Recently, my Sister in law and I went on a long walk with our babies on our backs. Her one year old in a little Frog wrap (which seeing her methodically tie her baby to her back using only a woven wrap was whoa). My little one was in my Tula- a soft structured carrier. We received so many friendly comments by bystanders and “ooos” and “awws”. People were tickled that we were carrying our babies on our backs the way we were.
I receive a lot of comments when babywearing, especially by older women. They say things like, “I wish they had those back when I was having babies!“. It surprises me that they think baby wearing is such a new thing.
People are simply drawn to it. Which, not to get all sciencey on you- but in my opinion, I feel like seeing mothers carrying their babies like this awakens something deep seeded in our brains, something primal. Almost reminding us of our roots. We are attracted to this souvenir of our ancestral past, the intrinsic nature of the act. Even I find myself marveling at images of traditional babywearing such as in Africa, or old photographs of Native American mothers wearing their babies.
So let’s talk about babywearing. I touch on some of the reasons I like to babywear in my Babywearing Epiphany post, but I want to expand on them.
My six favorite things about babywearing areeeeee *drumroll please*:
1. It Keeps Babies Happy! – I remember reading the article Why African Babies Don’t Cry , written by a native African new mom who was currently living in the UK. She was comparing how her UK friends were parenting their babies to how mothers raise their babies in her homeland (almost all of the babies in Africa were found strapped to their mothers). One thing stood out in the article to me and it was that her relatives were shocked that her UK friends actually thought it was normal for their babies to cry so much. They said to her “People here….really don’t like babies crying, do they?” That was so interesting to me and made me wish American culture felt the same way. According to Dr. Sears, only in modern and more so western culture is a baby’s crying considered “normal” and measured in hours, everywhere else it is measured in minutes (Usually referring to newborns- younger infants). Yes, a baby crying is “normal” as in; it is the only way they can communicate- but it is to signal to their mother/caregiver that they have a need that needs to be met. And YES, comforting and closeness; human touch IS very much a need. Some will argue, as basic as the need for food itself. There was even a study performed in 1986 observing mother-infant pairs which concluded that the infants who were worn cried 43% less than those who weren’t!
A big criticism of babywearing is that it will “spoil” the baby, or that the baby will only be accustomed to sleeping in their mother’s arms (The Horror!). This notion of “spoiling” a baby (for the purpose of this post <3 years) is preposterous to me. Of course an infant wants to be held by it’s mother!!! Has anyone ever seen a young infant? They are truly primitive beings. We as a species, do not have precocial young. They 100% do not have the mental capacity to manipulate you- they are running on instinct and survival mechanism alone. The only thing they know how to do is Stay close to their mother for all obvious reasons. Do I think “spoiling” is possible for an older child? Sure. In terms of material items and minimal limits or boundaries but not love or affection. And older children should not be considered the same as infants or toddlers for they do not possess the same mental capacity and therefore cannot process information or interpret their surroundings in the same way. Research the Fourth Trimester in regards to young babies for a different perspective.
My expectation as a pregnant woman was that my home would be constantly filled with the noise of a crying baby once the baby came. I mean you hear about things like “shaking baby syndrome”, etc. What a misconception! My daughter usually only cried for small amounts of time, which was almost always her telling me she wanted the boob! The only time I remember considerable crying was when she had her first ear infection and didn’t feel well. I’m not saying I never had the random fussy night where nothing worked, because I did, but this was usually the exception. In the fascinating book The Continuum Concept that I keep ranting on about, the author makes a great point by explaining that “colic” or “reflux babies” simply do not exist in the primitive cultures. Coincidence? I think not. (I also think breastfeeding is a big factor here, but that is another post).
2. A Learning Experience – I touched on this in The Working Mothers Dilemma post. As your newborn grows, I’d say starting at around 3 months, they want to SEE what you are doing and experience this new world they are now in. This is how they learn about their surroundings and culture. This has even been supported by science. Neurologically, there has been shown to be accelerated brain maturation when infants are worn.
I’ll never forget when I was in the target check out line, babywearing of course, when my daughter was still a young baby; probably around 3 months old. I was talking to the checkout cashier, and my daughter looked up at me, smiling from ear to ear, in awe watching me and hearing me speak to another adult. It kind of caught me off guard, I realized this was probably the first time she ever heard my “real” voice, interacting with another adult up close and personal. Yes, of course she heard me speak before, but this was different. She was witnessing me in my environment, interacting in a way she hadn’t seen before. Could she have had this same experience if she was buckled in a car-seat carrier and placed in the shopping cart? Probably not. When you are babywearing, your baby is essentially experiencing everything in the same way you are which many will argue it is not only the stimulation they crave, but in fact need.
