It’s International Babywearing Week, so what better time than now to talk about the awesomeness that is babywearing!? This is the first in a series of articles about wearing your baby, so stay tuned for more in the very near future.
Benefits of Babywearing
Medical professionals agree that babies thrive through touch. Babywearing is a wonderful way to meet this basic need and the benefits don’t stop there!
Enhances Mother-Baby Bonding: A baby’s natural environment is your body. Anthropologists and psychologists that study human behavior have found that when a baby is in their mother’s arms they are safe, secure, breathing and body temperature are regulated (1), and they become in tune with one other. Studies have also shown that holding and touching your baby can reduce depression in mom(2)(3), and create a more happy, content baby thanks to all of their primal/survival needs being met. (4)(5)
Enhances Father-Baby Bonding: Especially if your baby is breastfed, dad can often feel left out. Babywearing is a great way for dad (or other caregivers like aunts/uncles, grandparents, etc) to bond with baby.
It’s Convenient: Lets be serious here, every baby goes through a period of time where all they want is to be held. During these phases (that sometimes aren’t phases at all), accomplishing anything seems impossible. When you wear your baby they are happy because they are being held and you’re happy because your hands are free to do other things. Additionally, when you’re out in public, having your baby strapped to your body will keep them safe and close while you navigate crowds of people. Things like hiking, climbing stairs, and going to the beach are difficult with a traditional stroller, but are easily accomplished with a carrier.
It’s Economical: Carriers are very economical baby accessories. Many carriers will last from infancy all the way up until toddlerhood. Additionally, most carriers hold their resale value very well. So while it may seem like a bit of an investment up front, in the long run you definitely save money. There are even many ways to make DIY carriers for next to nothing (more on that in a future article).
Promotes Physical Development: When a baby is attached to their mother, they are in tune with the rhythm of her breathing, the sound of her heartbeat, and the movements she makes walking, bending, and reaching. This stimulation helps him to regulate their own physical responses, and exercises their vestibular system, which controls balance. The sling is in essence a transitional womb for the new baby, who has not yet learned to control bodily functions and movements. Babywearing decreases risk of SIDS and flat-head syndrome, while promoting neural development, respiratory (6) and gastrointestinal health (7) as well. Research has shown that premature babies who are touched and held (“kangaroo care”) gain weight faster and are healthier than babies who are not (8). Mechanical swings and other holding devices do not provide these same benefits. Furthermore, ergonomic carriers provide support to baby’s hips and spine, encouraging proper skeletal mobility and development.
“Tummy Time” Alternative: Many babies are simply not fans of tummy time, however, there are benefits to helping baby build strength in their neck muscles. Wearing your baby upright in a carrier is a suitable alternative to tummy time on the floor. When your baby is in a carrier they are constantly exercising their neck muscles, then when they’re tired they can simply rest their head on mom’s chest…a much better alternative to the awful head drop that often happens when baby is laying on their stomach on the floor.
Great for Breastfeeding: Wearing your baby allows breastfeeding to be done on the go, and discreetly too, if you want to be covered up. Nothing quite as easy as having your baby happily strapped to your body so that when they become hungry you can simply reach in the carrier to latch baby on and then continue to nurse hands free. As an added bonus, breastmilk production is boosted with close contact with baby. (9)
Much Much More: These are just a few of the documented benefits of babywearing. Other benefits include promoting early language development, enhanced immunological development and support (10), longer periods of sleep for baby (11), improved neurobehavior (12), and more. We would love to hear about what benefits your have found from babywearing.
Types of Carriers
This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you the basics of each carrier. Future articles will give more details on how to properly use each carrier as well as variations of each style.
Ring Sling (Maya Wrap, Sleeping Baby Productions, Sakura Bloom)
Ring slings are a long strip of supportive, woven fabric with 2 rings sewn to one end. The ring sling is worn across the body, over one shoulder with the opposite end threaded through the rings. These carriers are super adjustable and will fit any body type, shape or size. Great for the newborn stage to keep baby supported and snug while allowing for breastfeeding. Also helpful for quick toddler trips to assist with a hip carry. Quick to get on and off and easy to wash.
Pouch Sling (SevenSlings, Slinglings, Hotslings)
Pouch slings are made from a strip of supportive woven fabric sewn into a loop and folded in half to create a pocket for baby to lay or sit in. Worn the same way as a ring sling, however pouch slings are not adjustable. They must be sized appropriately for the wearer.
Stretchy Wrap (Moby, Boba Wrap)
Moby wraps are made from a long piece of stretchy jersey knit material. The carrier is wrapped around the wearer to get a perfectly tailored fit and then baby is inserted. There is a bit of a learning curve for these carriers, but they are wonderful for the newborn stage and are super adjustable and will fit any body type, shape or size. Stretchy wraps are only meant for smaller babies. Once a child gets too heavy the material will start to sag and will not securely support baby. Used for front carries only.
