Erica Neser gives us the low-down on baby-wearing – what it is, how to do it, and how it benefits both you and your baby.
Baby-wearing refers to the practice of carrying a baby or toddler in a soft carrier or wrap, securing the child firmly and comfortably to the parent’s chest, hip or back. Carriers include woven and stretchy wraps, ring slings, mei tais, soft structured carriers and pouches. Baby-wearing can be done from birth, using an age-appropriate carrier, and parents can continue until their children are three or four years old – upgrading to a larger carrier as the child grows.
What is the fuss around baby-wearing?
Baby-wearing is nothing new. Parents have been carrying their babies strapped to their bodies since ancient times. In non-Western cultures, baby-wearing is still practised extensively. In modern Western culture, especially among urban parents, transporting babies in strollers became the norm rather than carrying babies in arms. However, in recent years, parents have become more and more aware of the benefits and convenience of wearing their babies against their body. No longer viewed as a ‘hippy’ way of parenting, baby-wearing has now fully entered mainstream parenting. We also have scientific studies to prove what parents have instinctively known for millennia: that babies are generally more content when held. Celebrities posing on social media with their babies in slings and wraps have contributed awareness to this and to baby-wearing becoming trendy among new parents
Why is it important?
Baby-wearing is not just a trend or fashion statement. It forms part of a wider parenting philosophy known as attachment parenting. The pillars of attachment parenting include gentle birthing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, responding sensitively to babies’ needs day and night, and nurturing touch, including baby-wearing. This approach emphasises the importance of a strong and healthy bond between parent and baby as the foundation of a child’s long term wellbeing.
Why should mothers try this?
The short answer is that it will make life easier for them! The longer answer is that, biologically, baby humans need to be held pretty much all day and night, but our culture tells us that babies will become “spoilt” when we do this (although this idea has been thoroughly disproven). Babies usually protest and cry within minutes of being put down (an instinctive survival strategy), which causes parents distress and frustration. Our culture also expects new parents to continue “doing it all”. Modern parents have, however, lost the support of the extended family, which also means we’ve lost the presence of many pairs of loving arms to hold baby when we can’t or just need a break. Baby-wearing makes it easier for parents to carry on, hands-free, with their daily chores, while keeping their baby content.
What are the advantages of baby-wearing?
- Babies cry less, which is especially important for colicky or high-need babies and babies with reflux. Research has shown that babies who are carried in a soft carrier at least three hours a day cry 40% less than infants who aren’t carried.
- It soothes baby with movement, rocking and womb-like containment (stops arms from flailing).
- It provides natural warmth, and the parent’s scent, voice, heartbeat.
- It helps babies to sleep
- It provides access to the breast for discreet feeding and the upright position helps baby to bring up wind.
- It has an organising effect on baby’s vestibular system (sense of movement).
- It provides baby with sensory stimulation, as well as the opportunity to retreat from stimulation when necessary.
- It is good for baby’s mental development: babies carried in slings or wraps spend more time in a quiet alert state, which is the ideal state for learning.
- It promotes social, cognitive and speech development: baby is included in the parents’ activities and interactions.
- It is good for emotional development: contributes to secure attachment and a sense of security and trust.
- It promotes bonding by increasing the wearing parent’s oxytocin levels (the “love hormone”).
- It enhances parents’ feelings of competence.
- Convenience: parent is hands-free and it is less of a hassle than a stroller.
- Mum has both hands free to do chores, shopping, take walks, and care for older siblings.
- It is excellent for premature babies: skin-to-skin carrying helps babies to thrive.
Follow the TICKS guidelines:
- Tight: the carrier should be tight enough that baby doesn’t wobble or feel loose.
- In view at all times: position your baby so you can see her face.
- Close enough to kiss: make sure your baby is high up enough (her bottom should be above your navel).
- Keep baby’s chin off her chest to ensure an open airway.
- Supported back: baby’s back and neck should be straight (rounded back is normal, but prevent sideways slumping). Secure baby’s shoulders with fabric.
Keep your baby’s knees up and flexed. The fabric of the wrap should be spread out well under baby’s bottom, up to the hollow of the knees. Legs should form an M-shape, and not hang down straight. Ensure that your carrier is suited to your baby’s age and size.
Can dad get involved in baby-wearing?
Absolutely! Dads are often amazed by the intense feelings of love, protectiveness and attachment evoked by having their baby in a wrap or sling against their body. Some dads say they can now imagine a little bit how it feels to be pregnant, when carrying baby in a wrap. All dads are encouraged to give it a try!