One of the fastest growing industries in the past few years has been around the concept of babywearing. Babywearing is centered around the belief that wearing your baby close to your body after birth and as they develop is beneficial for baby’s development and is the natural thing for you to do as a parent. Not everyone agrees with this view though. Some of the parenting groups advocate never wearing your baby because they say (with no research I might add) that wearing your baby will “spoil” them and make them a very “high need” baby. Now I only have one son so far with one baby on the way so I’m not going to put myself out there as the expert super-dad….but I think this view, that you’re going to spoil your newborn, is crazy. Everything about the neurology and physiology of a newborn is totally just instinctive and neurological reflexes. The baby only knows what it needs physiologically. Babywearing has become really popular lately, especially around our part of town (maybe we’re all just hippy freaks!). So is it really as good for mom and baby as they say?? Or is it just a fad? When did babywearing begin? And exactly what are the benefits of wearing your baby??
You may not know, I didn’t really realize it until studying it further, but babywearing has been around as long as people have been on the earth. Carole McGranahan, a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado researching babywearing says, “People have been babywearing as long as there have been people.” Historically, parents fashioned baby carriers out of anything they had at hand. Bark, reeds, leaves, skins, or whatever other material they had at their disposal. Most of the reasoning for babywearing in the past (which is why you see them always on the mom’s back) is so that the mom can work while holding baby at the same time. This allowed the mom to accomplish her work for the day and be able to hold her brand new baby close to her body. One other reason was protection. By holding baby close to their body, the mother could watch over and protect her infant at all times because she knew exactly where her baby was and what he/she was doing.
The benefits of babywearing are numerous. First off, babies that are worn close to the parents’ bodies cry less and are easier to console because the parent learns their subtle cues and baby can rely on the parents’ physiology to regulate their own. So what the heck does that mean?? Well, when babies are brand new, one of the ways they develop their neurology is to piggy back off of you..the parent. So when they are close to your skin and on your chest, they can regulate their heart rate to match that of the parent. They also use your breathing rate to regulate their own and can use the parents’ body temperature to help regulate their own. Amazing huh?!? Hmmm, it’s almost as if we were “Fearfully and wonderfully made…Psalm 139:4″. That’s also why when your baby isn’t feeling well, they are super clingy and just want to nurse and be held the entire time. It’s not only for the antibodies they receive from the breast milk of the mother. By holding your baby close to your body you are helping the baby cope with the fever or sickness they are fighting off and boosting their immunity, just by holding them! Research is showing that babywearing increases baby’s cognitive development as well. By wearing them close to your chest, it keeps them close to you while you are interacting with the world and the baby becomes a part of every conversation or activity you do. But for me, as a dad, one of the biggest benefits to wearing Harper was the bonding time I got with him after delivery. It’s not nearly as difficult for a mother to bond with her baby because he/she has been floating in the mom’s hormones for 10 months. Baby is so tuned into mom that if the baby cries while being kept by a babysitter, mom’s milk will let down while she is out at dinner across town!! Dads on the other hand have a little harder time connecting to their babies because of not having this intimate connection with them for the past few months. So getting to wear them skin to skin using a wrap after delivery gives us as dads an incredible time of bonding with our babies. It’s also a really good way for a dad to give the mom a break and allow her some downtime yet still allowing him to get things done that he needs to do since he still has his hands free. Same for mom. Wearing the baby frees up your hands so you can hold them, but still do the things you need to do in a day. Just the other day I went to get my hair cut by a friend of ours who does hair out of her home (love you WithaKay!!). We had just given her a baby wrap as a gift for their new baby and so while we were there her daughter started fussing. So instead of her stopping, she scooped her up and put her in her sling, baby went to sleep and she finished doing my hair!! So it provides mom with much more freedom. If you have a baby that is fussier or that doesn’t sleep as good at first (like Harper!), then having them close to you in a sling helps to comfort them and helps baby to relax and rest better. If you think about it really it makes total since why they would like it so much. Your baby has been in this warm, protected, quiet, dark environment (the womb) for the past 40ish weeks and then all of a sudden they go from that to here with us!! A huge, drastic change for them to say the least. So wearing them re-creates this womb-like environment to help with their transition into the world.
In our office we take care of a lot of young families. We adjust and care for pregnant mothers, babies as young as a few minutes old, and many children (along with the rest of the family!). So we see alot of families at this first stage with their babies. One of the things I watch and notice about most of the families is that they all carry their new babies around in their car seat. Most of the car seats now are made with a docking station so that the parents can pull them out of the car yet leave them in their car seat and just carry them around in the seat. Not that there’s anything majorly wrong with this per say, but it is just not ideal. For one, carrying these car seats around all day is really hard on mom and dad’s upper back, shoulders and cervical spine. We normally tend to carry heavy objects on the same side over and over and over again so this begins to create muscle imbalances that can create discomfort and neurological interference. On baby, if the car seat has bad padding in it (I will cover this in another post on car seats) then your baby could be having less than optimal support while sitting in their car seat. Besides that, with the position baby lays in their car seat, prolonged use can cause cranial bone misalignment, neck tension, and breathing restriction due to pressure on their diaphragm from being in such a scrunched down position. The easiest thing we recommend is to leave the car seat where it belongs….in the car!! Keep some baby wraps next to your front door or in your car and either put it on before you leave the house or have it handy when you reach your destination and pull baby out and slip them into it before you go in. I get so excited when I see mom’s come into the office with their newborns in their slings! I know for some couples, babywearing can be intimidating because you don’t know where to start. JUST GRAB A SLING!! The best thing you can do is to just grab a couple and try them out and see what you like. There are so many different types and styles (we’ll cover most of them) that you’ll find one that you like better for you and one that dad likes better for him. Oh yeah, and let me just say…I PROUDLY wore Harper many many times the first few months of his life. Dad’s that tell me that they would never wear their baby, or that it is embarassing, or junk like that are just big fat wussies!! If you’re that dad and that offends you….then GOOD!! Prove me wrong and put your baby in a sling. You’ll be glad you did. It’s one of my favorite things to do with Harper and selfishly I can’t wait for our baby in December so I can put him/her in a sling!! The first few days after Cindy had Harper here at home, I would put him in my wrap and would go in the living room and play worship music (I thought his first word would be Kari Jobe!!) with him and slow dance with him to get him to sleep so that Cindy has some time to rest…it was amazing. So call me a sissy, but I have 3 of my own slings and am having 2 more made right now!! SO THERE!!! LOL, ok, enough ranting from me, sorry I get so out of control…..sheez….
In my next two posts on this I’ll show you many of the options you have (there are tons these days!) with babywearing. I’ll show you the ones Cindy and I use ourselves and really like, and give you references on where to find some of the others. Stay tuned!