By Melisa Schuster, ACSW
Babywearing is the art of carrying your baby throughout the day in one of the many soft, cloth carriers that holds the baby close to the mother or father’s body. Babywearing offers numerous benefits for both parents and babies. Infant mental health specialists consider the first three months after birth as the “fourth trimester,” the time when the newborn is adjusting to life outside the womb; constant contact with mother helps to ease this adjustment.
Babies carried in slings experience contact pressure, motion, warmth, security and sound in many ways similar to that experienced in the womb, allowing baby to slowly adjust to life outside the womb. Babywearing is ideal for fussy babies, high-need babies, and babies who seem to never want to be put down.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics indicates that babies who are carried tend to cry less during the day and during the night. Cross-cultural studies show that in cultures where babywearing is the norm babies cry only a few minutes per day in contrast to Western babies who often cry for hours each day. Babies who cry less spend more time in calm, alert states in which they are observing and learning about their world.
- Communication between parent and child. When baby is worn close to the body, parents are more attuned to baby’s facial expressions, gestures, and sounds, making it easier to respond to baby’s cues. When baby’s needs are met consistently and promptly, his trust in us develops, and mom and dad’s confidence in their parenting abilities increases.
- Baby’s physical development. The shape of the sling follows the natural contours of the infant’s spine, keeps baby’s legs together when the pelvis is soft and forming, and allows infants to slowly unfold from the state of flexion found at birth. Babies who are carried develop good muscle tone in their necks and backs.
- Exercise for parents. It’s hard to find time to exercise with a new baby, but if you carry your baby with you most of the day, you will burn calories and build muscle tone.
- Attachment between father and baby. While being carried by father, baby hears his voice, hears his heartbeat, feels his body and movements, and sees his facial expressions. Dad experiences all the benefits of babywearing that mom does, from exercise to hands-free chores.
- Acceptance of the new baby by the older sibling. When mom is able to both carry the baby and have hands free to care for and pay attention to the older child, the older sibling is less likely to feel jealous. And slings make it easier for grandparents and childcare providers to care for baby too.
In another strange paradox, babies who are carried throughout infancy actually need to be carried less as they get older. Babies who have been carried develop a sense of security and confidence that allows them to become independent and to explore. Rather than clinging or begging to be picked up, toddlers who experienced babywearing are more likely to be ready to separate from mom and explore their surroundings.
One of the most puzzling dilemmas new mothers face is trying to figure out how to care for a baby and still get the never-ending list of daily tasks accomplished. Babywearing allows baby to experience the closeness of the parent while leaving the parents’ hands free for the myriad household tasks that need to be done. Laundry, dishwashing, food preparation, and vacuuming can all be done with baby in tow. (Do not attempt to cook on the stove or remove hot items from the oven or microwave unless baby is secured on your back.)
There are many different kinds of baby carriers including many styles of slings, African back-style carriers, front-style carriers and backpacks (for older babies and children). Perhaps the most versatile carrier is the sling, which enables parents to carry newborns to toddlers. Infants can be carried against the chest or in the cradle hold, providing a sense of closeness and security. Older babies (4-8 months) love the kangaroo carry, facing out to observe the world. And older babies (7 months +) and toddlers love to be carried on the hip, which parents find easier to do since the sling holds most of the weight.
Does this mean mechanical swings, bouncy seats, and playpens should always be avoided? No, these devices have their place in the lives of babies and busy parents. If you choose to use these “mother’s helpers,” remember to balance it with time in your arms, providing baby with physical and emotional closeness.
For more information:
Melisa Schuster, ACSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice with 22 years experience providing counseling and therapy to children, adolescents, adults, and families. Her mission is to help parents and children remove the barriers to creating strong, loving, and healthy relationships with one another. 734-302-0033