When I (Rhiannon) was pregnant with my first son, one of the best gifts I received was a voucher for a babywearing consult and an offer to buy a carrier (huge THANK YOU to the amazing midwifery staff from Murray Bridge Hospital). At first, I was a little apprehensive. I didn’t think of myself as much of a hippy, I didn’t feel coordinated enough to execute a complicated wrap and my son’s first experience in the carrier did not suggest that he entirely loved the experience. However, I quickly became a convert and soon found that my carrier was a lifesaver. It allowed me to settle my babies more easily, get some of the never-ending washing done and was particularly helpful when travelling. My second son hardly left the carrier during the day for the first few months, allowing me to get out and about and still have two hands to wrestle a hot-footed toddler! Babywearing definitely allowed me more flexibility, at the same time providing lovely cuddles with both boys. Be warned, baby wearing is seriously addictive and you can quickly slip down a rabbit hole (I now have 4 carriers!).
There is not a huge evidence base for the benefits of babywearing, although it has been normal practice in non-western cultures and is gaining popularity. A lot of the theorized benefits are extrapolated from evidence of the benefits of skin to skin, kangaroo care and cued care.
I came across an article (from 1986!) which looks at the positive impact of babywearing on unsettled infant behaviour. 99 mother- baby pairs were involved and assigned either to an increased carrying (3 hours a day) or a control group at 6 weeks of age. The carried babies cried/fussed 43% less overall and 51% less in the evening (witching) hours. There have been more recent studies that contradicted these results, however it is obviously difficult to “blind” such a study and this may play a role.
Babywearing also provides a wonderful opportunity to provide cued care as you are literally perfectly placed to observe your baby’s behaviour. Some Mums even choose to breastfeed their babies whilst they are in a sling or carrier. The wearing or carrying of children helps them to feel close and connected to their carers, which assists the formation of secure attachments. Recent research is highlighting that secure emotional attachments between children and carers has a positive impact on neurological development . An observational study by St James Roberts examined unsettled infant behaviour in relation to the time spent carrying or holding a baby. Three groups were involved – the proximal care group (recruited from UK and Denmark) who held/carried for 15 hours a day, the Copenhagen group (10 hours) and the London group (8 hours). At 2 and 5 weeks of age, the London group babies cried 50% more, however bouts of “unsoothable crying” occurred in all 3 groups. It is hypothesized that the increased carrying and responsiveness was responsible for the difference in crying time.
Babywearing is also thought to have benefits for plagiocephaly (asymmetry of the skull) and provides a variation on “tummy time” if your baby doesn’t appear to enjoy this. It is important that you use a carrier correctly, which is where a baby wearing consultant can provide guidance. The carrier or sling will need to be adjusted to suit the individual using it. It is recommended that the “TICKS” principles are followed:
- In view at all times
- Close enough to kiss
- Keep chin off chest
- Supported back
There has been some information that suggests baby carriers can cause hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia cannot be “caused” by baby carriers, however the type of carrier chosen can have a big impact on healthy hip development. It’s especially important for infants with diagnosed hip dysplasia, to use a wide base carrier which puts hips in the “M” position. Even though they are not ideal for hip positioning, narrow-based carriers are okay for infants without diagnosed hip dysplasia.
Other benefits of babywearing include:
– Reducing stress: touch and stroking has a relaxing effect because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and increases oxytocin (the love hormone!). Oxytocin assists in developing emotional bonds, and also promotes lactation and the let down of breast milk
– Safety: In a practical sense, a well fitted carrier can keep a child safe when out and about. Additionally, a child being carried will also feel a sense of safety, which is particularly helpful if they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed.
– Learning about the world: By a child’s observation of carers close up, babywearing promotes learning, sociability and language development. It allows plenty of sensory input and acts as a perfect tool to dial baby down.
By Rhiannon Smith and Sarah Pinn, Babywearing Consultants Australia
Stay tuned for Babywearing Part 2 – Guest Post from Sarah Pinn, Babywearing Consultant