If you’re a follower of mine on any social media platform, you know that I’m a huge advocate for babywearing.
I promote it, educate others about it, and practice it every single day. I can literally say that babywearing is my life.
I’ve happily worn all three of my children. (I still even wear my four and a half year old on occasion!) I have loved every single second of it.
But many approach the topic hesitantly and with curiosity. “Why do you babywear?”
I get that question a lot. Nearly everyday.
To put it simply, I babywear because it is what feels natural. It is what has been practiced since the beginning of time, and it is how we are meant to carry our young.
Another question I get a lot? “Why babywear when we have strollers? We have evolved since those times!”
You know what? I do have a stroller. I have a double, in fact. But it is not my go-to when I’m out and about. I will use it if I’m going to be out for a long time and I know I will have a ton of back pain later if I do babywear, or if I know my older children will wear out and be tired. Those are the only times it gets used.
People today act as if babywearing is a new “hippy” trend (though I hate labels) when in reality, strollers are the trend. Strollers were not commonly used throughout America until 1965 when Owen Maclaren invented the first “umbrella stroller.” It was at that point that strollers became normalized in America, because with the invention of the umbrella stroller (which was made out of cheaper materials) came the reduced price tag and availability to those who could not previously afford one.
Babywearing has been a method of coping with motherhood for thousands and thousands of years, and is not “special” or “new” in anyway like America would like it to be seen as. It has even been traced as far back as Ancient Egypt.
Over the many generations of women carrying their young on their hips and backs, woman in developing countries who are just being introduced to modern strollers are disgusted and disappointed in industrialized countries.
“It’s not so wonderful. In Africa, we just carry our children or let them roam. They can’t sit like lumps,” said Wambui of Nairobi, Kenya. (via SFGate)
“The pram (stroller) is the ultimate in pushing the baby away from you,” said Frank Njenga, a child psychiatrist in Nairobi. “The baby on the back is actually following the mother in warmth and comfort. The baby feels safer, and safer people are happier people.”
Strollers are viewed as yet another way that industrialized countries are desensitizing themselves to motherhood as a whole. Why?
Because we use objects to care for our children instead of our bodies.
We use bouncing chairs to rock our children to sleep when they’re fussing. We use cold cribs for them to sleep in. Sometimes in other rooms where we cannot recognize their cues like those of us that co-sleep/bedshare. We prop up bottles and decide not to breastfeed from the start. (Because why breastfeed when you don’t have to!) We use carseats in restaurants instead of cuddling our children in our arms. We set them in their own “baby” bathtub and watch them splash instead of filling the regular-sized bathtub and climbing in with our babies to enjoy the calming warmth and skin-to-skin contact with them.
To put it lightly, its disgusting.
“Attachment Parenting” is not a trend. Nor should it even have that title. It is basic, instinctual, natural, and original parenting in every way possible. It was the way of life for mothers before the late 1800’s. So seeing its return in today’s overly-desensitized world is marvelous. Absolutely marvelous.
Here are just some of the many benefits of babywearing:
(as quoted from Dr. William Sears)
1. Sling 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 babies seem 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. The first group of parents were provided with a baby carrier and assigned to carry their babies for at least three extra hours a day. They were encouraged to carry their infants throughout the day, regardless of the state of the infant, not just in response to crying or fussing. In the control, or noncarried 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 noncarried group.
Anthropologists who travel throughout the world studying infant-care practices in other cultures agree the benefits of babywearing cultures are that infants cry much less. In Western culture we measure a baby’s crying in hours, 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.
2. Sling babies learn more.
If infants spend less time crying and fussing, what do they do with their free time? They learn! Sling babies spend more time in the state of quiet alertness . This is the behavioral state in which an infant is most content and best able to interact with his environment. It may be called the optimal state of learning for a baby. Researchers have also reported that carried babies show enhanced visual and auditory alertness.
One of the great benefits of babywearing is when baby is in the behavioral state of quiet alertness, it gives parents a better opportunity to interact with their baby. Notice how mother and baby position their faces in order to achieve this optimal visually interactive plane. The human face, especially in this position, is a potent stimulator for interpersonal bonding. In the kangaroo carry, baby has a 180-degree view of her environment and is able to scan her world. She learns to choose, picking out what she wishes to look at and shutting out what she doesn’t. This ability to make choices enhances learning. A sling baby learns a lot in the arms of a busy caregiver.
