Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why Babywear?

I love babywearing. I love the convenience, the closeness and the comfort it provides for me and my little ones. There are so many reasons to wear your baby, and in thinking about what to write for this post, I couldn't get all my thoughts in order - there's so much to say! So instead I decided to share two really good articles on the subject. I hope you find it as cool and interesting as I do!

10 reasons to Wear Your Baby
by Laura Simeon, MA, MLIS
1. Wearing a baby is convenient

When we carry a baby in a sling, we can walk around freely and not have to worry about negotiating steps, crowds or narrow aisles with a stroller. Plastic "baby buckets" and removable car seats are heavy and awkward for parents, babies often look uncomfortable, and they are kept at knee level. A sling can block out excess stimuli when breastfeeding a distractible baby, and it allows for discreet nursing in public places. A sling can also double as a changing pad, blanket, or cushion when away from home. I’ve found my sling especially handy when negotiating busy airports with a small child and several bags!

2. Wearing a baby promotes physical development.

When a baby rides in a sling 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 - walking, bending, and reaching. This stimulation helps him to regulate his own physical responses, and exercises his vestibular system, which controls balance. The sling is in essence a "transitional womb" for the new baby, who has not yet learned to control his bodily functions and movements. Research has shown that premature babies who are touched and held gain weight faster and are healthier than babies who are not1. Mechanical swings and other holding devices do not provide these same benefits.

3. Babies worn in slings are happier.

Studies have shown that the more babies are held, the less they cry and fuss2. In indigenous cultures where baby-wearing is the norm, babies often cry for only a few minutes a day - in contrast to Western babies, who often cry for hours each day. Crying is exhausting for both the baby and his parents, and may cause long-term damage as the baby’s developing brain is continually flooded with stress hormones.3 Babies who do not need to spend their energy on crying are calmly observing and actively learning about their environment. Baby-wearing is especially useful for colicky or "high need" babies, who are far happier being worn, but placid, content babies and children will also benefit greatly from the warmth and security of being held close.

4. Baby-wearing is healthy for you!

It can be challenging for new mothers to find time to exercise, but if you carry your baby around with you most of the day or go for a brisk walk with your baby in her sling, you will enjoy the dual benefits of walking and "weightlifting". A long walk in the sling is also an excellent way to help a tired but over-stimulated child fall asleep.

5. Toddlers appreciate the security of the sling.

Slings are usually associated with infants, but they can be very useful for toddlers as well; most slings accommodate children up to 35 or 40 pounds. The world can be a scary place for toddlers, who feel more confident when they can retreat to the security of the sling when they need to do so. Toddlers often become over-stimulated, and a ride in the sling helps to soothe and comfort them before (or after!) a "meltdown" occurs. It can be very helpful in places like the zoo, aquarium, or museum, where a small child in a stroller would miss many of the exhibits.

6. Baby-wearing helps you and your baby to communicate with each other.

The more confidence we have in our parenting, the more we can relax and enjoy our children. A large part of feeling confident as a parent is the ability to read our baby’s cues successfully. When we hold our baby close in a sling, we become finely attuned to his gestures and facial expressions. Many baby-wearing parents report that they have never learned to distinguish their baby’s cries because their babies are able to communicate effectively without ciying! Every time a baby is able to let us know that she is hungry, bored or wet without having to cry, her trust in us is increased, her learning is enhanced, and our own confidence is reinforced. This cycle of positive interaction enhances the mutual attachment between parent and child, and makes life more enjoyable for everyone.

7. Slings are a bonding tool for fathers, grandparents, and other caregivers.

Slings are a useful tool for every adult in a baby’s life. It makes me smile when I see a new father going for a walk with his baby in a sling. The baby is becoming used to his voice, heartbeat, movements and facial expressions, and the two are forging a strong attachment of their own. Fathers don’t have the automatic head-start on bonding that comes with gestation, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make up for this once their baby is born. The same goes for babysitters, grandparents and all other caregivers. Cuddling up close in the sling is a wonderful way to get to know the baby in your life, and for the baby to get to know you!

8. Slings are a safe place for a child to be.

Instead of running loose in crowded or dangerous places, a child in a sling is held safe and secure right next to your body. Slings also provide emotional safety when needed, so that children can venture into the world and become independent at their own pace.

9. Slings are economical.

Slings cost far less than strollers, front-carriers or backpacks. Many mothers consider the sling to be one of their most useful and economical possessions. Inexpensive used slings can be found in consignment and thrift stores, and new ones can be bought for about $25 -$50 (U.S.) not bad for an item many parents use daily for two years or more!

10. Baby-wearing is fun.

Who doesn’t love to cuddle a precious little baby? And when your baby is older, having her in the sling makes conversations easier and allows you to observe her reactions to the wonders of the world around her. It’s also fun for baby, because when she is up at eye level, other adults notice and interact with her more. Your child will feel more a part of your life when she is in her sling, and you will find yourself becoming more and more enchanted with this special little person.

