Babywearing: How to do it Right
In reality, babywearing begins at conception. For nine months we carry our new baby with us everywhere. It is supported, caressed, touched, with every step its mother takes. As women, we instinctively put our hands on our bellies in a loving, protective manor. Our baby hears everything, our breathing, swallowing, even our heart beating. Our baby feels everything, a brush against a counter, a toddler's raspberry on the growing belly, a father's loving hands massaging, and it feels a mother's emotions. So, why do we stop at birth?
For many women, pregnancy is filled with an overwhelming list of things that should be purchased. Cribs, strollers, car seat that attaches to the stroller, swings, bouncy chairs, and playpens are common. All of these things relieve mom of having to hold her new baby as she has done quite capably for the past months. Often baby is moved from station to station in the house or vehicle and is held primarily when fussy or to be nursed. This has become common practice. We are conditioned to think a good mom and dad will have every new baby accessory including some that are not necessarily beneficial for normal newborn development.
A mother's instinct is to hold their baby. However, with the business of our lives, it is sometimes hard to do this as much as we would like. Thus, the stations were created. We can now cook dinner, go to the bathroom, play with older siblings and baby is rocked, soothed and comforted by a battery operated accessory. This has become normal. Some women are not always comfortable with not holding their newborn, end up carry baby in one arm. The ensuing fatigue could be avoided by carrying baby in a more natural way.
Among the accessories purchased or received as gifts are hard structured carriers such as the Bjorn or Snugli brands. These carriers are common brands in large stores however; they are not suitable for newborns. A slightly higher investment of $80-120 can get you a quality sling that will grow from newborn stage all the way up to 30+ pounds.
Recent recalls on the Infantino Sling Rider has made some parents hesitant about infant carriers. . Bag slings are the carriers being cautioned against. Any carrier that does not allow baby to be upright, has elastic to close, puts baby in a position where his chin is to his chest and baby is not “close enough to kiss”, should never be used. Purchasing a good quality carrier is the first step, learning how to wear it for everyday use is essential.
Types of Carriers
Slings are a common starting place for most new parents. There are two types: ring slings and pouch slings. Pouch slings must fit the individual person perfectly, ring slings come sized as well, but are adjustable to different wearers and grow with the infant. Maya Wrap and Rockin Baby ring slings are examples of great products. These slings allow a newborn to be worn chest to chest, growing with them to be carried on the hip. Perfect for around the house in those first months when needing to have your hands free, perfect for quick placement in and out of the vehicle, easy for everyone to use including grandparents.
Mei Tai's are an Asian inspired carrier, not to be confused with the beverage. They have a panel of fabric to support the child and four straps. Two for the waist and two that go over the shoulders, cross at the back and tie under baby's bum.
Common brands for Mei Tai's include Kozy Carrier and Babyhawk. Each have slight differences so if one type doesn't fit you, the other one likely will. These can be worn from newborn to 35 pounds and can be worn on the front, hip or back. Ask a knowledgeable educator to demonstrate a high back carry and with practice, this can become an easy, wonderful way to carry a child.
Wraps are a comfortable secure way to carry a baby as well. I, like a lot of moms, was intimidated by them at first because they look complicated. Once shown and guided through the process a few times, it becomes as easy as any other carrier. Wraps come in three different types. The most versatile wrap will be a woven wrap with little to no stretch. These wraps can be more expensive, but are worth the extra investment. They have no weight restriction and have a variety of uses after a child has outgrown them. Didymos and Hoppediz are two trusted brands of woven wraps.
A commonly sought after wrap is a stretchy wrap. These types of wraps, such as the Moby wrap, should be used for the newborn stage only. As these wraps stretch with each use and will need to be adjusted often, babywearing educators will not recommend they be used past approximately 15 pounds. After this weight, an infant is usually too heavy to stay secure against mom/dad's body when they lean forward. There should be no gap between baby and the wearer's body. Stretchy wraps should also never be used for a back carry.
The third type of wrap is a hybrid between the woven and stretchy wrap. Gypsy Mama makes beautiful hybrid wraps and also a great water wrap. These types of wraps can be worn from newborn until approximately 35 pounds and are usually a lightweight fabric that is great for hot weather.
Soft structured carriers (SSC) are perfect for active, on the go, families. In fact, all of the carriers mentioned are. The convenience and ease of an SSC is usually what makes it so popular. Similar to a hard structured carrier in the sense that it uses buckles, an SSC seats baby in the proper position. The Ergo and Beco baby carriers are examples of soft structured carriers.
In any carrier, baby should be in a seated position with its knees level or higher than its bum. To feel the difference, clasp your hands underneath your own thigh about three quarters of the way up. Imagine being held up by two pieces of fabric on either side in the same spot. Now take your hands and move them under your knee. Immediately your balance is improved and if your bum was supported by fabric that also went knee to knee, you would be comfortable.
Babywearing only comes with benefits. There are no drawbacks, downfalls, what-ifs, or buts. Babies that are worn cry less, have less chance of having flat spots on their skulls or developing hip dysplaysia. They become stronger sooner because they use muscles while being worn that they wouldn't use in any mechanical holder.
There are great babywearing resources in every city. Find a babywearing educator that will do an in home consultation or a local babywearing group. Find a local store that does classes or find one online. With all of the resources out there, it is easy to find your way through safe and comfortable babywearing from birth.
Choosing a carrier checklist (print and take with you!)
- Allows baby to have an open airway (chin away from chest)
- Puts the child in a seated position with knees level or higher than bum
- Fabric goes knee to knee
- Baby is close enough to kiss
- Baby is not in a C position (laying down)
- Should distribute weight evenly around wearer
- Baby should not seem to be hanging
- When wearer leans forward, baby should stay snug against body
Andrea lives in Calgary with her husband and 3 boys 5, 2 and 15 months. She educates families about normal childbirth, waterbirth, babywearing and encourages parents to follow their instincts during pregnancy, birth and parenting. Andrea is also a doula and beginning her journey into midwifery.
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