Babywearing is a relatively new term for a practice that parents around the world have traditionally utilized, that is, wearing our babies. Babywearing is a practical and gentle tool for bonding with and comforting your baby or toddler while also managing to have use of your two hands for other tasks. It is safe for healthy newborns, and many carriers are designed even to carry hefty toddlers.
There are obvious advantages to babywearing. For newborns, being close to a familiar heartbeat and voice is comforting. Babies who are carried tend to cry less than babies who are not because they spend more time in a quiet-alert state. This also lends itself to learning, which is further enhanced by their being able to experience the world from the same vantage point that we do.
Babywearing has been a sanity-saver for me, allowing me to engage closely with my daughter while we go about our day together. In her sling, she is involved with the world around her but within safe and comfortable parameters. With our carriers, I have been able to take her places I never would have been able to manage with a stroller: steep inclines in the woods, a tiny narrow-aisled grocery store, or volunteering at a local shelter. My daughter is nearly 3 years old and walks a lot, but she will still take naps in her sling or find comfort snuggling while we shop.
We are fortunate to have many options when it comes to babywearing and many parents find it useful to have different carriers for different occasions. Soft-structured carriers, made by companies such as Ergo® and Beco®, provide great low back support and have straps similar to a backpack. Generally, the carriers are made to allow you to wear babies or toddlers on your front or back (obviously babies should not be worn on backs until they have full control of their heads and necks).
Wrap carriers involve a long piece of fabric that is wrapped around the baby and the adult. They require some learning to use, but there are an incredible number of different positions and ways to wrap the fabric, allowing parents tremendous flexibility. Most wearers find these wraps very comfortable and feel that their babies are very well supported in them. Wraps come in either stretchy fabric (such as those made by Moby®) or woven fabric. Stretchy wraps are best suited for infants and young babies, while woven wraps can be used through toddlerhood.
Slings come in two basic designs: ring slings and pouch slings. Ring slings have more fabric to manage, but can be adjusted to suit the size of the baby or wearer. Pouch slings are lightweight and compact, but may or may not be adjustable depending on the brand. Depending on design, babies can be worn in several positions (including upright tummy to tummy, cradled, on your hip, or even on your back). Slings are wonderful for breastfeeding parents, since babies are able to nurse while they are in the sling (some sling-wearing mothers even manage to nurse while walking or running errands!). If nursing mothers seek coverage, the sling can seamlessly provide that.
There are many slings on the market. For comfort, I recommend one with a padded shoulder. I love my Maya Wrap®, which has a padded shoulder, strong woven fabric, and a convenient pocket sewn into the tail of the sling.
Warning on Baby Slings
Last spring, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning for parents using infant slings, amidst reports of infants suffocating while being worn. The CPSC did not distinguish between the types of carriers being used, but they should have.
The babies who died from suffocation were being worn in a sling referred to as a "bag sling." These slings, sold by popular brands such as Infantino®, resemble an open duffle bag with a strap to go across a parent's shoulders. They have been recalled and pulled off the market, but can still be found in children's consignment stores. Bag slings are not safe, as they position an infant in an unsupported, curled position that can compress their airway and parents are urged to stop using them. For more information, comparing the safety of these slings to other carriers, read this post from The Baby Carrier blog.
Questions and Answers on Babywearing
Babywearing is safe if done correctly, with well-designed carriers; many parents in the U.S. are discovering how nicely babywearing fits in their lives. If you have questions about using your carrier, you can call the manufacturer or visit The Baby Wearer website, which has detailed instructions for many carriers.
For a great guide to baby carriers and for help figuring out which one may be best suited to you, read this post on The Baby Wearer.
For a comparison of ring slings and pouch slings, The Baby Wearer offers this advice.
Erin Schmitt is currently completing her Masters of Acupuncture and her doula certification. Reprinted with permission from Plaza Family Care, PC; Hackettstown and Chester, New Jersey.