Monday, 23 June 2014

Back Wrapping Infants In Their Fourth Trimester: A Good Idea?

by Veronique Bergeron
Cross posted from her blog AndBabiesMakeTen

Photo by Jenna Sparks

I am a parenting author, mother of 9 and avid babywearer. In my role as one of the admins of the OBG, I host babywearing meet-ups where parents have a chance to try carriers, get troubleshooting help and meet like minded parents in their community. On any given occasion, a parent will ask for help back-wrapping their newborn.

The birth of my ninth child has given me a chance to explore my thoughts on back wrapping tiny infants. I discovered wrapping when my twins were 6 months old. As a lover of art and baby cuddles, the weird and crazy world of woven wraps was a match made in heaven. I quickly became proficient at wrapping and yet I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with back wrapping newborns.

When I host babywearing meet-ups, parents come eager to learn. Some have always known they would “wear” their infants; others are led to it by circumstances such as a fussy baby or a busy toddler. All parents are thrilled and relieved by the freedom that babywearing affords. Suddenly, their hands are free, their babies are content, and their toddlers are safe. We take that new found freedom and run with it. Eventually, our hands are not as free as we would like them to be; our toddlers are still running amok; that squishy bump on our chest is getting bulky. I tried amending my herb garden with a shovel and a bag of sheep manure with a baby strapped to my chest. I didn’t feel the freedom.

But while back wrapping is an age-old practice in many cultures, it doesn’t come to us naturally. Most of us born and raised in North America did not grow-up with the benefit of seeing worn babies, of watching our mothers, aunts and cousins wrap their infants, of helping in the running of the household by wearing our infant siblings and cousins. We do not have the muscle memory of feeling what a good seat is, of making sure that our babies are breathing properly. We were raised and cultivated in a society where objects do this for us: the stroller, the car seat, the monitor. We also walk in communities where babywearing, especially back wearing, is seen as an oddity. Well-meaning strangers would not be able to correct a falling seat or a constricting piece of wrap. Not only they wouldn’t know how, but we are more likely to be upset when strangers express concerns about babywearing than concerned about our baby. We talk a good talk about “it takes a village…” but every week in our Facebook group, someone is bound to vent about strangers wanting to see or touch our babies. We want the village without the villagers.

When I see parents who want to learn how to back wrap their infants, I often see babies sunk too low into a wrap, with fabric over their heads, I often see slouched positioning with the chin pressed against the chest, I often see a ton of loose wrap unintentionally built into the seat and shoulders, waiting to work itself downward as gravity acts on mom and baby. And I wonder what will happen when baby is wrapped at home, without a spotter and without the benefit of a dozen avid babywearers on the lookout for mistakes.

The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA) recommends that babies be “visible and kissable” at all time. A baby carrier should assist parents in the job of holding their babies. The safest place for an infant is in her parents’ arms and that’s why the safest position in a baby carrier is one that replicates the position of a baby in his parents’ arms. How many times have I told my husband of our demanding infant son: “I wish I could just put him back there and forget about him!”? But that’s exactly the problem as I see it: vulnerable newborns require constant supervision in their early months of life. Visible and kissable is where they should be: In The Way. Carrying our newborns against our breast acknowledges their great vulnerability and our irreplaceable role as the safe keepers of that vulnerability. It’s only normal that this momentous task should cramp our style a little.

If you decide that back wrapping your newborn is for you, please make sure you do it safely. Ask for the help of a spotter. Do it while sitting on a bed or a couch. Use mirrors, windows and reflective surfaces liberally to make sure that your newborn is still positioned properly. If you are unsure about your ability to back wrap your newborn, continue developing your wrapping skills with front carries. Your baby will only be that small once; don’t rush him out of sight. As for me and my little dude, I will keep him visible and kissable at least for his first 4 months. In the way, where he should be. 

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