Recently, a virtual scuffle ensued on a friend’s Facebook wall. The debate raged between those who preferred to let their babies cry (in order that they ‘learn to self settle’) and those who preferred to halt the crying before it even began by picking up (or holding constantly) their infants.
In our culture, there’s an overriding belief that holding a baby constantly, or picking it up the moment it begins to cry will ‘spoil’ the child, causing ‘clinginess’ and greater dependence. This is not true!
To challenge this belief and bring greater awareness of a) the benefits to mother and baby of retaining close contact for many months after birth, and b) the potential damage caused by ignoring the needs of a baby signalled by its cries is, well, a challenge in itself. As a trained babywearing instructor, it is, however, a challenge I relish; when I see the lightbulb go on over a parent’s head showing that they suddenly, absolutely, ‘get’ the importance of continual close contact with the smallest people in their lives, I know I’ve done my work is done, for that moment, at least.
“If someone told you they knew a secret to help your baby sleep better, cry less and learn better, you would certainly be interested…” Dr Maria Blois
Babywearing (wearing your baby in a sling or carrier) is one of the best starts you can give your child. Without going into a deep discussion of behavioural biology, the human infant belongs to the ‘carried’ type of young; by nature, it needs the very close proximity of its caregiver for survival. Hence, a baby tends to cry when you put it down, and stop crying when you pick it up. A child whose emotional needs are met without cries of distress is ultimately more self-confident, with earlier independence. Not only that, but if the child’s energy is not taken up with crying, then more time is spent in a state of quiet alertness, which allows greater learning to take place.
“The child in the baby sling is ‘near’ to me. The child in the pram is ‘far’ away.” Dr Eckhard Bonnet
There are an abundant number of benefits to wearing your baby and it isn’t only the emotional side which is nurtured – in terms of physical development, wearing your baby correctly (in the sit-spread-squat position) in a sling is pretty darn good for their hips and spine too. In countries where babies are carried as a matter of course, complaints such as hip displasia are at worst, rare, and at best, unheard of. Then there is the spine; a baby is born with a curved spine, a curve which doesn’t fully straighten of its own accord until the time of walking. Babywearing supports the natural, timely course of this spinal development too. Can it get any better? Well, take the following, for example:
Babies who are worn more cry less… Research shows that babies who are worn an extra two hours a day cry 51% less in the evenings
The womb in continuum… whilst worn, your baby is tightly cocooned, just as she was in the womb; that familiar, safe environment is continued and she is comforted and calmed, gently swaying with your movements, just as she was before birth. If the world gets too much she can snuggle up against you away from external stimuli, reassured by the sound and feel of your loving heartbeat
Security, self-confidence and self-esteem… babywearing promotes your baby’s innate sense of well-being
Metabolism, nervous system, vital functions… the holistic aspect of your baby’s physical body thrives because it’s stimulated through the warmth and movement of the wearer
Sociability and inclusion is encouraged… because your baby is high on your chest, communication is not only easier and more frequent, but happens at eye level
“In order for a baby’s emotional, intellectual, and physiological systems to function optimally, the continued presence of the mother, as during babywearing, is a necessary regulatory influence.” Dr William SEARS, paediatrician
It’s not just babies who reap the rewards of babywearing; parents benefit greatly too:
One hand free… you have at least one hand free to attend to older children if you have them. Especially useful during the ‘witching hour’ around tea time, when everybody is grumpy and you need 8 hands
Go anywhere… shop doorways, stairs, buses, trains, planes, Mt Everest, indeed anywhere that isn’t pram-friendly poses no obstacle
Touch and caress… you can kiss your baby’s silken head constantly and stroke her hand. Make the most of it; by the time she’s 12, any public displays of affection will be frowned upon 😉
Constant contact… Being in constant contact with your baby allows you to read and respond to her needs, such as hunger, instantly
Enhances breastfeeding… the close proximity of the baby stimulates the hormone prolactin, which means, quite simply, more breast milk
Alleviate PND… a couple of days of feeling inexplicably blue can be quite normal in the days immediately after childbirth; suffering post-natal depression is not. Babywearing can really help alleviate PND by encouraging the parent/child bond
When I first discovered babywearing, I felt rather put-out; why did I not know about it before I had children? Why was it not part of our culture? Why were the enormous benefits not explained to all new parents? Babywearing has opened many doors for me: I have met new friends, watched my parenting style evolve, and gained renewed confidence. Along the way, I have learnt about fabric weaves in wraps, discovered the enveloping blankety softness of those which work better for newborns and the sturdier ones which support weightier toddlers; I have discovered long waiting lists for custom made mei tais, and how one person’s dream SSC is another’s nightmare. But most of all, I’ve discovered something about which I am really passionate; and most of all, something which has made parenting my young children even more enjoyable and rewarding…
Ali Dover is a ClauWi Trageschule trained babywearing instructor. If you would like to find out more about this wonderful way to care for and nurture babies and young children, please get in touch at [email protected] or take a look at www.maverickbaby.com