All About Babywearing

Babywearing – good for babies and great for parents!

Carrying a baby or young child in a sling or carrier is a centuries-old parenting practice that is alive and
vibrant in many more traditional cultures especially in Africa, Asia and South America, and is becoming popular in Western cultures. Essentially, babywearing is a way to keep your baby happy while getting on with your life. It produces many benefits for babies:

  • Research has shown that the more babies are held and carried, the less they cry and the more time they spend in the ‘quiet alert’ state that enables learning and interaction.
  • Babywearing has a regulating effect on babies behaviour by providing the rhythmic motions and sounds familiar from the womb.
  • Closeness with mother regulates babies adrenal hormones, helping them to distinguish night and day and sleep better.
  • Babywearing mothers have been shown to be more responsive to their babies, which is crucial to babies’ optimal brain development and emotional security.
  • When babies are carried their respiratory rate, heart rate and body temperature are more stable.
  • Carried babies breastfeed more frequently, gain weight better and are less likely to posset or suffer from reflux.
  • The touch and movement of babywearing enhances babies’ motor development by stimulating the vestibular system.
  • Babies naturally adjust their position in the sling as the parent moves, exercising their developing muscles – carrying baby while moving counts as ‘tummytime’. They are less likely to develop plagiocephaly (flat head) because slings keep pressure off the back of the head. The shape of most slings and carriers also encourages healthy hip development.
  • Babywearing allows babies to be included naturally in family life – they are in the thick of the action, able to observe and interact while protected by the security of closeness with their parent.

(For a full summary of research on the benefits of babywearing, see the references below*)

Babywearing also does good things for parents – as well as the obvious benefits of having two free hands while holding your baby close, it enables you to take your baby almost anywhere you choose, knowing he will be content while you carry on with your adult activities. Parents use babywearing to enable them to continue household chores, gardening, socialising, and even working outside the home while keeping their babies close. Walking while babywearing helps burn off those post-baby bulges or the effects of several pieces of coffee-morning cake. It allows you to look fabulous in a beautiful sling while holding your
baby. It can really help with what are usually stressful times for parents – a baby who fusses during the evenings when you are trying to cook dinner, a sick child, or a toddler who plays up while you are feeding the baby.
The great thing about babywearing is that pretty much anyone can do it – it doesn’t matter how you are feeding your baby, where or how your baby sleeps, what kind of nappies you use… and you don’t need the money to buy expensive slings, you can make your own sling or wrap very cheaply and easily – or use our library! Babywearing doesn’t mean you have to ditch your buggy – many babywearers find buggies helpful at times, especially when they pack a sling for when baby wants to be carried. Some physical health problems or disabilities may make babywearing difficult, but in other cases babywearing can be a positive advantage – people who use wheelchairs, for instance, often find slings/carriers most practical.

Babywearing is possible and may be especially beneficial with twins, premature babies and those with developmental disabilities. Some babywearers have babies who practically live in their slings, others choose to do it just at certain times, for instance while taking an older child to school or clearing up the kitchen. There is no need to worry about doing it too much – a suggestion from Dr William Sears, the paediatrician who coined the term‘baby-wearing’, is to carry your baby as you go about your daily life and watch for cues that she wants to be put down (rather than waiting for baby to ask to be picked up, as we usually do). Equally, there is no compulsion to do it all the time if you don’t want to – any time spent babywearing is an investment in your baby’s healthy development. It can be a fantastic way for dads and other relatives to connect with baby and help out, and it can also be a great way for substitute carers to comfort your baby if you can’t be there.

References:

* Blois, M. (2005). Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of this Ancient Tradition. Pharmasoft Publishing.
* Sears, W. & Sears, M. (2003). Babywearing: The art and science of carrying your baby. In Sears,
W. & Sears, M., The Baby Book. Little, Brown & Co.

by Guinevere Webster, 2008

 

There is also a great article here on the benefits of babywearing at different ages and stages by Nicola at West Yorkshire Sling Library.