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An Introduction to Babywearing

By Nora Gardner

Many people wonder why they should carry their babies when so many strollers and car seats make it so easy to just carry baby from place to place and never even remove them from their seat. Well, here are some reasons I see for carrying your baby close to your body in a sling, wrap, or mei tai.

1. Carrying your baby or toddler makes your life as a parent easier. When baby is held close to your body you don't have to worry about where to set down infant seats in public places, or whether strangers will touch your baby. You don't have to worry about bumping a stroller up and down steps and curbs, or whether you can take a walk in the woods with your toddler or older child, you can negotiate almost any terrain with baby on your back, and certainly all common day to day terrain with baby on your front in a carrier. You have your hands free to get things done, to hold other children's hands, to carry the groceries, etc.

2. A carried baby is a happy baby. Studies of babies who are carried in close contact with their mother, father, or other caregivers have shown that babies held in simple cloth carriers are happier and cry less, especially during fussy late afternoon and evening hours. In an often cited study by Hunziker and Barr (1986) it was shown that babies who are "worn" cry 43% less overall, and 54% less during the evening hours!. Babies in Western cultures tend to cry for many hours per day, and this is very exhausting for them. Carried babies cry less because their need for human contact is being met, and so they are happy.

3. Sling babies grow and develop better. A baby who is carried in a sling or other cloth carrier carrier spends more time in a quiet alert state, and thus learns better than a baby who spends many hours crying during the day. The quiet alert state that babies experience when carried close is the perfect state for using their senses to learn about the world around them. Studies have shown that premature babies who are carried in a sling or wrap gain weight faster than babies left in an incubator. Also, babies who are carried in simple soft carriers exercise their vestibular system (the system in your body that helps you balance) more than a baby carried in baby seats or strollers. The baby who is carried is constantly changing positions as you walk, bend, and reach. These early position changes help develop your baby's ability to balance later on when they are learning to sit, stand, walk, and run. Babies carried in slings also do not tend to have problems that many babies have these days with flat spots on their heads, as a carried baby is not left lying in cribs and infant seats for long enough periods for this problem to develop.

4. Carrying your baby puts them at your level. When babies and toddlers are worn high and close they are at your level, they see what you see and you can talk to them about it. You can help them understand the world around them better. Also, when they are facing you rather than facing away from you in a stroller, they can peek out at the world in a safer way, but have you to cuddle against if it all gets to be too much for them. In a stroller baby is at knee level, and tends to be ignored more than a baby up at the grown up's level. Babies like to be a part of the conversation, up with a big people, and being a part of it helps them to learn language and social cues.

5. Sling babies sleep easier. Babies and small children need a lot of sleep, and also need a lot of help getting to sleep. Children fall asleep faster when they feel safe and comfortable. What could be safer and more comfortable than falling asleep cuddled against mom or dad? Babies and toddlers often spend a lot of time crying when they are tired and usually all they need is to be held close to feel happy and reassured enough to go to sleep. A baby carried in a soft carrier feels safe and content most of the time, and so this baby will often just drift off to sleep without all the fuss and unhappiness that often come when a child is very tired.

6. Carried babies are calmer babies. Babies move their limbs in spasmodic and jerky movements when they are tired and overwhelmed by the world around them. When they cry they also move in quick, uncontrolled motions. These motions can startle and unsettle a small baby or child so much that it makes them feel more and more unhappy and uncomfortable. A baby held in a sling, wrap, or mei tai is wrapped up almost as though swaddled against their caregiver. This contains their jerky and unsettling movements and enables them to calm down. My own children would always settle almost instantly in a sling even from the worst crying fits. Almost as soon as their little arms and legs were contained and they could put their head down on my chest they would relax and the crying would subside. As children get older, during the toddler years, some can become wild and hyperactive as they get tired, or clumsy and unable to play calmly and happily. These times are wonderful for putting a child into a carrier to help them calm down and relax their wild activity. I find that the times when I know my children are very tired, but they just down want to stop, are the perfect times to wrap them onto me and go for a walk. With their bodies contained and hugged close to me my children can settle their wild movement and get some much needed rest. Sometimes at these times a child will protest being carried until they are comfortably secured in the sling and moving along with mom or dad.

7. Soft cloth carriers support good posture for baby and parent. Wraps and mei tais especially promote good posture for both baby and wearer. With baby's weight distributed on both shoulders in a wrap or mei tai you can stand straight and carry your child with less strain on your back, arms, shoulders, and legs. For a baby carried in these styles of carriers, their posture is supported with their legs in a flexed (frog leg) position, which is best for the development of their hip joints. Also, their spine is supported firmly with the cloth of the carrier. These carriers also allow your baby to sit on their bottom, rather than dangle from a narrow strap between their legs. Which way would you rather sit? Also, wearing your baby supports your good posture every time you carry your baby close to your body rather than in a baby seat carried off center and dangling heavily away from your body.

8. Carrying your baby makes breastfeeding easier and more successful. It is so simple to nurse your baby when they are already snuggled close to your body. Babies can easily be nursed in most soft carriers because there is nothing between your body and your baby. With a little practice you may even be able to nurse discreetly, hands free, while out and about doing your daily errands! Also, it is easier to nurse a little one frequently when they are right there against your body.

9. Slings are safer. Baby or tot is held against you and it is easier to monitor your little one in dangerous situations such as parking lots, busy roads, crowded airports and shopping centers. A child running loose or in a stroller in these situations is much harder to care for than a child in a carrier. Also, soft carriers provide a place of emotional safety for little ones in these busy situations. Held close to their caregiver a child feels that the world is safer and can develop independence at their own pace, knowing that they have a safe place to come back to.

10. Wraps and slings are a very versatile piece of baby equipment. Many styles of slings are either a large piece of cloth, or are a piece of cloth with rings sewn in one end. These cloths can be used for other things besides carrying baby! A ring sling can be flattened out and used as a changing pad or a clean place to lay baby down beside you wherever you are, it can be used as a blanket or sun shade as well, the end of a sling sometimes comes in handy as a burp cloth, or wash cloth as well! A wrap style carrier, which is just many yards of cloth, has even more potential for use as more than just a carrier. It can be used as a picnic blanket, a shawl, a sun shade, a blanket, a table cloth, towel, a curtain, a skirt (and conversely, many pieces of cloth that are meant for these purposes can also be used as baby carriers!). Our favorite use for a long wrap, when it is not being used as a carrier, is as a hammock tied between two trees!

11. Slings can save money. While a good baby carrier can cost anywhere from $45 to $200 most fall around $80 to $120. If you buy only this one piece of equipment you may find that you really do not need a baby swing, a bouncy seat, a play pen, and many of the other pieces of modern baby paraphernalia that clutter most houses with new babies. Instead, consider carrying your baby more of the time as you will find that they are happier and you can get more done while listening to far less fussing.

12. Carrying your baby is good exercise. You may shed your baby weight faster, and find it easier to go on walks with your baby held close. Carrying your baby's extra weight means you will burn more calories throughout your day, and as they get bigger and heavier you will slowly build the muscles to carry them even as they get to be quite large. You will build a stronger back, shoulders, and legs when you carry your baby often just by carrying their extra weight. It's a way more fun way to build some muscle than going to the gym!

13. The most important reason to wear your baby is, it's so much fun! Children grow up so fast, why not be really with them when they are little? You will have a better relationship with your child if you choose to carry them more, and you will get so much more time to cuddle your baby and toddler! What more could you want? What more could they want? A carried baby is really part of your day to day, minute to minute life, and that makes the bond between you and your child strong and loving. Who wouldn't want to spend their day snuggling their baby?