Chances are you have seen them everywhere. At the grocery store. At the zoo. The park. Maybe at your place of worship or your child’s school. Moms, dads, grandmas and caregivers are carrying babies and young children not in their arms, but in nifty, convenient and sometimes beautiful carriers. They range from slings to wraps to what looks like a backpack. More and more people today are realizing the benefits of what has been termed “babywearing”.
Anyone who has read National Geographic knows that this is not a new phenomenon. It is a relatively new trend here in the United States, however. It used to be that only the earth-loving hippie mama set were seen with their babies tied to their backs or sleeping snugly slung at the hip. Now people from all walks of life have joined in the babywearing revolution, availing themselves of the benefits known to other cultures for centuries. The reason for this is not just that babywearing is a convenient way to keep your hands free while holding securely to your little one. The benefits of babywearing go far beyond convenience.
You may have noticed in your own life experience or heard stories from other parents that their baby “just wants to be held all the time”. If you think about it, this makes sense. Babies are carried in the womb for forty weeks before they are introduced to the outside world. In those forty weeks, they become used to the gentle rhythms associated with their mother’s daily activities. This sort of motion is soothing to the baby “on the outside” because it is familiar. For this reason, “sling babies” (or babies who are worn) cry less. According to research conducted in 1986 in Montreal, Canada, babies who were worn throughout the day cried and fussed forty-three percent less than babies who were not carried the extra time the sling allowed. Sling-worn babies have also been found to spend more time in the quiet-alert state (this is what they do with all that time they don’t spend fussing!), which means they spend more time observing the environment. Observing the environment is how newborn babies learn.
Babies who are worn throughout the day are also more easily assimilated to the rhythms of the parent’s lives. Because they are able to sense the heartbeat, breathing patterns and the ebb and flow of the wearer’s movements (just as they did in the womb!), they adapt more easily to the natural ebb and flow of the day than babies who are put down for times other than sleeping. Dr. Barry Sears, the well-known and often-quoted pediatrician responsible for the “Attachment Parenting” style recommends that the baby’s womb experience last eighteen months…nine on the inside and nine on the outside.
All the experiences a baby has while being exposed to the busy parent’s world also boosts a baby’s brain. Sling babies experience the world of the wearer and therefore are stimulated by the environment more than babies who are not. The baby is exposed to new sights, smells and sounds from a secure vantage point. Of course, the fact that babywearing is a convenient way to care for a baby should not be forgotten! Breastfeeding moms have a built-in privacy mechanism when they wear their babies in a sling. With some practice, a mother is free to go about her day while the baby nurses, secured by the sling or wrap. I have even breastfed while grocery shopping! Parents with more than one child find that having two hands free to care for other children while still attending to the needs of a newborn baby is a gift. Mothers who work from home or in places with relaxed atmospheres can even wear their babies to work. This benefits mom, baby and employer!
There are some important safety precautions that should be practiced while wearing your baby. Babies should be worn with great caution in the kitchen. One should never cook while wearing a baby. Those wearing babies should bend at the
knees to pick items up from the floor or a low surface as opposed to bending over. When passing through doorways, one has to be aware of the baby’s width in addition to the width of his own body.
Parents interested in trying out some of the many styles of baby carriers made for babywearing may want to check out message boards and websites devoted to the practice before they buy. There are several types of baby carriers out there and unfortunately, not a lot of places they can be purchased locally. For this reason, online purchase or do-it-yourself instructions available online are both good options for the new babywearer. Some good online resources include www.mothering.com and www.themommyplaybook.com. For purchasing baby carriers designed and made by stay-at-home moms, a great place to shop is www.etsy.com. If you are crafty, you can also purchase patterns from these sellers.
Best of luck and happy babywearing!
Heather Nugent is a homeschooling mom of two who lives in Dunkirk. She works outside the home as a labor and delivery nurse in Buffalo. Heather also works as a midwife's assistant, labor doula and massage therapist.