When I talked to a friend the other day about babywearing – she was completely confused as to what I meant. She thought perhaps I was suggesting that she use her little darling as a hat.
However, when renowned paediatrician, Dr William Sears invented the term babywearing in the 1980s, I’m fairly sure he meant it to mean “all the various types of baby slings”, and not “wearing babies as a fashion accessory” (at least we hope so!)
In all fairness to the human race, all Dr Sears did was come up with the name for something that had been going on since… well, since the first human mummy stood up, looked around and said, “Now, where did I put Baby?”
Even before that, our simian ancestors did (and still do) carry their offspring in a variety of ways attached to the fur of different parts of their bodies.
Humans around the world have been carrying their offspring for several millennia before Phil and Ted – and anything that has been going for that long is subject to local diversity, so it’s not surprising to find a wide range of different baby carriers.
Of course, in “less developed” countries it is still regarded as the best way of getting your kids around before they can keep up, so you will find African, Asian and South American varieties. It even used to be popular in the “developed” west before the Georgian and Victorian aristocracy persuaded everyone that children should be kept as far away from their parents as possible, handing them to nannies to be genteelly wheeled around in their wonderful little perambulators.
As well as the name, Dr Sears came up with some other interesting facts, for instance, did you know that carrying your baby upright can reduce the effects of colic and reflux – definitely worth considering if you have a colicky baby (and if you do, you will try anything…I did!). Babies who are carried learn more quickly, as they spend their time being involved in your world, not just watching knees and feet – but participating; developing a brain that is learning to learn.
Some people suggest that having your baby in a sling will make him clingy. Exactly the opposite, actually. Your baby will become more emotionally secure and independent as he knows you are around as a safe base from which to explore.
Need I go on?
Well, if us mums are permitted a bit of selfishness, there are always the extra calories you burn by carrying your baby, and the way you can breastfeed discreetly, and the general snugly cuddles you both get to enjoy, which stimulate your new-mum hormones, and can help to reduce the likelihood and severity of post-natal depression. What do you do to get your baby off to sleep in a pram? You rock him and talk to him to simulate the motion and closeness of your own body.
Now who’s starting to look more “developed”?
There are a huge range of different baby slings around, and everyone has their own personal favourite, although some people switch between different styles.
My own favourite is the Mei Tai, which is basically a square of fabric with straps at each corner. Because of its simple design it can be used in a variety of different positions.
Simply put though, the bottom straps are tied around your waist, and the top straps go over your shoulders and wrap around you, and are then knotted, securely strapping your baby to your body.
So, are they easy to use? Surely they can’t be as convenient as a pushchair?
Yes, they are very easy – you can go up stairs, through narrow doorways or for a pleasant summer walk. And you don’t have to push an empty one round town when junior decides he would rather walk. Not only that, but they’re light and fold up small – can you get a pushchair in your handbag? More importantly, can you afford a pushchair to go with every outfit!
But, your husband wouldn’t be seen dead in one? Well, men with babies are very attractive – remember that Athena poster; and Brad Pitt has carried baby Shiloh in one, so how can he possibly object?
Having said all that, the main benefit for me, at least to start with, was that I regained the use of my hands after months of trying to make lunch, hoover, iron and just about anything else you care to think of, all whilst holding on to my dear son. So, slings, carriers, mei tais, call them whatever you like, are starting to sound like a good idea, aren’t they?
I have to admit, I got in to babywearing almost through necessity rather than choice, but I love it now, and so does my now toddler son. The only difficulty now is choosing which fabric for the next one…
Claire Willis, is mum to two children, and the owner of SnugBaby
She also runs “Get Your Hands Back” magazine and review website, which is aimed at promoting babywearing and its associated benefits in the UK. More information can be found at www.getyourhandsback.co.uk