Today it is not uncommon to see people carrying their babies using pieces of cloth tied across their bodies - babywearing. This ancient method of carrying a baby involves a parent or caregiver tying a sling or cloth around their back, chest or side and carrying the baby in it.
Proponents of attachment parenting support it and it is indeed one of the 3 Bs; breast feeding, bed sharing and babywearing. But even if you are not 100% sold on attachment parenting, you can benefit from babywearing. While it is mostly used to carry infants, it can also work for toddlers who are a little older.
On the back
Carrying a baby on the back is a common practice in Africa, in both modern and traditional societies. The carrier ties the baby in a cloth across their backs. The baby essentially lies on the carrier’s back with its bottom nestled in the cloth. The hands are tucked in, cradling the carriers back, with feet left exposed. This allows the person carrying the baby freedom to do a number of tasks.
Across the front
This is particularly good for new born babies who might not be able to support their heads just yet. Their whole body is ensconced in the sling with their face exposed. The baby’s head rests across the mum or carrier's chest. This is also the breast feeding position.
On the side/on the hip
Older toddlers can easily be carried across the side so that their limbs can dangle. Some babies get a kick out of swinging their legs. By now the baby can probably sit alone and hold their body up. In this position, they can still rest their head on the chest of the person carrying them in order to sleep or just for comfort.
The most important thing is that the carrier is safe and secure. Both for the person carrying the baby and the baby. If tied improperly it can cause back strain and chaffing. For the baby, suffocation and actually falling out of the sling are serious risks. In addition, without the security that it is safely strapped in, the parent or person carrying the baby will not be able to relax and will miss out on some of the benefits of babywearing. For this reason, there are strict guidelines to help parents and caregivers get the best out of babywearing.
The UK Sling Consortium has a checklist under acronym TICKS that you can follow:
- (T)ight: Slings and carriers should be tight enough to hug your baby close. Any loose fabric will allow your baby to slump down in the carrier, which can hinder their breathing and pull on your back.
- (I)n view at all times: You should always be able to see your baby’s face just by glancing down. The fabric of a sling or carrier shouldn’t close around your baby so you have to open it to check on them. In a cradle position your baby should face upwards, and not turned in towards your body.
- (C)lose enough to kiss: Your baby’s head should be as close to your chin as is comfortable. By tipping your head forward, you should be able to kiss your baby on the head or forehead.
- (K)eep chin off the chest: A baby should never be curled so their chin is forced onto their chest as this can restrict their breathing. Make sure there is always a space of at least a finger width under your baby’s chin.
- (S)upported back: In an upright carrier, your sling should carry your baby comfortably close to you to support their back in its natural position. Their tummy and chest should be against you. Test this by putting your hand on your baby’s back and pressing gently, they should not uncurl or move closer to you.
Types of carriers
The baby carrier with straps is a version of babywearing gear. It is sturdy, padded and unlike other gear, it only allows the baby to only face the front or the back. The baby carrier is adjustable up to a point.
A sling is worn across the shoulder and torso. It creates a sort of nook that the baby can then nestle into. It makes breast feeding quite easy. Some slings come with rings that make it easier for the carrier to adjust it. This also means that you can adjust it as your baby grows bigger.
Similar to the sling, the wrap is made of long elastic fabric and is tied about the shoulders and torso. It can take some practice to learn to wrap it just right. There are several video tutorials to help guide
The downsides of babywearing
Babywearing is not for everyone. For starters in warm weather, it can get uncomfortable. You can get sweaty. And the baby who is in close proximity will also get part of your body heat, in addition to their own heat. That can make for 2 uncomfortable people.
The close contact of the baby might also over stimulate milk production for some mothers, leaving breasts engorged. This can make it uncomfortable for the mum who has to carry her baby at the front.
While some people say that your muscles will adjust to the baby’s weight, a big baby might be strenuous to wear.
However, babywearing does more than provide a way to carry your baby, it offers numerous benefits for both the person carrying and child.
Benefits of babywearing
It helps in cognitive development
Because the baby is so close to the parents’ face, the baby learns to study facial expressions. They also interact with their environment more as they can hear different sounds and hear people speaking. It is also reported to help with baby’s social development.
Health wise, babywearing can play a positive role in the development of postural muscles and prevention of cranial deformities such as plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome which can happen to babies who spend a lot of time lying on their backs.
Babywearing increases bonding between both the mother and father. The proximity allows parents to faster learn baby’s queues: what cries at particular times mean what for instance and be able to respond to them quicker. With babywearing, parents are able to respond faster to babies needs and soothe them through the power of touch. Being able to touch your baby has numerous benefits.
Although extensive studies have yet to be conducted, having the baby, particularly a newborn so close to the mother is reported to increase mother’s oxytocin and reduce cortisol levels. This can help in warding off postnatal depression.
It soothes the baby
The movements of the carrier can help to soothe the baby when it’s fussy. And the good news is that you don’t have to stop what you are doing to comfort the baby. You can do both at the same time.
Baby gets touched less by other people
Touching has become a big no-no, especially now that we are coming out of a pandemic. People generally love to touch, carry and kiss babies. One of the unintended benefits of a sling is that it will keep touches that can spread germs away from your newborn. Particularly if you are wearing it in the position across your chest.
Breastfeeding can be easier
For some mothers, breastfeeding can get easier in a sling although some manufacturers don’t recommend their products for breastfeeding. If yours is okay to, support the baby when breastfeeding. This is crucial if the baby is younger and hasn’t yet achieved full mobility of his or her arms and head. Also, be sure that your baby can breathe easily. Some babies might sweat a little while or after they breastfeed so check to make sure the baby is comfortable afterwards.
Other people can bond with baby too
People besides the new parents are able to carry the baby for longer. With a safely secured sling, even a baby carrying novice will be able to carry the baby and bond with it. This helps to take the immense pressure off of new mothers and parents who often report higher levels of stress when a new baby arrives.
Busy parents will know the challenge of juggling a baby with other everyday tasks. Wearing your baby gives your hands more freedom of movement. You will be able to do something as easy as peel a banana easier with your baby in a sling or carrier. It is also very helpful who have more than one toddler. Splitting time and attention between the newborn and an older sibling can be challenging and a sling can make that just a bit easier.
Because of the benefits, babywearing is shaping up to be more than a trend. Parents and caregivers enjoy having their babies closeby while being free to accomplish other tasks.