3. Sling babies are more organized.
It’s easier to understand the benefits of babywearing when you think of a baby’s gestation as lasting eighteen months – nine months inside the womb and at least nine more months outside. The womb environment automatically regulates baby’s systems. Birth temporarily disrupts this organization. The more quickly, however, baby gets outside help with organizing these systems, the more easily he adapts to the puzzle of life outside the womb. 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. Picture how these regulating systems work. Mother’s rhythmic walk, for example, (which baby has been feeling for nine months) reminds baby of the womb experience. This familiar rhythm, imprinted on baby’s mind in the womb, now reappears in the “outside womb” and calms baby. As baby places her ear against her mother’s chest, mother’s heartbeat, beautifully regular and familiar, reminds baby of the sounds of the womb. As another biological regulator, baby senses mother’s rhythmic breathing while worn tummy-to-tummy, chest-to-chest. Simply stated, regular parental rhythms have a balancing effect on the infant’s irregular rhythms. The benefits of babywearing “remind” the baby of and continues the motion and balance he enjoyed in the womb.
The womb lasts eighteen months: Nine months inside mother, and nine months outside.
What may happen if the baby spends most of his time lying horizontally in a crib, attended to only for feeding and comforting, and then again separated from mother? A newborn has an inherent urge to become organized, to fit into his or her new environment. If left to his own resources, without the regulating presence of the mother, the infant may develop disorganized patterns of behavior: colicky cries, jerky movements, disorganized self-rocking behaviors, anxious thumb sucking, irregular breathing, and disturbed sleep. The infant, who is forced to self-calm, wastes valuable energy he could have used to grow and develop.
While there are a variety of child-rearing theories, attachment researchers all agree on one thing: In order for a baby’s emotional, intellectual, and physiological systems to function optimally, the continued presence of the mother, the most important benefits of babywearing, is a necessary regulatory influence.
4. The “humanizing” benefits of babywearing.
Another of the ways the benefits of babywearing improve learning is that baby is intimately involved in the caregiver’s world. Baby sees what mother or father sees, hears what they hear, and in some ways feels what they feel. Carried babies become more aware of their parents’ faces, walking rhythms, and scents. Baby becomes aware of, and learns from, all the subtle facial expressions, body language, voice inflections and tones, breathing patterns, and emotions of the caregiver. A parent will relate to the baby a lot more often, because baby is sitting right under her nose. Proximity increases interaction, and baby can constantly be learning how to be human. Carried babies are intimately involved in their parents’ world because they participate in what mother and father are doing. A baby worn while a parent washes dishes, for example, hears, smells, sees, and experiences in depth the adult world. He is more exposed to and involved in what is going on around him. Baby learns much in the arms of a busy person.
5. Sling babies are smarter.
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. These experiences can be thought of as thousands of tiny short-run movies that are filed in the infant’s neurological library to be rerun when baby is exposed to a similar situation that reminds her of the making of the original “movie.” For example, mothers often tell me, “As soon as I pick up the sling and put it on, my baby lights up and raises his arms as if in anticipation that he will soon be in my arms and in my world.”
I have noticed that sling babies seem more attentive, clicking into adult conversations as if they were part of it. Babywearing enhances speech development. Because baby is up at voice and eye level, he is more involved in conversations. He learns a valuable speech lesson – the ability to listen.
Normal ambient sounds, such as the noises of daily activities, may either have learning value for the infant or disturb him. If baby is alone, sounds may frighten him. If baby is worn, these sounds have learning value. The mother filters out what she perceives as unsuitable for the baby and gives the infant an “It’s okay” feeling when he is exposed to unfamiliar sounds and experiences.
It is what’s instinctual. It is where our children are meant to be- in our arms and against our skin, just like we nourished them internally before externally.
Its as if we have forgotten that our infants have the most basic feelings and emotions. That they have the overwhelming need to be in constant contact with their mother’s scent and touch. That their habitat is their mother’s chest. Their lullaby, her voice. Their food, her breasts.
And, I don’t know about you, but I feel like it may be time to open up to our original parenting instincts again.