Wearing babies has always been essential for moms in nomadic and agricultural communities, to keep babies close to protect and feed them while having their hands free for work.
But it was only in the 1960s that babywearing began to take off in the west, part of a trend to nature and nurturing in the face of a ‘consumerist culture’ of strollers, carriages and other baby gadgets, which focused on children’s earliest independence.
Today there’s been an explosion in babywearing options in various styles and colours, and celebrity moms from Beyoncé to model Gisele Bündchen have been snapped sporting them, along with doting dads like Channing Tatum and Brad Pitt.
The three main types are wraps (light, stretchy fabric you wrap around your body to support your baby’s weight), slings (strong fabric run through rings for easy adjusting), and carriers (structured, with extra support for baby’s chest or back). Which of these you choose is up to personal taste, so speak to friends and try them.
The most important thing is to get the right size for your baby (take her with you when you buy), read the instructions leaflet, and practise, with help from someone experienced, until you get it right. Check that baby’s neck and spine are supported, that her legs are not spread wider than her pelvis, and her bottom is lower than her knees.
The benefits of babywearing are worth the initial effort, says Dr Simon Strachan, paediatrician at the Paediatric Centre, Bedford Gardens Hospital in Johannesburg. “Babywearing is fantastic for the bonding of mother and baby. I like the idea of moms holding their babies and making them part of their day, rather than expecting the baby to lie in a crib and feed and not cry, and sleep at night.”
- Your baby has the security of being close to you, feeling your warmth, heartbeat, breathing and movements as she did in the womb, easing her transition into life outside.
- Babies in slings, wraps and carriers are reported to be generally calmer and in a state of “quiet alertness”, absorbing the world around them. In a Canadian study, infants in baby carriers fussed and cried 43% less than those not carried.
- Babies can learn more as they go places with mom where a stroller or carriage can’t go, and observe her at work or play, doing things she wouldn’t be able to do if her hands were not free. Stimulation from different environments and experiences can encourage nerves to branch out and make connections, helping the brain develop.
- Babies see and hear from near your level, including other people’s faces and expressions, encouraging emotional understanding and communication.
- Breastfeeding is easy, with many wraps allowing you to do it discreetly, and your closeness can encourage the let-down reflex.
- Being held upright helps keep milk and stomach acid down, and prevent gas escaping up, and the gentle pressure on their tummy from being held in a wrap or sling may help digestion.
- The security of a wrap or sling can comfort toddlers, preventing meltdowns or helping recovery from one.
- You benefit too by being able to get on about and do chores, and are freed from a need to actively entertain your baby.
- Your partner can also babywear, giving you time out and him a chance to bond, as baby gets used to his smell, voice, heartbeat and movements.
- You even get a workout – babywearing is estimated to burn around 1200 kilojoules a day, and a baby in a sling can provide the “resistance” of a pair of hand weights.
- Babywearing doesn’t mean you won’t still have use for a pram or stroller, but it’s a great addition to your parenting arsenal.
- If you are unable to babywear for whatever reason, don’t despair – just cuddle baby and interact as much as possible.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images