- it’s certain carriers, and/or using safe carriers improperly. With a little bit of know how and some research on the baby carriers available, you can easily find something that works well for you and your baby. Make sure the baby is snuggly and securely attached to you, and in a position where it can breathe easily. There are lots of online tutorials with detailed instructions for getting a safe, comfortable hold. Young, immature, or premature babies especially may not struggle and let you know they’re having a hard time breathing- but as long as you are safety conscious, put the baby in a good position with good visibility, and check on him often, he’s safer there with you than any other place. In fact, research over the past few years is starting to point to safety and health issues from a term called “container syndrome”. This is when babies spend a lot of time in car seats, bouncers, swings, and so on. There are a large number of injuries every year (over 8700) from car seats used outside of the car…not to mention some of the “natural” long term effects, like flattened head, developmental delays, emotional/social effects from not interacting with people as much, etc. When babies are strapped into things all day, their muscles can’t work and gain strength. On the other hand, as they’re being carried or worn throughout the day, they’re interacting a lot, as well as rapidly gaining strong muscle tone as they learn better neck control and so forth.
Another myth babywearers frequently get questioned on is the baby’s growth, development, and physical damage. Babywearing is widely practiced and encouraged by the chiropractic community. In fact, Justin Ohm, D.C. from Ohm Family Chiropractic states that containers, such as car seats and strollers, deprive babies of neurological stimulation necessary for development. He also states that containers usually have discontinuous padding, creating unnatural and unhealthy stress points on the baby’s spine. It should be noted that safe car seats should still always be used while traveling in a vehicle- they just aren’t intended for use outside of the car- they aren’t “everywhere seats”, they’re “car seats”. Carrying babies promotes the greatest neurological growth because babies thrive most when touched a lot. Carrying also promotes good muscle development, preparing babies for lots of movement once they’re ready to be on the go. These babies tend to gain good neck and head control much faster, as well as other muscle development, because of the effort they put into holding their heads up- whereas a baby strapped into a container has no control over any of their muscles. In fact, babywearing expert Maria Blois says that wearing your baby while moving around counts as baby’s “tummy time”. Of course, one should research the carriers they’re using, as some are bad for a baby’s spine- such as Baby Bjorn and other upright carriers. Most chiropractors and others sensitive to the developmental needs of a baby suggest ring slings, wraps and soft carriers such as mei tais and The Ergo Baby Carrier.
Babies are born with a desire and need to “get organized”- and wearing them helps accomplish that goal much more quickly, as they’re reminded of their womb experience, where everything was regulated and organized for them. Research is showing that because of how much more quickly sling babies get organized and develop, their chance of SIDS is greatly decreased. One Mom had a preemie baby was labeled as a likely SIDS candidate, due to a stop-breathing episode when the doctor laid the baby down to examine her. Prior to this, the mother had never put the baby down, and said she seemed perfectly healthy, and nursed well. She was put in IC for several days, and they were never able to figure out exactly why she would occasionally stop breathing- if they touched her, though, she started breathing again. Once back with mama, she was never put down, and she never had another breathing lapse again.
Rather than being dangerous, babywearing is highly recommended and “prescribed” for babies with other health issues, such as premature and failure to thrive (low weight gain) babies. It helps preemies mature much faster as they enjoy all the close contact and familiar feel of their mother. Dr. Sears tells of prescribing babywearing to a large number of his failure to thrive patients, largely because of the ability to nurse all day, and having it always available to baby. These babies generally began gaining weight almost immediately.
A baby’s brain development is at its prime when a baby gets carried around everywhere, due to all the extra stimulation and interaction. Because they’re happier (and spend less time fussing or crying) they have more “quiet alert” time, a state where they observe and take in the world around them. They’re also at the perfect level for seeing and learning. They see your face, and the faces of others, and learn how people interact and what different expressions are associated with. They see what you’re doing all day as you go through your daily routines. They see the world around you- all of the sights outdoors, your kitchen equipment, paintings on the walls. On the other hand, babies left consistently on the floor have a ceiling to look at all day and babies carried around in various seats are at a rather low level of life- often missing out on a lot of face-to-face interaction that sling babies enjoy. Another benefit contributing to faster learning is that when you’re wearing your baby, you naturally interact more. You talk to your baby a lot (so they hear your comforting voice and gain a larger vocabulary), explaining what you’re doing throughout the day. You can’t interact with your baby very well if they’re in the other room playing by themselves- but you can’t possibly avoid or ignore baby if he’s right under your nose. I think a lot of the social and behavioral issues (as well as so called “medical” issues) toddlers and young children deal with have to do with a childhood where they aren’t as stimulated by people, and spend their day going from one container or play center to the next, using you just for feeding and occasional play time. In recent years, we’ve ditched a lot of what makes sense and feels most natural, like babywearing, going for more plastic-y options, like toting a car seat everywhere. We’re now starting to see the negative effects of some of this, and I believe that trend will continue, linking more problems back to moving away from what’s natural and best.
