by Corky Harvey, MS, RN, IBCLCThough the concept of baby wearing may seem like the latest fad in parenting, it is far from new. It has been practiced for centuries all around the world. For many, baby wearing is and always has been an important part of life.
From the Native American with her cradle board, to the Chinese mother with her Mei Tai, each culture developed a way for a mother to carry her baby while allowing her hands to be free to perform the necessary tasks of daily life. Imagine being a mother in a nomadic tribe: there simply wasn't any such thing as a stroller. No one cautioned these mothers of the past that by wearing their babies they might be spoiling them or thwarting their need to develop independence. Fortunately, today we have research to support that the traditional ways were likely the best ways.
There are so many benefits to baby wearing that it is hard to cover them all. Here are our favorite reasons:
Happier, Healthier, Smarter, and Safer Babies
- The gentle movement of baby wearing and closeness to a parent reminds a baby of being in the womb, creating a “back at home” feeling. This provides the baby with the needed warmth, heartbeat, smell, touch, and enfolding that immature humans need for the first months after birth.
- Studies have shown that the more babies are held, the less they cry. Crying raises the level of a stress hormone called cortisol. Frequent and long exposure to cortisol may have lasting, negative effects on the immature brain. In cultures where babies are always carried, they cry for only a few minutes every day-in contrast to Western culture babies who cry much more.
- A fussy, tired baby can be easily put to sleep when placed in a sling and taken for a walk. Babies sleep comfortably and for longer periods while being worn.
- Babies who are worn smile more; have better social development and a better sense of self-esteem and independence.
- Baby wearing decreases the risk of flat head syndrome that can result from too much time spent lying in a stroller, car seat, or crib. Worn babies also have less head lag and stronger neck and shoulder muscles.
- Baby wearing makes it possible to go out with a baby without worrying about germs and unwanted contact.
- Baby wearing lessens spitting up, colic, and reflux because of the upright position.
- Baby wearing stimulates the vestibular system, helping the baby develop balance and trunk and head control.
- Baby wearing allows the baby to be an active participant in the walking, talking, laughing, movement and working of parents. This promotes better neurological development, brain growth, and right/left brain hemisphere connectedness for better brain function.
- Babies who are worn are at the center of activity rather than the center of attention. This helps develop empathy and a healthy sense of self.
- Carried babies develop a strong and secure attachment to their moms and dads (grandparents and caregivers can also participate in baby wearing). Attachment is not a parenting style, but a necessity for development of normal mental health.
- Babies in carriers are safer; they are always with you and always in sight.
- If a parent stumbles or falls while baby wearing, they are less likely to drop the baby or cause serious injury then if the baby were being held in their arms.
Happier and Healthier Parents
- Baby wearing allows parents to have two free hands while providing security for their infants.
- Parents will have more time to answer emails, make dinner, care for and play with an older child, and go for walks if they wear their baby.
- Fathers who wear their baby can share in the nurturing and enjoy a greater opportunity to bond.
- Baby wearing increases parental sensitivity to a baby's needs and enhances a parent's confidence in their parenting skills as they learn to read their baby's cues. Parents become finely attuned to a baby's gestures, facial expressions, and cries, allowing a baby to better communicate without crying.
- A mom who wears her baby can learn to nurse discreetly and have a greater sense of freedom.
- Baby wearing allows parents to care for and play with older children without feeling like they are neglecting the baby.
- Baby carriers and slings are more convenient than strollers in crowded places, airports, and public places.
- By carrying the baby a parent can get more exercise and have the added benefit of "weightlifting."
Learning to wear your baby has a definite learning curve, so please don't give up. It does take practice. Parents are always asking us for tips & tricks to hone in their baby wearing skills, learning different techniques for each type of carrier and for each stage of their baby's life. If this service doesn't exist in your area, find someone who is already good at it and have them teach you. Even approaching a stranger in the super market who seems to have a handle on baby wearing may prove to be a great contact. Don't expect the baby to calm the minute you get him or her into the carrier. Incorporate known calming techniques such as swinging, bouncing, walking, jiggling, and shushing to help your baby settle into the carrier. It will soon feel like second nature and the baby will learn that the carrier is the best place to be.