3. Practicality – It just makes life with a baby (and toddler) easier! When they are newborns and small infants, they are calm, secure, and usually sleeping. No crying babies to be stressed and frazzled over out in public. When they are a little older and can hold their head up unassisted- you can nurse hands free! And out in public without anyone noticing or without even having to stop shopping! Which if you’re like me, this is a wonderful advantage ;). And of course, at any age- the convenience of having both hands available. Do you think women for thousands of generations didn’t have tasks that needed to be completed? Of course they did! And this is how they did it. Did you know that the baby carriage didn’t come into existence until the 1700’s? And only became popular when the Queen Victoria of England bought one.
4. Promotes Naps – I’ve mentioned that other cultures babywear A LOT. And this typically means that their babies are also napping a lot. The movement of you walking/bending/swaying is a gentle transition from being in the womb the last nine months. The constant movement and the comfort of being held close puts the baby to sleep naturally. No forcing or scheduling nap-times or “sleep training” necessary. If you can tell your baby is tired but is fighting sleep, put them in your carrier and go for a walk or start some housework- I guarantee you will have a sleeping baby in no time. I have heard of some moms being afraid that babywearing would cause their baby to sleep too much during the day and leave them with wide-awake babies at night (I actually believed this notion also). However, this is just another common misconception. Most infant’s biological clocks will mature around the 3-4 week mark and after that they are napping so much not because their nights and days are mixed up but because their brains and bodies physiologically require daytime sleep. Believe it or no babies know how to regulate sleep on their own, There is no “teaching” or “training” needed. Imagine the chimpanzee “teaching” their babies to sleep. I know, ridiculous, isn’t it? Newborn babies (0-4 weeks) typically sleep 16-18 hours distributed evenly over a 24 hour period. One month old babies nap for a total of 5-6 hours during the day on average, and 6-9 month old babies nap on average 2.5-4 total hours. Up until around the age of 3, daytime naps are still “the norm” dropping down to about one hour a day. The point is: sleeping during the day is normal, natural, and healthy so why not promote it naturally?
5. Hip and Spine Development– I’m going to paraphrase a good article I found by a Chiropractor here because frankly- he says it better than I could! Ha “Car-seat companies have made it incredibly easy for parents to transport their child in a car seat from house to car to final destination without ever having to move baby. However, structurally, a newborn baby’s spine is a big c-shape. Their posture is completely flexed, just like they were inside the womb. The spinal curves develop over the first year of the baby’s life and are important for your baby’s developing spinal cord and nervous system, as well as their spinal joints and hip joints. When babies are worn properly by their parents and/or other caregivers, they are in a better position for spinal and muscular development, while gravity will aid in the development of postural muscle tone. In contrast, when a baby is laying flat on their back in a car seat for a prolonged amount of time, the gravitational effects on the spine begin to straighten the developing curves as well as cause flattening of the bones of the skull causing deformation.” I don’t know about you, but I’m sold on babywearing after reading that.
6. It’s Intuitive – This is a weird one, and I’m mostly going off of my own feelings and perspective. But, you can feel the pride all throughout your body while babywearing. You just know it feels right. Maybe because it requires some skill, but mostly I think it’s because it just feels instinctive, primal, and natural. I am really fascinated by the notion that hunter-gatherer cultures mostly babywear. And that our ancestors probably did too. Even primates, including our close relative the chimpanzee carry their babies majority of the time. I found some science to support my theory, with this excerpt being the most interesting to me: “There is strong evidence to support the use of babywearing with skin-to-skin contact for preterm babies with benefits that include shortened hospital stay, decreased morbidity, higher exclusive breastfeeding duration, increased weight gain, improved state regulation, and improved maternal sense of competence. Benefits for full-term babies included improved state organization and motor system modulation; improved temperature adaptation; and an analgesic effect. Simple holding, without the skin-to-skin contact, was found to reduce crying, and led to mothers who were more responsive to their babies and to babies who were more securely attached” – Maria Blois, Best Practices in the Behavioral Management of Health from Preconception to Adolescence.
What I am trying to say is there is a reason it “feels good” to babywear; because we were meant to, because it is beneficial to our offspring. Our species has evolved and adapted perfectly, nothing is without purpose and our instincts tell us exactly what to do. I love having my baby close, I feel bonded to her. I feel that she is safe and comforted in my arms. That this is her true place. I will miss the time when my babywearing days are over and I have to retire my beloved baby carriers, but until that time, I will literally “Carry On“…