I first knew I would wear my baby long before becoming a parent. Travelling through Ethiopia, watching the women walking through the villages with their babies wrapped snugly on their backs, was quite different from anything I had seen back home. One morning around 4am, long before sunrise, I stood shivering, waiting for a bus out on the dusty street. A crowd started to gather and I watched a mother with a little baby on her back. She was layering thick blankets over him, shielding him from the cold, and her actions were so loving and gentle, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
Back home, a few years later, I sat researching slings whilst thinking about the little life growing inside me. After a lot of reading I knew that I wanted a carrier that would be supportive to my baby’s developing spine, as well as comfortable for me to wear for long periods of time.
There are currently many baby carriers on the market which do not provide this. These carriers hold the baby up by their crotch, putting pressure on their spine and pulling uncomfortably on the wearers shoulders. To give the support you both need, you need to look for a carrier which provides knee to knee support, meaning the fabric of the carrier starts behind one knee and finishes under the other knee. This ergonomic design creates a comfortable seat for the baby, rather than dangling them by their crotch. A much happier and healthier option! There is a huge amount of choice from the slings that meet this requirement and there is no need to feel limited in your selection.
When my son was born we experimented with a few different slings before finding the right match. I ended up buying and selling as I had yet to hear about sling meets, where you can try and hire out different slings – a very handy resource! We settled on a stretchy wrap which I could put on when I got dressed in the morning and keep on the whole day long.
At first I didn’t know when I should use it. I wondered what other parents did – did they just use it when they were going from place to place, did they do the house work and other productive tasks? In the early days of parenthood, I was so tired that I left most of the housework, preferring to snuggle up with my newborn. If we went anywhere nearby, I just carried him in my arms as it seemed like a bit of a hassle to put him in and out of the sling. So it was mainly used for naps on the go and longer walks. However, as he got heavier, it became more and more useful. I wanted my arms back to get on with things and the sling gave me the freedom to do that. When he reached 4 months, he was too heavy for the stretchy wrap, so we switched to a woven wrap and a kanga (African fabric sling) and I began the exciting (and slightly terrifying) task of learning to wrap him on my back. This gave me so much freedom and I was able to do everything I needed to, although it meant I no longer had a great excuse not to wash the dishes because of the baby in the way!
I was still very interested in finding out how babywearing is used by other mothers around the world. I found that most of my own friends used it as an alternative to a pram or buggy, simply to get from A to B. Then when they reached their destination they would put the baby down on the carpet to play. Although I could definitely see the benefits of replacing the buggy with a sling – more interesting and secure for the baby, access to milk on the go, bonding and connection, easier and more convenient , better for the baby’s developing spine, are just a few! – I felt that the art of babywearing could be taken so much further.
Wearing your baby skin to skin, all day long may seem extreme in our culture, but in fact many women all around the world are doing this very thing. Not only that but they are keeping their household running, working long days in the fields, cooking, looking after their other children and taking care of themselves. These babies are THRIVING. They are in constant connection to their mothers, have access to the breast whenever they desire, can watch and learn every detail of the mothers daily activities, observe her interactions and not only communicate their needs, but also get them instantly met. These babies are born in to a world that from their point of view, is exciting and stimulating, secure, warm and loving.
Babywearing for these parents is not just a way to get from here to there, it is an intrinsic part of life.
Although my son was rarely out of arms in the early months of his life, it was not quite as interesting a viewpoint for him, sitting cuddling on the sofa. He started to get more fussy and more difficult to sooth and I realised that he was bored. When I started to utalise the sling so much more, I found that the more I wore him, the calmer and more content he was. I already knew that my son had high needs in comparison to his peers, and that made me even more determined to meet those needs. Babywearing enabled me to do this.
Some of the benefits of wearing your baby include-
Security and stimulation for baby
Stimulates breastmilk production
Ease of breastfeeding on the go
Babies who are worn, cry less
A faster rate of emotional, psychological and cognitive development
Regulates your baby’s temperature and breathing
Bonding and connection
More regular feeding, providing much needed nutrients to your developing baby
Production of oxytocin in the mother, warding of post natal depression
Kangaroo care – wearing your premature baby is proven to be beneficial to both of you, promoting bonding, confidence and milk stimulation in the mother, whilst regulating the baby’s temperature, breathing, stimulating growth and weight gain, reducing stress and often leading to an earlier release from hospital.
Babies can communicate their needs such as hunger or toileting, making the practice of elimination communication a natural and easy process.
Many of these benefits are also repeated when you are skin to skin with your baby. It makes sense then that baby wearing whilst having skin to skin contact is the optimum scenario for both mother and baby. A wrap style sling enables you to be able to wear your baby skin to skin discreetly. Alternatively, you could hitch up your top so you are tummy to tummy, while using a soft structured carrier or a mei tai.
So if you are wondering about what babywearing could do for you and your baby, I urge you to try it. See what a difference it makes to you both, how easy it is for you to do the things you want to do and how calming and soothing it is for your baby. Watch them learn and absorb new information and relish feeling totally in tune with each other. The baby sling is no doubt one of the earliest human inventions and when you start to use one, its easy to see why its still around.