Woven Wrap (Didymos, Girasol, Kokadi)
Wovens are made from a long strip of (usually) hand woven material. Woven wraps are worn by wrapping around the wearer and baby in any number of configurations to provide an extremely secure and supportive carry. These wraps are available in many different lengths to suite the wearer’s preference. Wovens tend to be on the pricy side due to their handmade nature, however they are able to be used from the newborn stage all the way through toddler. There is no set weight limit for woven wraps, the weight limit is determined by what is comfortable for the wearer. Can be used for front or back carries.
Mei Tai (Infantino Sash, Babyhawk, Mei Tai Baby)
The modern take on a traditional Chinese baby carrier, the mei tai (pronounced “may tie”) carrier is made of a wide body panel with long waist straps and shoulder straps that tie around the wearer’s body to support baby’s weight comfortably. They also offer a variety of features such as headrests or sleeping hoods for the baby, pockets for diapers or other essentials. Can be used for front or back carries.
Soft Structured Carrier (Ergo, Pognae, Tula, Beco)
Similar to the mei tai, but rather than straps that are ties the SSC utilizes heavy duty buckles to secure baby to the wearer’s body. Can be used for front or back carries.
Onbuhimo (Madame GooGoo, WallyPop, Nova, Jago & Lula)
Onbu (pronounced “on-boo”) carriers are traditional Japanese baby carriers. They look a lot like Mei Tais but have rings at the bottom instead of straps. Some onbus have loops or buckles
instead of rings as well. The major draw to this style of carrier is often the fact that there is no waist strap. For many babywearers that like the SSC or Mei Tai style of carrier, but don’t care to have a waist strap digging into their belly, this is a great option. These are best suited for older babies and toddlers that like to be carried with their arms out. Can be used for front or back carries.
There are a few basic rules to always follow when wearing your baby in a carrier. Simple things that can ensure that your baby is safe and happy while you stay hands free. The T.I.C.K.S. is a universal safety acronym. It’s a great way to remember how to safely babywear.
Tight: The importance of a sling or carrier being tight is to hold a baby safely against the wearer, it supports the spine in a straight-upright position and stops baby from falling out of the wrap or carrier accidentally.
In view at all times: Seeing your baby at all times allows you to be constantly monitoring your child’s breathing and general demeanour, you will have the ability to make sure the chin hasn’t dropped and they are happy. You will also be able to check temperature and feeding cues.
Chin off chest: If your child is tight, in an upright position and spine is curved with legs in the squat position the likelihood of the chin dropping is unlikely, this is the most optimum position for safety, development and comfort. The rule of thumb is a child should have a gap of roughly 2 fingers width underneath their chin.
Kissable: Your child should be close enough to kiss. This is greatly important also, as the lower the child the less you will be able to tell about your child, placed in an upright position you should be able to lower your head and kiss the top of babies head, if you are unable to do this, then it’s advised your re-position your child higher.
Supported spine: The tightness of any carrier will be crucial in the support of a babies spine, it’s also important not to over tighten. The carrier should be tight enough to keep the child against the parents body without a gap, but still have the ability to slide your hands into the carrier with ease if needed. Generally in an upright position, if the carrier is adequately supporting the spine the chin will not drop, but its important to follow all the steps carefully.
- (1) Ludington-Hoe, S. “Breast Infant Temperature with Twins during shared Kangaroo Care,” 2006 Journal of Obstetric , Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, 35 (2) 223-231
- (2) Pelaez-Nogueras M, Field TM, Hossain Z, Pickens J. (1996). Depressed mothers’ touching increases infants’ positive affect and attention in still-face interactions. Child Development, 67, 1780-92.
- (3)Tessier R, M Cristo, S Velez, M Giron, JG Ruiz-Palaez, Y Charpak and N Charpak. (1998) Kangaroo mother care and the bonding hypothesis. Pediatrics 102:e17.
- (4) Hunziker UA, Garr RG. (1986) Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A random-ized controlled trial. Pediatrics 77:641-648
- (5) Powell, A. “Harvard Researchers Say Children Need Touching and Attention”, Harvard Gazette.
- (6) Ludington-Hoe, S. Kangaroo Care: The Best You Can Do to Help Your Preterm Infant. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.
- (7) Tasker, A., Dettmar, P. W., Panetti, M., Koufman, J. A., Birchall, J. P., and Pearson, J. P. (2002). Is gastric reflux a cause of Otitis media with effusion in children? The Laryngoscope, 112:1930–1934.
- (8) “Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for pre-term infants”. J Perinatol. 1991 Sep;11(3):216-26.
- (9) Furman, L. “Correlates of Lactation of Very Low Birth Weight Infants,” 2002 Pediatrics Vol. 109 (4) 57
- (10) Lawn et al., “‘Kangaroo Mother Care’ to Prevent Neonatal Deaths Due to Preterm Birth Complications,” International Journal of Epidemiology” 2010: April.
- (11) Messmer P. et al., “Effect of Kangaroo Care on Sleep Time for Neonates,” 1997 Pediatr. Nurs. 23, no. 4 408-414.
- (12) Charpak, N., “Kangaroo Mother Care: 25 Years After,” Acta Paediatric 94 2005: 5, 514-522.