There are so many things about parenting that once you’ve gone through them you wish you could back and do them again. Babywearing is one of those things I wish I could go back in time and re-do. I honestly almost titled this post, “Babywearing: How To Do It Without Choking Out Your Kid, Maiming Them Or Jacking Up Your Back” but somehow that didn’t seem very appropriate. You know, like something a pregnant mama or new parent would be apt to read.
All humor aside, babywearing is something that has been done for ages and can be so beneficial for parent and child when done properly. But somehow like walking, sitting or manual labor, as “advanced” as we have become in the modern age we have found a way to do these basic tasks in such a way as to make them more dangerous. Hopefully this series of posts will help you to avoid the pitfalls of improper babywearing and enjoy the benefits with confidence.
You may be thinking, “I’m not really one of those all natural, hippy-dippy, attachment parenting types. Why should I even read this post?”.
I just want to assure you that way before there were debates about parenting styles and research on infant development, parents instinctively carried their babies when they couldn’t be held.
There just wasn’t an option. No strollers, no baby swings, no bouncy seats. There were arms and fabric.
No matter what your parenting style is, babywearing can be adapted to your particular situation and philosophy.
Transitioning To A New Environment
Have you ever heard of the first few months of a baby’s life referred to as the 4th Trimester? This concept highlights the importance of being sensitive to the baby’s transition from one environment to another. After 40 weeks of living inside a dark, fluid, rhythmic and temperate environment the baby is now experiencing, light, air, loud noises, smells, heat and cold, and having to wait for their nutrition as opposed to having it on tap. Many new parents will discover that their baby doesn’t understand that sleeping happens during the night and lament that all of the expensive baby gear they have been recently showered with is not as satisfactory as the warm embrace of mom or dad’s arms.
Since this 4th trimester can be such an exhausting time due to lack of sleep and physical recovery from birth or the emotional plateau of a long awaited adoption, the understanding of this time period can go a long way in giving us some much needed perspective and patience with ourselves and our sweet babes as they adjust to life outside the womb.
Wearing your baby can help recreate some of the familiar comforts of the womb while gradually allowing them adjust to their new environment. They get the familiar rhythms of mom’s heartbeat and breathing patterns while taking in new stimuli such as the weekly clanging of trash collection trucks and the happy noise of older siblings.
Having baby close to mom’s chest also makes her more keenly aware of baby’s feeding cues such as head bobbing and rooting. These quiet cues may be more easily missed if baby is sitting in a baby swing or bouncy seat and will further escalate into to crying which is a last resort feeding cue for newborns.
And for some the “4th Trimester” may happen at whatever age an adopted child comes home to live with their forever family. Even toddler wearing can help strengthen the bond between adopted child and parent.
The Convenience Factor
While some may view wearing a baby on their person as inconvenient, I can think of nothing more inconvenient as the slew of baby gear new parents are told they “need” these days. Take the infant carrier style carseat for example. Most max out at a weight limit of 22-30 pounds. For some, their child may be able to ride in this seat through their first year for others this may last 6-9 months. Most parents will lopsidedly tote that thing around while the baby sleeps for about the first 3-4 months until the baby begins to grow too heavy to comfortably carry the car seat and the baby together.
Around this time your baby may develop better neck strength and will prefer to be carried in an upright position perhaps even resenting this style of carseat due to the laid back position it forces baby to assume. Basically this carrier becomes just a carseat for most families after this time. Now if you were to purchase a convertible car seat from the beginning and wear your baby while running errands, you are going to be saving yourself some money and another purchase decision while utilizing a carrier that will grow with your child and their various developmental stages.
While we are talking about errands, have you ever found yourself in a store with narrow aisles that wouldn’t fit the width of a stroller? How about crowded public spaces? (i.e. public transit, amusement parks and air travel) Wearing your baby gives you the flexibility to shop anywhere with ease.
Babywearing allows you to shield your child from well meaning folks and curious toddlers who are more likely to spread germs and/or wake your baby by peeking in an infant carrier style car seat. Someone would have to completely invade your personal space to do this while babywearing.
For those who have budget and/or storage limitations, a babywearing wrap can be very economical and space efficient. If you already have other children, babywearing keeps your hands free to assist them as well.
Better Health For Mom And Baby
Babywearing, when done properly, provides a gentle transition back to exercise. Taking a walk while babywearing is not only great for a new mom’s mental health but it is also a gentle weight lifting and tummy toning session. Restrengthening your core after delivery, regardless of what type of delivery you had, is crucial to being able to lift your child well into the toddler stage without injury.
Babywearing benefits babies with acid reflux and colic. The upright position can help keep spit up from gagging the baby and gentle pressure on sensitive tummies is usually a welcome relief. At our house Richie often performed the Mowgli dangle (with the baby’s tummy laying along the length of his forearm). This might be easy for most parents to do for shorter periods of time but babywearing allows the less buff amongst us to give the baby relief in this way also.
Aids In Physical And Cognitive Development
Consider this quote from an article about babywearing,
“Another benefit of carrying your baby is that carried babies receive a lot of vestibular stimulation, whereas lying babies do not. Our vestibular system helps us out with our sense of balance and our security in space. When a mother holds her baby, the baby moves back and forth with mom’s walking, and side to side from her swaying or rocking. Mom may stop and turn and reach to grab something, or she may move gently and smoothly. These varied movements force her baby to respond appropriately to keep himself balanced. All of these movements tune her baby’s vestibular system.”
In our sedentary society where underdevleped core strength and balance amongst children is a problem, I’d like to propose that our lack of movement, which is essential for our health, starts early.
Although, I’m personally not against the limited use of strollers and bouncy seats, I do believe that these items can become crutches for overextended parents. The great news is that babywearing allows parents to go about most of their daily tasks while still caring for the baby.
Another quote from the same article highlights the cognitive benefits of babywearing,
“Not only are babies better off physically when upright, but they are happier and calmer. In her book, The Vital Touch, Dr. Sharon Heller writes, ‘The more time that babies spend vertical, the more time that they are alert and calm. Even newborns that spend most of their time sleeping, stop crying and perk up when picked up and placed on our shoulder. Interestingly, how alert a newborn is relates to where he is. Upright in an infant seat, he is less alert than when upright in arms.… Vertical positioning as optimal in infants makes perfect sense. Think of how much time our infants spend horizontal—flat on their back in a crib or a buggy. Might this affect their alertness? There’s a good chance.… Researchers found that infants too young to sit independently learn more when placed in a vertical position.'”
I have never met a parent who didn’t want to give their child the best that they could. What a simple way to assist your child in their physical and cognitive development. Caring for and nurturing a baby is a precious gift which teaches you about the need to slow down and prioritize. It doesn’t require a whole army of baby gear and lots of storage space. It can be as simple as wearing your baby on your body. I hope more parents will see the benefits to the child and the parent when a baby is worn and give it a try!Sources: http://babycalmblog.com/2012/07/06/the-fourth-trimester-aka-why-your-newborn-is-only-happy-in-your-arms-30/ http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/laura_simeon.html http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/infantile-colic http://icpa4kids.org/Wellness-Articles/the-benefits-of-baby-carrying.html Photo Credits: Away We Go Stroller Scene, Andean Woman, 4th trimester dad, Confident Mom*, Monster Stroller, Mom Helping Older Child, Mowgli Dangle, Along For The Ride* *with permission A special thank you to Maura at Fostering Awareness for lending her beautiful photo for the series cover image!