Babywearing, or carrying babies, is part of human evolution. It transcends history, geography, society and culture. Baby’s are hard-wired for social interaction and they crave connections in order to learn and grow. The first few months of life are all about gently transitioning from the peace and stability of the womb towards the actions of the new world. While in the meantime learning to feel safe and gain trust in the world around them, a world the baby will eventually need to face independently.
Close contact and responsive nurturing does not lead to the clinginess and neediness our society has come to fear. Quite the opposite, a secure attachment will support emotional intelligence, motor and neurological development allowing your child to thrive.
1. Babywearing promotes bonding and attachment
Research on bonding and attachment shows that attachment “is not dependant on the provision of food but on the provision of soft-touch and emotional comfort” (Harlow 1950).
Parents who carry their babies frequently are able to provide prolonged periods of close contact, and because of this, they are often more aware of their child’s subtle cues. This allows the parent to respond more quickly to the child’s needs which in turn builds trust and confidence in both the child, that feels there is an answer to her/ his needs and the parent that feels more confident in her/ his abilities to care for the child.
Babywearing can be particularly helpful in promoting bonding and attachment in special circumstances such as when the baby was in NICU after the birth, or when for any reason there has been separation after the birth. It can help both the parent and the child to feel a strong connection and a sense of belonging.
2. Babywearing may reduce postnatal depression
Many sources quote that one in ten women suffer from postnatal depression but last year (2014) it was reported by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) that nearly 60% of mothers felt down or depressed after giving birth.
Anti-stress effects of oxytocin are particularly strong in response to a low-intensity stimulation of the skin which the baby provides to their mothers by simply resting against them. A sling provides a longer period of time where this is possible.
Also experiencing the baby relaxing and being calmer while carried in a sling can give a tired and worried parent another skill in their parenting toolbox when they feel helpless. This can help rebuild their confidence
Leaving the house can feel less daunting with a sling than a pram. Going out and keeping connections can be lifesaving, even if at the time you don’t feel like it.
3. Babywearing promotes skin-to-skin, supporting the baby’s homeostatic regulations
When a baby is carried, it helps him/ her to physically regulate the body’s functions as well as release a positive flash of hormones such as oxytocin.
Skin-to-skin helps to regulate your baby’s body temperature, heart rate, breathing and blood sugar levels.
And babies that are health in close human contact for longer, have better gain weight. (kangaroo care). This can be particularly useful for babies born with low birth weight.
4. Using a sling to carry your baby supports the breastfeeding relationship
As well as the benefits mentioned on point 3, just above, skin-to-skin also increases a nursing mother’s prolactin levels, which helps increase milk supply. This can be very handy for those mothers that experience a low start to lactation or tends to have low milk supply.
Breastfeeding mothers who practice babywearing find it easy to nurse their babies more often as by wearing baby, a mother can easily respond to his early feeding cues.
A sling also allows for discreet nursing in public places. Breastfeeding in public is likely to attract more attention if the baby has reached the point that he is crying when the mother tries to offer the breast. If the baby is already close to the mother in a sling, she can respond as soon as he shows early feeding cues, such as rooting for the breast or sucking on his hands. She can adjust position and clothing and have baby peacefully nursing before anyone even notices. The extra fabric from the sling can easily be pulled over baby’s head, with the fabric of the sling blocking out distractions and intrusions.
Carrying your baby in a sling can also help to come to terms with the end of the breastfeeding relationship before mum and baby are ready.
5. Wearing your baby in a sling reduces crying
Anthropologists who travel throughout the world studying infant-care practices in other cultures agree the benefits of babywearing cultures are that infants cry much less. In Western culture, we measure a baby’s crying in hours, but in other cultures, crying is measured in minutes. We have been led to believe that it is “normal” for babies to cry a lot, but in other cultures, this is not accepted as the norm. In these cultures, babies are normally in arms or in carried in slings and are put down only to sleep – next to the mother. When the parent must attend to her own needs, the baby is in someone else’s arms.
Also, babywearing reduces crying and colic. A 1986 study of 99 mother-infant pairs (reported in ‘Pediatrics’) showed that carrying babies at least three hours a day reduces crying and fussing 43% during the day and 51% at night. Babies are happier because they have less need to cry, and parents enjoy their babies more as a result.
6. Using a sling promotes baby’s development
Sling babies spend more time in the quiet alert state. This is the behavioral state in which an infant is most content and best able to interact with his environment, this is the optimal state for learning. Researchers have also reported that carried babies show enhanced visual and auditory alertness as well as Neurological development, including speech.
Babywearing is also supportive of motor development, including muscle tone, head control, balance and coordination.
Babies who are carried in as ling are exposed to more experiences and conversations, as proximity increases interaction. Carrying a baby in a sling supports the continuum concept of learning, where a baby is at the center of action rather than the focus of attention!
7. Using a sling to carry your baby promotes postnatal recovery
Using a sling can be considered part of your postnatal exercise as you are weightlifting. This, of course, has to be built up gradually and making sure the sling is worn correctly, but if you carry your baby in a sling and go for a brisk walk, you will enjoy the dual benefits of walking while ‘weightlifting’. And s long walk in the sling is also an excellent way to help a tired but over-stimulated child fall asleep.
Wearing a sling postnatally can help you to regain overall strength while carrying with a well-distributed weight around you and having free movement.
8. Babywearing is very practical enabling you to undertake other activities
Because wearing your baby in a sling means you have free hands, you can tend your own needs. For example, preparing something to eat! or care for older children.
When carrying a baby in a sling, you can walk around freely and not have to worry about negotiating steps, crowds or narrow aisles with a stroller and the baby is more protected.
9. Using a sling also supports sharing the care with your partner
A sling can support the partner and baby’s bonding, hence prevent the mother’s burnout and making the partner feel more involved. Win-Win!