Then, of course, there’s the emotional side of things….all those comments about spoiling the baby, how they’ll never be able to do without you, how they need to learn independence and self-entertaining. Research says very clearly, though, that babywearing is extremely healthy emotionally for your baby. Babies who are worn are happier, more stable, more trusting and ultimately become more independent children. Babies need all their needs met as they come- and as you do so, they’ll learn to trust you completely. Then, later in life, you can teach them other life lessons, like patience and sharing. The more you snuggle with and touch your baby, the faster they develop and the more secure they feel. Worn babies are generally much more bonded to their parents than babies who aren’t. The constant closeness fosters a very special attachment which will affect your child for the rest of his life. Parents who wear their babies also tend to be much more responsive- instinctively recognizing their important role in their baby’s life, as opposed to relying too much on devices to parent your child.
Occasionally, people also wonder about you- how you have time for you, or how you ever get anything done if you don’t insist your baby has “alone time”. Babywearing is the perfect answer for getting things done, especially if you have a fussy or high-needs baby. Baby can be tucked in happily with you, and you can still take care of the things that must be done. During the first few months of my daughter’s life, she pretty much wouldn’t ever go down, so she napped in the sling (she now prefers being nursed down in our bed). During this time, I had plenty of time to work on my hobbies or other points of interest. Moms of many find time to interact with their toddlers and older children when they wear their baby. They can wear baby at the park with the toddlers, while making bread as a group project, or while taking a walk with a teenager.
Let’s get back to the basics and enjoy healthy, secure babies. We don’t need all the plastic equipment available; and research is showing more and more how much of it is detrimental to our little ones. All you need is a carrier, “milkers”, and your baby!
Babywearing for Everyone
All women were created to carry their babies- and all babies were designed with a great need to be carried and experience lots of physical contact. However, you often here moms lamenting, “Well, I wish I could, but I have this injury,” or, “My back just isn’t strong enough…” Or, they tell you about how their baby just didn’t like to be carried. I believe these excuses and issues arise because of miseducation, or a lack of education all together.
There are carriers out there that just do hurt your back or shoulders- they aren’t ergonomically designed. And, while each woman is created to carry, different carriers will work better for different women. Try more than one carrier- try ten or twenty if necessary. If at all possible, borrow or try various friends’ carriers before making too many purchases. Seek out help for getting a correct hold with the carrier you’re using. Try to find friends who wear their babies and get their help. Online tutorials are great, and there are lots of youtube videos available, but sometimes, nothing beats in person help. If you’re alone in your area as far as babywearing goes, try seeking out a La Leche League group and getting help from one of the leaders or members. What works best for you with one child, might not work with another. Or maybe something works really well for the first year or so, but starts causing issues as the baby gets heavier. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new. Experts suggest making sure your carrier holds the baby up high, just as you would in your arms. Make sure it doesn’t sag, and isn’t too loose, as both of these put undue stress on your back. Babywearing advocate and RN M’liss Stelzer suggests testing whether you’re holding baby correctly enough by wearing in the sling, wrap, etc., and then putting your arms around the baby to hold him. If “holding” him relieves stress or greatly alters baby’s position, then you’re wearing him incorrectly. She also highly recommends going to a babywearing meeting if you have severe back problems, as there’ll be people there who can help you get an optimal hold. No matter what your body build or the back/shoulder/neck problems you deal with, your body was created to carry- it’s just a matter of getting enough help and information to do so correctly. I’ve had some back issues over the past few years, but when I’ve found a good baby carrier, and achieved wearing it correctly, it feels great. You may also need to use other means of strengthening your back, such as working out on an exercise ball.
