Babywearing is definitely not a new trend. Human mothers have always carried their babies, on and close to their bodies.
Originally, like other primates, our babies would grasp our body hair tightly with their hands and feet.
You can still see the reflex for this when you place your finger on a newborn’s palm; she will grip your finger and hold on.
Babywearing – the history
When we evolved to become hairless, the baby sling was one of the very early human tools, allowing our ancestors to go about their daily tasks, hands-free, while keeping their babies safe, warm and close to the breast.
Around the world, many cultures continued to carry babies as they normally did. In the Western world, though, women of wealth and status turned away from maternal responsibilities. They employed less-affluent women as nurses and nannies and the use of baby slings became associated with the poor and uneducated. In the 1800s, the first baby carriages became fashionable, and by the 20th century, baby slings were rarely seen outside the pages of National Geographic.
In the 1960s, in suburban Melbourne, the founder of the Nursing Mothers Association of Australia (now the Australian Breastfeeding Association) used a pattern she found in a La Leche League magazine to make a mei tai – a traditional Chinese baby carrier. After she was featured wearing it, in a newspaper article about family life, the NMAA began to produce the slings during sewing bees, held around kitchen tables.
Australian mothers quickly embraced baby carriers. In Germany in the early 1970s, Erika Hoffmann was gifted a traditional South-American woven carrier when she had twins, and she popularised their use in Europe. In the mid-1980s, Dr William Sears brought the ring sling to the US and baby wearing soon became synonymous with his Attachment Parenting philosophy.
Commercial baby carriers soon followed and their use increased rapidly in the 1990s and 2000s. ‘Does infant carrying promote attachment?’ was already a question being researched in the nineties.
10 benefits of babywearing
What led to this resurgence in popularity? What does baby wearing – the regular use of a baby carriers – offer mother and baby in the modern world?
Babywearing #1. Babywearing offers ‘womb-service’
Human beings are born the most neurologically immature primates of all; babies have only 25% of their brain volume at birth, compared with 60-90% in other mammals.
Timothy Taylor of Bradford University, author of The Artificial Ape, claims that ‘increased brain size was made possible by the invention of the baby sling, a development which enabled slower growing, physically and mentally immature offspring to survive and flourish’.
Often called the ‘Fourth Trimester’, the first three months of a baby’s life involve intense nurturing, frequent breastfeeding, irregular sleep patterns and a near-constant need to be held. Baby wearing supports all these needs while allowing the mother to care for other children, herself and her other responsibilities.
Babywearing #2. Babywearing is soothing
Carrying babies has been proved to reduce infant crying. The gentle movement, proximity to the mother and upright position naturally soothe and settle a baby.
Babies cry for many reasons as it’s their only way of communication.
If your little one suffers from reflux she will benefit from the upright position in a baby carrier. A colicky baby is soothed by the physical contact and rhythmic movement. Those who practise baby wearing agree on how much it improves baby colic.
Babies worn in carriers tend to sleep longer, as the rocking motion of the mother’s body helps settle them into the next sleep cycle.
Babywearing #3. Babywearing is sibling-friendly
A new baby, born into a busy household of older siblings, rarely has the same experience of one-to-one connection with her mother, as she balances the needs of this baby with those of her other children.
Wearing your baby not only gives the baby closeness, which promotes bonding by keeping baby close to you, but also allows the newborn to be integrated into the existing activities and routines of older children. You can push the swing, take part in toddler classes and hold a small hand while also keeping your baby close and connected.
For more tips on parenting toddlers and newborn babies, read BellyBelly’s article 7 Parenting Toolbox Tricks When Baby #2 Comes Along.
Babywearing #4. Babywearing is bonding
Dads, grandparents and older siblings all get to enjoy the closeness that comes with baby wearing.
Mothers recovering from birth trauma or unfulfilled breastfeeding plans can reconnect with their baby through wearing their babies and keeping them close. Adoptive or receiving mothers who have not experienced pregnancy or birth can enhance bonding through touch, while wearing baby skin-to-skin in a soft woven or stretchy wrap carrier.
Mothers of premature babies practise a form of baby wearing known as kangaroo care. This can help them to adjust to the abrupt end of pregnancy and the life of an infant in NICU, while the babies are reassured by the familiar sounds, smell, and voices of their mothers.
All mothers enjoy the opportunity to hold their babies close enough to kiss, smell, touch and stroke. Indeed, these are often done without conscious thought when a mother wears her baby; it allows her to make these tiny connections with her baby as she goes about her day. Her baby, in return, will gaze, touch, hear and smell her mother. She will feel her heartbeat and her breath – all known to be part of the bonding process.
Mothers of multiples can enjoy special time with their babies as individuals when they wear them.
When mothers are affected by Postnatal Depression (PND), wearing their babies allows them to connect physically when it can be hard to do so emotionally. Babies worn in carriers can reach out and touch their mothers; this can strengthen the bond between them.
Babywearing #5. Babywearing helps maintain privacy and protection
Once breastfeeding is well-established, many mothers find that the right baby carrier allows them to breastfeed while baby wearing. This allows extra privacy when it’s needed in public spaces.
Of course, wearing your baby is the ultimate tool to prevent unwanted intrusions from family, friends and strangers. Many people see babies in prams — or even in their mothers’ arms — as an opportunity to touch, kiss or even pick them up without permission. Prying eyes and poking fingers can be kept away by the close protection of the baby carrier.
