“Baby Wearing” simply means holding or carrying a baby or young child using a cloth baby carrier. Holding babies is natural and universal; baby carriers make it easier and more comfortable, allowing parents and caregivers to hold or carry their children while attending to the daily tasks of living. Baby wearing helps a new dad put a fussy newborn to sleep. It allows a new mom use both hands to make a sandwich. It lets an experienced parent or caregiver carry a baby on her back and wash the dishes, do the laundry, take a hike, or weed the garden, all while keeping the baby safe and content.
Benefits of Baby Wearing
Medical professionals agree that infants thrive through touch; “wearing” your baby is another way to meet this need. But the benefits of baby wearing don’t end there … baby wearing offers many other advantages, some of which include:
• Happy Babies. It’s true … carried babies cry less! In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that babywearing for three hours a day reduced infant crying by 43 percent overall and 54 percent during evening hours. (1)
• Healthy Babies. Premature babies and babies with special needs often enter the world with fragile nervous systems. When a baby rides in a sling attached to his mother, he is in tune with the rhythm of her breathing, the sound of her heartbeat, and the movements his mother makes—walking, bending, and reaching. This stimulation helps him to regulate his own physical responses. Research has even shown that premature babies who are touched and held gain weight faster and are healthier than babies who are not. (2)
• Confident Parents. A large part of feeling confident as a parent is the ability to read our babies’ cues successfully. Holding our babies close in a sling allows us to become finely attuned to their movements, gestures, and facial expressions. Every time a baby is able to let us know that she is hungry, bored, or wet without having to cry, her trust in us is increased, her learning is enhanced, and our own confidence is reinforced. This cycle of positive interaction deepens the mutual attachment between parent and child, and is especially beneficial for mothers who are at risk for or suffering from postpartum depression. (3) (4)
• Loving Caregivers. Baby carriers are a great bonding tool for fathers, grandparents, adoptive parents, babysitters, and other caregivers. Imagine a new father going for a walk with his baby in a sling. The baby isbecoming used to his voice, heartbeat, movements, and facial expressions, and the two are forging a strong attachment of their own. Baby carriers are beneficial for every adult in a baby’s life. Cuddling up close in the sling is a wonderful way to get to know the baby in your life, and for the baby to get to know you!
•Comfort and Convenience. With the help of a good carrier, you can take care of older children or do chores without frequent interruptions from an anxious or distressed infant—which helps to reduce sibling rivalry. Baby carriers are also wonderful to use with older babies and toddlers; you can save those arms and go where strollers can’t. Climbing stairs, hiking, and navigating crowded airports all can be done with ease when you use a well-designed baby carrier!
1 – Hunziker UA, Garr RG. (1986) Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A random-ized controlled trial. Pediatrics 77:641-648
2 – “Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for pre-term infants”. J Perinatol. 1991 Sep;11(3):216-26.
3 – Pelaez-Nogueras M, Field TM, Hossain Z, Pickens J. (1996). Depressed mothers’ touching increases infants’ positive affect and attention in still-face interactions. Child Development, 67, 1780-92.
4 – Tessier R, M Cristo, S Velez, M Giron, JG Ruiz-Palaez, Y Charpak and N Charpak. (1998) Kangaroo mother care and the bonding hypothesis. Pediatrics 102:e17.
Choosing a Baby Carrier
Is Babywearing Safe?
When done properly, carrying a baby in a soft baby carrier can be safer than carrying a baby in your arms. Your carrier doesn’t have muscles that get tired, and your carrier doesn’t have arms that reflexively reach out to balance you or catch you when you fall. But, as with anything concerning babies, good safety practices are of paramount importance. This article has many safety tips, but no set of guidelines can anticipate every circumstance. You are responsible for your child’s safety as well as your own.
A Few ABSOLUTE RULES:
1. Make sure your baby can breathe. Baby carriers allow parents to be hands-free to do other things … but you must always remain active in caring for your child. No baby carrier can ensure that your baby always has an open airway; that’s your job.
a. Never allow a baby to be carried, held, or placed in such a way that his chin is curled against his chest. This rule applies to babies being held in arms, in baby carriers, in infant car seats, or in any other kind of seat or situation. This position can restrict the baby’s ability to breathe. Newborns lack the muscle control to open their airways. They need good back support in carriers so that they don’t slump into the chin-to-chest position.
b. Never allow a baby’s head and face to be covered with fabric. Covering a baby’s head and face can cause her to “rebreathe” the same air, which is a dangerous situation. Also, covering her head and face keeps you from being able to check on her. Always make sure your baby has plenty of airflow. Check on her frequently.
2. Never jog, run, jump on a trampoline, or do any other activity that subjects your baby to similar shaking or bouncing motion. “This motion can do damage to the baby’s neck, spine and/or brain,” explains the American Chiropractic Association.
3. Never use a baby carrier when riding in a car. Soft baby carriers provide none of the protection that car seats provide.
4. Use only carriers that are appropriate for your baby’s age and weight. For example, frame backpacks can be useful for hiking with older babies and toddlers but aren’t appropriate for babies who can’t sit unassisted for extended periods. Front packs usually have a weight range of 8 to 20 pounds; smaller babies may slip out of the carrier, and larger babies will almost certainly cause back discomfort for the person using the carrier.
A Few Guidelines for Everyday Safety
1. Inspect your carrier regularly to ensure it is sound. Check the fabric, seams, and any buckles or other fasteners. Do this every time you use it to avoid complacency. Don’t use a carrier unless it is structurally sound.
2. When using carriers out and about, check that your baby is secure by using reflective surfaces – such as car or store windows – as mirrors, by double checking the baby’s position with your hands, or by enlisting the help of another set of eyes.
3. If you shouldn’t do it while pregnant because of an enhanced risk of falls, you shouldn’t do it while carrying a baby. For example, your risk of falling increases when you climb a ladder, ride a horse, ride a bicycle, or go skating. Your risk of falling also increases on slippery surfaces like the ones you encounter when you go bowling, sailing, or spelunking. When a baby is in his mother’s womb, he has built-in protection, but a baby in arms or in a carrier does not have that protection.
4. If you should wear protective gear while doing an activity, you shouldn’t do it while carrying a baby. Baby carriers do not provide hearing protection, eye protection, protection from projectiles such as rocks flung from a lawn mower, protection from fumes or dust such as occur during lawn mowing and some household cleaning tasks, or protection from falls.
5. Protect your baby from the elements. Little limbs and heads may need sun protection. Don’t dress your baby too warmly in the summer, and don’t use a baby carrier under circumstances that could cause the baby to suffer heat stress. Don’t let your baby get too cold in the winter. (There are some excellent coats and ponchos designed especially for use with baby carriers, and you can also improvise or make your own.)
6. Be aware of what your baby can reach. In particular, be aware that a baby on your back can reach things you can’t see.
7. Don’t put loose items in the carrier with your baby that can be choking hazards, that can poke your baby, or that can cover your baby’s face.
8. Other Things to Consider: Carrying a baby in arms or in a carrier is a task for a responsible adult who can assess risk in a mature way. Here are some things to consider about specific activities.
Cooking. Carrying a baby while cooking subjects the baby to an enhanced risk of burns. A baby in arms or in a carrier is at stovetop height, and burns can occur. Reaching into a hot oven while carrying a baby similarly puts the baby at risk for burns.
Boating. While it might seem more secure to use a baby carrier to board a small boat than to carry a baby in arms, the safer practice is to have the baby wear a personal flotation device. Personal flotation devices are generally not compatible with baby carriers. Moreover, if you fell into the water, having your baby securely held to your body by a baby carrier would be a grave danger.
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