I’ve never met or heard of a baby who truly doesn’t like to be held, touched, and interacted with. Nonetheless, I’ve heard a variety of people say they tried babywearing and their baby didn’t like it. If you’re totally new to babywearing, your baby might not seem thrilled at first, partially just because of your being a novice. This will correct itself soon enough, as it doesn’t take long to become well versed in babywearing. Viviana was a couple months old before I wore her successfully in a ring sling (prior to that, we used an ergo with an infant insert), because she was a fussier baby, and by the time I finally had the sling on comfortably, she had totally had it with all the fussing around and just wanted what she liked and I could put on in 30 seconds. Now, I can get her into the sling in a very brief space of time without issues, but it takes practice. Or, perhaps your baby doesn’t like being “worn” because they don’t like the position you’re wearing them in. Consider what position your baby likes being held in best when they’re in your arms, and try to replicate it. Most newborns like to be cradled- though Viviana, who takes after her daddy and likes to stretch, didn’t like the cradle position very much. Once they’re big enough to be interested in seeing the world around them, most babies won’t be very content in a position that inhibits their view. Babies want to see the world, so it becomes important to find upright and/or facing out positions that allow the baby to see everything that’s happening. Viviana adores the “kangaroo” position in the sling, where her legs are crossed in front of her and she can see the world. Now that she’s getting a little bigger and has excellent head control, she greatly enjoys the hip carry in the sling, as well. Some different back positions, especially with the mei tai, wrap, or ergo, once the baby’s over 6 months, allow for great visibility as well. On the other hand, if your little one’s tuckered out, they might not appreciate the stimulation of seeing everything at once. Finding what works best for your baby may involve finding multiple positions for different times, and will almost certainly involve changing positions through different stages.
Don’t give up because of one or two negative experiences. There is something out there that works for you and your baby. It doesn’t make you a failure to have issues with a particular carrier- you may just need to seek out help for wearing it properly, or find a different carrier. Wearing your baby should be comfortable and fun, for everyone. If you or your baby aren’t having fun, it’s time to find something new. Some carriers, like slings and wraps, allow for a myriad of positions, so it may be as simple as trying different positions. Or, you may need to switch carriers. Whatever the case, enjoy the journey, and don’t toss out what’s best for your baby because it takes a bit of work to find it.
My mom, Sharon Carmichael, is pretty much a babywearing expert, at least in the ring sling realm. She’s worn 8 of her babies in slings; us first two she carried constantly. No matter what the temperament of the baby, they’ve all loved riding along with her; seeing the world from her arms. Even her more adventurous ones loved the touch and attention they got in the sling. It was imperative for her higher needs babies, as it met their needs while she continued to mother her other children, and her easy going babies thrived just as much from the skin-to-skin contact. She’s helped countless people- from friends to strangers- wear their baby comfortably and troubleshoot if they’re having issues. Thanks to her, I’m now at least as passionate as she is about babywearing, and Viviana gets to reap the fruits of that. Even though I grew up around a babywearer, though, wearing Viviana in a ring sling took some practice before I got it right- and she didn’t like my mom’s newborn standby hold. It was a huge help to have someone around who could take one look at me and tell me what I was doing wrong, or just encourage me to keep trying. I did a lot of babywearing as an older sister, but it was primarily with toddlers in an ergo baby carrier. Babywearing is an incredible, beautiful practice. I love being a mom involved so greatly in my daughter’s life- or, as is more the case, involving her extensively in my life. And now that Vivi’s getting older and enjoys interacting and being read to, babywearing helps me get stuff done so I’m left with time to play with her, too. Babywearing makes everyone more calm, and is feeding my daughter’s need for lots of attention and affection. I’m passionate about babywearing and natural mothering, and encouraging other moms in that direction- and I primarily have my mom to thank for it.
Blois, Maria (2007). Hold Me Close: Encouraging Essential Mother/Baby Physical Contact.
Blois, Maria (2010). Why Babywearing’s the Best. Excerpted from Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of This Ancient Tradition (2005).
Bonnet, Eckhard (1998). The General Development of the Carried Infant is Influenced Positively. Krankengymnastik No. 8.
Gross-Loh, Christine. Babywearing is Best for Baby. Mothering, Issue 161, pg44-56.
Kirkilionis, Evelin. Unfounded Fear of Postural Damage By Carrying.
LaFlamme, S. (2010). Bye Bye Baby Carriage. Today's Chiropractic Lifestyle, 39(1), 24-28.
La Leche League. The Benefits of Babywearing. New Beginnings, Vol 21 No. 6, pg. 204-208.
Largo, Remo. Crying For No Obvious Reason. Excerpted from Babyjahre - das andere Erziehungsbuch (1995).
Sears, William. Babywearing. www.askdrsears.com
Sears, William. Science Says: Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful To Babies. www.askdrsears.com
www.mayawrap.com – a great ring sling; lots of directions for positions, and also directions for making the sling yourself, which I’ve done several times.
www.peppermint.com – seems to have a fair amount of information for someone totally new to babywearing; also has her comparisons of various slings/carriers.
http://babywearinginternational.org – lots of good information on babywearing and various carriers.
http://www.askdrsears.com/html/5/t051100.asp#T051114 – info from Dr. Sears on Babywearing.
Once you’ve hit on a carrier you’re most interested in, do searches for that to find out more. You can also find online instructions for making your own carrier for quite a few of the carriers- wraps, mei tais, various ring slings, pouches, etc.