Babywearing #6. Babywearing is exercise
Wearing a newborn is a gentle way to exercise as you move around your home or neighborhood. Walking or hiking, while wearing an increasingly heavy baby or toddler provides weight-bearing, aerobic exercise. You can enjoy getting physical while out and about in the bush, on the beach, in a busy shopping center or in other non-pram-friendly locations.
You might also like to read BellyBelly’s article Sleep or Exercise – What Should New Parents Choose?
Babywearing #7. Babywearing is educational
Wearing your baby brings her to where most of the action is. From watching you as you prepare dinner to checking out her surroundings when out and about, your baby is brought up to adult level to interact with the world.
Compared with lying inside a pram or sitting in a stroller surrounded by legs, the view from a baby carrier introduces your baby or toddler to a stimulating world of interesting things. Adults interact more with a baby in the carried position; they describe what they see, point out things of interest and reassure the baby about strange or unexpected sights.
Toddlers especially benefit from the opportunity to talk about what they see with an adult, whose ears are in close range and whose eyes can spot a pointing finger and enquiring eye.
Babywearing #8. Babywearing is hands-free
Wearing your baby in a carrier means you can keep your baby out of communal baby seats in shopping trolleys and have both hands free to push.
While wearing your little one you can fold the washing, tidy the kitchen benches and change a toddler’s nappy. With a clingy baby on your chest or back, you can still cook (and eat) dinner, put away the groceries or vacuum the floor.
Babywearing #9. Babywearing is healthy for mother and baby
There is an ideal leg position that places baby’s hip joints in the best position to promote optimum hip development. It’s known as the M-position, frog-position or spread-squat position. It places the femur head right in the middle of the hip socket.
This means that baby’s knees are higher up than her bottom, and her legs are spread apart. Babies automatically assume this position when lifted up, ready to be held against the mother’s chest or carried on the hip. Some baby carriers are designed to ‘hip carry’ a little one.
With baby’s rapid hip development, it’s important that hip joints are kept in the right position for appropriate weight distribution.
When you choose an optimal carrier to wear your baby, you support her hips and spine in this natural position. A wide-based, soft-structured carrier like the Ergo provides this in what is known as ‘knee-to-knee’ support, which places the legs in the desired position.
Avoid narrow-based carriers that are not designed in this way. Woven wraps and stretchy carriers like the Hug-A-Bub (similar to the Boba carrier), ring slings, and the mei tai also offer this support and place babies’ legs in the desired ‘M’ position.
A well-designed carrier like those described will also support the wearer’s body, distributing the baby’s weight evenly. The Manduca baby carrier is endorsed by the Australian Physiotherapy Association.
One more health benefit is that you avoid your little one spending too much time in the cot where she can develop flat head syndrome. This is caused by extended time spent lying flat on a bed or other inappropriate surfaces for correct head development, such as car seats, for example.
Babywearing #10. Babywearing is a boost for breastfeeding
Wearing your baby, especially if you maximize skin-to-skin contact, increases the levels of the two key hormones for lactation – oxytocin and prolactin. Both are important in establishing and maintaining your breast milk supply.
By keeping your baby close, you can respond to her early feeding cues, avoid delaying feeds and minimize energy wasted by crying.
Mothers who wear their babies tend to breastfeed more frequently, which leads to better growth and development.
Whatever reason you choose to wear your baby, follow the T.I.C.K.S. guidelines to do so in a safe and comfortable way for adult and baby.
Babywearing after a c-section
You’ll need to learn how to wear your baby so the c-section wound is protected – not only from any extra weight or rubbing from the carrier but also protected from baby’s movements and kicks.
Baby wraps tend to be best, as you can adjust the fabric of the stretchy wraps in many different ways. There are specific positions for carrying babies after having a c-section. Look for the right professional, who will give you the best medical advice with regard to carrying your baby and safety tips about wearing a baby post c-section.
Is babywearing safe for newborns?
You can carry your baby safely right from birth. However, it is important that you learn certain safety precautions for carrying very young infants.
It’s important that you learn how to position your baby’s head, especially where to position your baby’s face and chin. You will also learn about your baby’s breathing patterns.
Your baby loves being close to you. The younger baby is, the more she will welcome increased physical contact.
There are benefits of wearing your baby for you and your little one from the very beginning of her life outside the womb.
It’s the best option to reduce crying. Baby feels protected and nurtured, feels mama’s closeness and can feed without waking up fully.
Find an expert who will show you how to offer the right head support and how to baby wear safely before you place your little one in a carrier.
What age do you stop babywearing?
There are different carriers that adapt to different stages – hip carriers, backpack carriers, soft structured carriers, one shoulder ring slings, wraps. Younger babies with less head control tend to do better in stretchy wraps. Older babies or toddlers might benefit from back carrying, whether in a backpack carrier or a more structured carrier.
How long can you keep carrying your baby as the little one grows and becomes heavier? You should carry your little one for as long as it feels right for both of you. Your baby will be happy to be carried for a long time – even when she’s not a baby anymore. You can baby wear for years.
It doesn’t mean you have to wear your child almost constantly. As the child grows, you can keep the carrier for specific occasions, such as when the baby cries, when she’s very tired or when you’d rather keep her with you in the carrier (for example in the supermarket).
For more information, read our article 10 Things Babywearing Parents Get Tired Of Hearing.