Momming

Baby-wearing: The why’s and how to’s

Product review: Always & For Ella baby wrap

Although it is seen as a modern or somewhat alternative parenting practice, baby wearing has been practiced for thousands of years, in almost all of the different cultures. A variety of long cloths, shawls, scarves, and other pieces of fabric have been used to wrap baby securely around the parents’ body in order to free up their hands, so that they could get things done. It wasn’t something special or strange, it was perfectly normal and completely necessary. Mom did not have time in her busy day to entertain baby, so baby just had to come along. Why it is treated as something weird in our modern lives goes beyond me. I have an Always and For Ella wrap and I love it! It took a bit of practice to get it at first, but now I cannot imagine my day or life without it. How would I get anything done without it?!?

But why is it seen as an alternative parenting practice? Unfortunately social conditioning has led parents to believe that baby will become spoilt, clingy, or overly demanding (because that isn’t the definition of a baby to start with) if said baby is held or carried too often. Critics refer to baby wearing as part of attachment parenting. Fortunately modern research has found the opposite to be true – babies who are held or carried feel more secure and content with better self-esteem. It calms fussy babies, decreases the chance of baby blues, and the close proximity of baby makes is easier for the “wearer” to respond to ‘non-crying’ signals before baby becomes hysterical due to frustration, over-stimulation, over-tiredness, or being over-hungry. Not to mention improving mom or dad’s mood; baby wearing eases the symptoms of colic and reflux. Meaning it ultimately leads to a baby who cries markedly less. To summarise, not only does baby wearing encourage and strengthen the connection between baby and parent, it is also one of the most important factors in the healthy physical, intellectual, and social development of baby. Ironically, babies worn around the body of their caregiver tend to be less clingy and handle separation much better and earlier than those held less often.

But behold, like all good things in life, baby wearing is only good if done correctly, and even then there are some pros and cons. So let us run through them, for all of our sakes:

Pros:

  1. Going anywhere, without a ramp:

With baby snuggly wrapped around your back or chest there is no need for a pram or stroller. That makes it easier to get where you need to go – no need to look for an elevator or ramp, or to negotiate a pram through big crowds. And public transport is also an easier option.

  1. It doesn’t break the bank:

A strip of fabric is a lot less expensive than a pram or stroller, even a second-hand one. And that is even if you buy one of the more expensive wraps or slings.

  1. Space saver:

As our cars and houses become smaller, we also run out of space to store and transport things. A wrap or sling takes no space to store or transport, as opposed to a pram or stroller.

  1. Skin-to-skin contact:

Baby is close to you, snuggled on your chest, side or back. This promotes bonding and can make breastfeeding a lot easier. This closeness also helps baby regulate not only her body temperature, but also other processes such as blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns, and even her mood. The benefits are especially pronounced for premature babies! Being that close to your heart beat can also be very comforting for a startled baby (all babies are startled, in this big, cold, unfamiliar world. They only know mom, her smell, her sound, her feel. Wearing her close to your chest is the closest she will ever get to you again after the womb), allowing her to doze of snuggly even when in the middle of a group of noisy people.

  1. Increased communication skills:

Being so close to you the whole day, baby learns a lot about verbal and non-verbal cues. This allows babies to develop improved communication skills. As the parent you also get tuned to baby’s cues, getting to know her and her needs better, allowing you to react and meet her needs before she gets frustrated and starts to cry. This in turn teaches baby a lot about anticipating needs, and meeting them timeously.

  1. Improved sleep:

The motion of walking or rocking will get most babies to fall asleep easily and deeply.

  1. Hands-free:

The best of two worlds – getting things done while baby is happy, snug, and safe. You do not understand the value of being able to make a cup of tea until you have to try doing it with a crying baby in your arms! With a wrap, this becomes not only possible, but easy! You go about your day, and baby either sleeps or observes (disclaimer: rather don’t handle boiling water or anything hot while baby is wrapped to your chest!). Especially handy when you have other small kids who also need your attention.

  1. Fitness:

Carrying a 5kg baby around for most of the day works on muscles that you forgot you had during the pregnancy. This promotes fitness without you even realising it – although you will realise it if you carried her around the whole day 😉

  1. It is the most fun you and baby can have together, for the first few months:

Having a new, cuddly, and warm baby to snuggle whenever you want – can it get better than that? But this is not selfish on the parent’s part as baby usually enjoys is just as much. Getting that close to the action, allowing baby to be at the centre of attention instead of being the centre of attention means she observes, learns, and develops without becoming overwhelmed, which leads to hysterical crying.

The cons:

  1. Difficulty:

Some of the wraps or slings can be a bit tricky to get the hang of. Especially if you want to use different positions, or even breastfeed while wearing baby. But practice makes perfect and YouTube is your friend – download a view videos to get pointers.

  1. Choice:

With all of the options out there, it can be very daunting choosing the right one. Also, with so much conflicting information out there, it can be difficult knowing if a wrap (especially a homemade one) will actually be safe for you and baby.

  1. Bags:

Pilling yourself with baby and diaper bag and shopping bags can wreak havoc on your shoulders, neck, and back. So although baby wearing is super practical, it might not be the best idea for shopping.

  1. Weather:

Having a sleeping baby on your chest during summer can make both of you very hot and sweaty. Counter this by going for a light-weight wrap and dressing baby in light, cool clothes. In winter, baby will be snug, and if it rains you can cover both of you with a large umbrella.

  1. Multiples:

Although some wraps can be tied to hold two babies, or even a baby and an older sibling, the strain on your body will be even more. Then a stroller or pram might be a better option.

  1. Containment:

With a wrap or sling, baby is either on your body, or…. Where? With a wrap you have nowhere to securely place baby if you need to take him or her off for a while. And that ties in with the next con,

  1. Safety:

Having baby wrapped around your body means that baby is at a higher risk than when pushing her around in a pram. You could fall, bump into things, spill hot water, etc. or if incorrectly tied she can slip out. Accidents do happen, which is why you need to be extra careful when wearing baby. Also always ensure baby’s airway is not obstructed, babies have suffocated while using slings incorrectly. Remember a small baby does not have the physical ability to move their heads when their mouths are blocked. This is especially important if you like to wear baby with her chin resting on your chest, or with her face against the wrap or sling.

Babes in Arms, a distribution company specialising in baby slings and carriers across Australia and New Zealand, suggests parents use the acronym CARRY to keep their baby safe while wearing them. The letters stand for:

Careful – don’t do anything while wearing baby that you wouldn’t have done while you were pregnant. Baby’s back should be supported by the wrap, and if you need to bend down, do so from the knees not the waist, and use one hand to support baby while you bend.
Airway – make sure that you can always see baby’s face without moving the fabric. Also make sure her chin is not pressed to her chest, and that her airways are always clear.
Ride high – wear baby high on your chest, and ensure she doesn’t ride down while wearing her.
Right fit – chose the right wrap for your baby, lifestyle, and your body shape.
Your instinct – trust your instincts. You know your baby best, but make sure she is safe by ensuring you can always see her face. The rule of thumb is to wear baby in the wrap in a way that mimics how you would normally carry her.

Baby wearing is a deeply personal choice, like the other BIG parenting decisions such as breastfeeding and co-sleeping, and it is important to remember that babies do not come with a manual. As parents we can only do our best, and whatever we decide for our kids, as long as we do it in love (and with a convincing amount of research), how you decide to care for your baby does not define you as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parent. Just CARE for your baby, in which ever way works for you and your baby.