Babywearing for Beginners
So, you are going to welcome a new little baby into the world soon and you are wondering about babywearing. There is a big, bright world of carrier options out there, it's hard not to be intimidated! I will warn you though, once you get the hang of babywearing, you *may* become slightly obsessed.
Let’s be honest, anything that even slightly makes life easier is a WIN - and babywearing definitely makes the day-to-day tasks easier. My first baby was my gateway into the babywearing world. I had no idea what I was in for! After being scolded for registering for a baby b’jorn, I quickly learned that there are good ways to carry your baby and potentially harmful ways. I edited the registry and opted for the oh-so-wonderful ErgoBaby. Thinking I would hit the jackpot (which I did with my Ergo), I also received a gorgeous ring sling. The benefits of babywearing go well beyond those of having your hands free and calming an upset baby. Medical professionals agree that infants thrive through touch; “wearing” your baby is another way to meet this need.
Babywearing Promotes the Following:
Happy Babies. Less Crying. Studies show that worn babies cry less. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that babywearing for three hours a day reduced infant crying by 43% overall and 54% during evening hours. We have been led to believe that it is “normal” for babies to cry a lot, but in other cultures this is not accepted as the norm. In these cultures, babies are normally worn or held in their mothers’ arms and are put down only to sleep – next to the mother. When the mother must attend to her own needs, the baby is in someone else’s arms. These cultures measure their babies’ cries in minutes, not in hours as we do.
Confidence. Becoming a parent brings with it self-doubt and so many fears.
Confidence comes with time and with learning your baby. Every infant has specific cues that can be identified and then responded to before the baby becomes frustrated. Wearing your baby close allows you to become finely attuned to his movements, gestures, and facial expressions. Your confidence grows every time you are able to read his cue for hunger, boredom, wetness, etc. This cycle of positive interaction deepens the mutual attachment between parent and child, and is especially beneficial for mothers who are at risk for or suffering from postpartum depression.
Healthy Babies. Premature babies, babies with special needs, and “high needs” babies often enter the world with fragile nervous systems. When a baby is attached to his mother, he is in tune with the rhythm of her breathing, the sound of her heartbeat, and the movements his mother makes. This helps him to regulate his own physical responses. Research shows that premature babies who are worn, touched, and held gain weight faster and are healthier than preemies who are not. High needs, fussy babies tend to need constant physical comfort. Babywearing provides calmer, more content hours in their day, which in turn allows them to focus on nursing and growing. Dr. Sears found that "babywearing helps babies breathe and grow better, regulates their physiology, and improves motor development" (Sears and Sears 2001). This applies to both full-term and premature babies.
Welcoming Family. Baby carriers are a great bonding tool for fathers, grandparents, adoptive parents, babysitters, and other caregivers! Moms cannot do it all, nor should we have to. We need a break! Not only do we need to take care of ourselves, but our partner needs to bond with baby. There is no greater way than babywearing. The baby is learning his voice, heartbeat, movements, and facial expressions, and the two are forming a strong attachment of their own. Baby carriers are beneficial for every adult in a baby’s life. Cuddling up close is a wonderful way for everyone you love and trust to fall in love with baby!
Comfort and Convenience. With the help of a good carrier, you can take care of older children or do chores without frequent interruptions from an anxious or distressed infant. This helps to reduce sibling rivalry. Baby carriers are also wonderful to use with older babies and toddlers; you can save those arms and go where strollers can’t. Climbing stairs, hiking, and navigating crowded airports all can be done with ease when you use a baby carrier!
Organization. Remember my blog on the fourth trimester? Your baby grew in nine months inside of you, he needs at least nine months outside of you to adapt to the world. By extending the womb experience, the babywearing mother (and father) provides an external regulating system that balances the irregular and disorganized tendencies of the baby.Regular parental rhythms have a balancing effect on the infant’s irregular rhythms. The benefits of babywearing “remind” the baby of and continue the motion and balance he enjoyed in the womb.
Intelligence. Environmental experiences stimulate nerves to branch out and connect with other nerves, which helps the brain grow and develop. The benefits of babywearing are that it helps the infant’s developing brain make the right connections. Because baby is intimately involved in the mother and father’s world, she is exposed to, and participates in, the environmental stimuli that mother selects and is protected from those stimuli that bombard or overload her developing nervous system. She so intimately participates in what mother is doing that her developing brain stores a myriad of experiences, called patterns of behavior. Babywearing also enhances speech development; baby is up at voice and eye level, and he is more involved in conversations. This all adds up to brighter, more alert, more intelligent children. When you wear your baby, the two of you move through your day together. You see the world from similar points of view. Your baby hears your voice as you talk to others, picks up on your emotions, and trusts you to provide safety and comfort. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding found: “plenty of loving contact does not "spoil" a baby or make him more demanding, but instead helps him feel more comfortable and happy in his new world.” (Sources: LaLecheLeague, Babywearing International, and Ask Dr Sears)
How to Wear Your Baby CORRECTLY.
You want to avoid your child being dangled by their pelvis or crotch. This can cause hip dysplasia and lifelong damage. A breakdown of correct babywearing by baby’s age by Babywearing International: Directly from Babywearing International:
It is very important to understand basic babywearing safety before ever putting on a carrier. As with any baby product, baby carriers can pose potential safety hazards if they are not used carefully and correctly. Make sure your child’s airway remains open at all times while babywearing.
The best way to do this is to keep him or her in an upright position, high enough on your body to monitor breathing and ensure that her chin is off her chest. Babywearing International recommends that infants only be held in a horizontal or cradle position while actively nursing (if desired) and return to an upright or vertical position as soon as they have finished.
It is also important that your carrier provide adequate support for your infant’s developing neck and back.
Ideally baby should be held with his knees higher than his bottom with legs in a spread squat position and support from knee to knee although with older babies and toddlers full knee to knee support is not always possible or necessary. An ergonomic carrier (whether a soft structured carrier, Asian-style carrier, sling, or wrap) will provide better support for baby and will be more comfortable for the caregiver as well.
Always inspect your carrier for wear or damage before use examining it for weak spots, loose stitching, worn fabrics, etc.
BWI recommends purchasing a carrier from a reputable manufacturer to ensure that it meets all current US safety, testing, and labeling standards.
Practice all carries—especially back carries–with a spotter, over a bed or couch, or low to the ground until you are completely confident.
A BWI meeting is the perfect place to learn new skills with the assistance of a Volunteer Babywearing Educator. In most cases it is best to be comfortable with front carries before attempting back carries.
Always exercise common sense while babywearing.
Baby carriers are not an approved child restraint or floatation device and should not be used in moving vehicles or boats. Avoid babywearing in situations where it would not be safe to carry an infant in your arms.
And if you made it all the way to the end here, I’ll leave you with this thought: Go forth and wear your baby. Join a babywearing group near you and try on carriers, learn what you like, and then grow from there!