Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Wear? What? Why?

By Tami Grosset and inspired by the Milkface workshops offered to many in Ottawa, including the Bringing Baby Home class provided by Ottawa Childbirth Education Association.

Are you babywearing curious? Want to know what all the fuss is about? What is babywearing and why do we wear our babies?

The What
Babywearing is the act of carrying a baby without using your arms. By strapping a baby onto your front, hip or back using a length of fabric, a sling or something more structured you are babywearing! Babywearing has been practiced for as long, perhaps longer, than humans have been using tools. We often see pictures of indigenous people babywearing on the documentary channel and so on but in fact babywearing was also enjoyed in western cultures by the majority of the population until the age of the stroller arrived.

Many modern western parents are again recognising the benefits of babywearing and the practice is on the rise, which bring us to the 'why?'

The Why
There are many benefits to babywearing, for the baby, mama, papa and the family in general!

Psychological Benefits
Human babies are the most immature mammal at birth. Ideally they would be born at 12 months gestation but the way the human body has evolved a baby of that size just would not be able to escape! So when our babies are born it helps to provide for them a kangaroo like pouch. A place on our body that can act like a womb outside the womb. 

Babies have a lot to contend with at birth. They are thrust into a foreign realm where they have to feed and eliminate, breathe and understand sights and sounds, wear clothes and diapers. Being worn allows babies to take a break from such strangeness. When they are worn they hear that regular heart beat they know so well. They feel the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe, which they sensed when in the womb. The snugness of the wrap or carrier around them replicates the pressure your body provided, hugging them throughout their growth in the womb. Being worn allows baby to feel like they are at home base. It provides for them a deep sense of comfort and security which lying them in a crib does not.

Our babies have not read the latest parenting books from Chapters or Amazon. To all intents and purposes our newborn babies are cave babies, at risk of being eaten alive by a sabre toothed tiger or trampled on by a woolly mammoth. They often will only know that they are safe from harm if they are held, either in arms or by use of a carrier. And the research proves this... worn babies have been found to sleep better than unworn babies and generally cry less than their unworn peers. This is not a promise! You do not get your money back if this doesn't work out for you, but it's a good place to start!

Wearing your baby can help establish breastfeeding. When a baby is held close to the mama the hormones required to kick start milk production start to surge. Having your baby close to you can also ensure that a parent is less likely to miss any cues, for food, sleep or any other reason (dirty diaper, general unhappiness etc).  A babywearing parent will notice all these cues before the discomfort escalates much sooner than the most attentive parent whose baby is in a crib.

Wearing a baby with both mama and child naked, skin to skin, can really get the milk hormones racing, yet still allow enough cover for 'public decency' and warmth.

Although our babies won't start communicating verbally until about 12 months they start to learn about communication with us immediately. At birth baby's vision is a bit blurry and they focus best at about 12 inches from their face, which just happens to be where your face would be when you wear them! Isn't that just perfect!!?! Because of this 'mother nature' perfection worn babies have the opportunity to learn how to communicate with us at an earlier age than their non-worn peers.

Our world is built for adults and as such it can be a scary place for itty bitty babes. Being carried or worn allows them to see the world from our perspective which is less intimidating and a lot more interesting!

Wearing a baby can make a huge impact with bonding and can really help fathers bond with their baby. Many babywearing dads testify to how they felt connected to their child after wearing them for a while.

Physical Benefits
A newborn baby, whilst only 7-8 lbs (on average) can become incredibly heavy when you are carrying them all the time! An ergonomic carrier can spread the weight of a baby, from newborn weight right up to toddler weight, across the shoulders, back and hips, making the wearing of a baby pretty much effortless.

This is clearly not a new born bub but this pic demonstrates how the wrap distributes the weight of the child evenly across the wearers back and shoulders etc, whilst supporting the baby across his back, bum from knee to knee and even behind the head whilst he's sleeping.

At birth baby bones are actually closer to cartilage and as such are easily molded. A good ergonomic carrier can support healthy hip and spine development. Ergonomic carriers allow baby to sit with a rounded (C shaped) spine, which is necessary until about 12 months when the spine starts to straighten up. The wide seat of a good carrier allows a baby to sit in an M seat. This is the optimal position for good hip development as it drives the head of the femur into the hip socket, encouraging it to curl around and create a deep and stable joint. 



Some well meaning family members might try to tell a babywearer that their worn baby will never learn to walk but in actual fact statistics tell us otherwise. Babywearing helps to develop the vestibular system, which is all about balance and a huge part of walking. Worn babies often start walking a lot sooner than their unworn peers.

At each 'Well Baby' check up your health care provider should ask about tummy time; how much do they get and how often do you offer it? Many babies find tummy time an uncomfortable and distressing time but if you wear them there is no need to offer them tummy time as well. Wearing your baby encourages the same muscles and development as the conventional tummy time, but with a lot less distress! Your baby can actually develop physically while you kiss them and hug them against your body AND make a sandwich!!

Being worn is not a passive activity for baby. As we move their muscles develop and become stronger.

Today's babies spend a lot of their time with their head resting on a flat surface. Remember those cartilage-like baby bones? That's not just the hips and spine but throughout the body, including the skull. Bubs who spend a lot of time in cribs, bassinets and car seats are at a higher risk of developing plagiocephaly or 'flat head syndrome'. This is not merely a cosmetic issue; some research has identified a link with plagiocephaly and learning difficulties. Wearing a baby considerably lowers the risk of their head flattening simply because they are spending less time lying down.

Practical Benefits
When you wear your babe you get your hands back! Its as simple as that!! Being able to make your own snack or brush your teeth or catch up with your favourite blog (ha ha ha) can be very fulfilling. If you're a Type A personality its possible that having a baby is a difficult time for you; with basically handing control of everything over to a tiny bundle of loveliness! Wearing your baby gives back a certain amount of this control and can help reduce postpartum depression. It can also help you get back to work, if you need to!

Sara McConnell is one of OBGs awesome photographers who returned to work, with a sleeping, wrapped baby at 4 weeks.

If you have an older child wearing your newborn can allow you to meet both children's needs. I spent many a time nursing and/or carrying my newborn daughter in a sling, whilst helping my toddler to use the potty, or take a bath or play on the swing. Alternatively, if you have a larger family, you can have one of your older children wear your baby which would free you to meet the needs of the others!

Using a carrier can help you get about, to every day places like the grocery store or the dog park as well as more exotic places like waterfalls and winery tours. Babywearing allows you to continue with your adventurous 'pre-child' life, whilst simultaneously experiencing the adventure that is parenthood.

Where will you and your baby go today, where strollers fear to roll?

1 comment:

  1. Thank-you, Tami. This is a comprehensive article that will be my "go to" resource for new mommas. Wendy Jolliffe