1 "Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for pre-term infants". J Perinatol. 1991 Sep;11(3):216-26.
2Hunziker, U.A. and R.G. Barr (1986). "Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomized controlled trial". Pediatrics. 7:641-648.
3Powell, A. "Harvard Researchers Say Children Need Touching and Attention", Harvard Gazette.
By William Sears, MD

If SIDS is basically a disorder of respiratory control and neurological immaturity (and I believe it is), anything that can help a baby's neurological system mature overall will lower the risk of SIDS. That's exactly what babywearing does.

Something good happens to babies who spend a lot of time nestled close to nurturing caregivers. Here's why.

1. Babywearing gives a vestibular connection.

Babywearing exerts a regulatory effect on the baby, primarily through the vestibular system. In the womb, the baby's very sensitive vestibular system is constantly stimulated because a fetus experiences almost continuous motion. Babywearing provides the same kind of three-dimensional stimulation and "reminds" the baby of the motion and balance he enjoyed in the womb. The rhythm of the mother's walk, which baby got so used to in the womb, is experienced again in the "outside womb" during babywearing.

Activities such as rocking and carrying stimulate the baby's vestibular system. Vestibular stimulation is a recently appreciated tool for helping babies breath and grow better, especially premature infants—those at highest risk of SIDS.

Babies themselves recognize that they need vestibular stimulation; infants deprived of adequate vestibular stimulation often attempt to put themselves into motion on their own, with less efficient movements, such as self-rocking. Researchers believe that vestibular stimulation has a regulating effect on an infant's overall physiology and motor development.

2. Motion regulates babies.

Motion calms babies. Carried infants show a heightened level of quiet alertness, the behavioral state in which infants best interact with and learn from their environment. Researchers believe that during the state of quiet alertness, the child's whole physiological system works better.

3. Carried babies cry less.

Parents in my practice commonly report, "As long as I wear her, she's content!" Parents of fussy babies who try babywearing relate that their baby seems to forget to fuss.

This is more than just my own impression. In 1986, a team of pediatricians in Montreal reported on a study of ninety-nine mother-infant pairs, half of whom were assigned to a group which was asked to carry their babies for at least three extra hours a day and were provided with baby carriers. The parents in this group were encouraged to carry their infants throughout the day regardless of the state of the infant, not just in response to crying or fussing, although the usual practice in Western society is to pick up and carry the baby only after the crying has started. In the control, or non-carried group, parents were not given any specific instructions about carrying.

After six weeks, the infants who received supplemental carrying cried and fussed 43 percent less than the non-carried group.

Anthropologists who travel throughout the world studying infant-care practices in other cultures agree that infants in babywearing cultures cry much less. In Western culture we measure a baby's crying in hours per day, but in other cultures, crying is measured in minutes. 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 "up" in arms and are put down only to sleep—next to the mother. When the parent must attend to her own needs, the baby is in someone else's arms.

In addition to the physiological effects of vestibular stimulation, there appear to be psychological benefits. Sling babies seem to show a feeling of rightness, enabling them to adapt to all that is unfamiliar about the world to which they are now exposed, lessening their anxiety and need to fuss. As baby senses mother's rhythmic breathing while worn tummy-to-tummy and chest-to-chest, the babywearing mother acts as a regulator of her infant's biology.
My Most Basic Answer to the Question, "Why Babywear?" is:
• Babies want - and need - to be held A LOT.
• You and I want to have our hands free in order to accomplish all the things we need to do every day.
• Babywearing = Problem Solved!


Anne Basso said...

I would be LOST without my slings, wraps, pouches, structured carriers, and mei teis. Yeah, I'm an addict. But it's so amazingly wonderful!

And as the mother of two sons with Autism, it turns out all those things I did, like babywearing, have helped my sons with social connections and bonding. Yes, attachment parenting tools can make life easier for special needs kids.

Great post!

Amber said...

What a fantastic post!!! Can I link to it?

melissa said...

I'd be honored, Amber!

Anne, I should have said something about babywearing kids with special needs - what a great point!

e&e said...

Hi Melissa,

Sorry I never responded to your email about babywearing. I intend to, but things are a bit crazy right now.

Great articles and post. I love that you added photos of you and your babes with it.

Did you make the mei tai or what kind is it?


Scotty and Lisa said...

So, Natalie hated the sling when she was little, but now that she's in the clingy phase, I'd love to have help lugging her around when we're out. What would you recommend for her at this stage (9 months- 20 lbs.) and for a bit longer that is comfortable for a trip to the grocery store or mall or something? Do you have any thoughts or recommendations about hiking backpacks?

melissa said...


the mei tai is homemade. if I make another one there's a few things I would tweak on it, but it works!!


I'll email you some ideas!