Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wearing your baby

My introduction to baby wearing was in my early 20's when I meet a friend of a friend in a market. She was wearing her baby wrapped up in a sling. I could just glimpse his head tucked against her chest. I loved what I saw, it looked so right to me. Although I was far from needing to know all about it I wanted to know how she had tied him so snugly to her. Not long after this meeting the first of my friends had a baby. As a gift I made her one of the slings I had seen that day in the market. It became my standard gift as more of my friends had children. It wasn't until 8 or so years later when I was to have my child that I learnt the reasons why you wear your baby.

The Continuum Concept written by Jean Liedloff talks about our innate expectations at birth formed over a long evolutionary process of thousands of years. One of those innate expectations is close and constant contact with our primary caregiver initially, then any family members or friends from birth to crawling. This stage has been aptly named 'The In-Arms Phase' which happens from birth to 6-8months.

It has only been in the last 100 or so years that we have moved away from this evolutionary practice of carrying our babies to more 'convenient' separateness of placing a baby in a cot, car seat or the floor. This practice denies the baby it's expectation of closeness, warmth, smell, sounds of mum's breathing and heartbeat and constant movement that he/she has experienced for the last 9 months.

Wearing your baby is simply a continuation of the womb. In our evolutionary process we as humans have had to be born earlier and earlier due to the increased size of our brains. Our bodies have not had time to develop in the womb which is why we can't walk soon after being born as most other mammals can. For this reason carrying a baby constantly in a sling has only benefits for their physical development. Babies do not need to kick on the floor to grow strong enough or practice movements towards crawling. They know innately how to crawl they simply need time and strength (that can be gained through being worn) to do it.

Wearing your baby in a sling or other ergonomic device as constantly as possible during the in-arms phase of his/her life meets a baby's innate evolutionary expectations, therefore helping them to feel secure, develop their self esteem and become independent. Yes meeting a babies expectations of constant physical contact during the in-arms phase (among other innate expectations such as being breastfed on demand) actually helps little humans to become more independent. This makes sense when you understand that a secure, confident baby naturally seeks their independence as they grow. Meeting a babies needs in the present moment meets their expectations. It does not spoil them!

There are many more benefits to wearing your baby. These include:

The physical strength your baby (and you) gains from being carried in a safe, ergonomic way. A baby's legs are often straddled with the thighs or even whole legs fully supported by the sling. The support along with constant movement helps to strengthen the baby's joints.

Babies who are worn have less digestive problems and rarely experience colic or reflux. The upright position and constant jostling help the digestive system through an indirect stomach massage.

A baby in a sling is able to closely observe and be a part of the life of his/her carrier. This is how a baby learns about the world. They disperse their energy through their carrier and are stimulated by the everyday routines of this person.

There are also many benefits for the person wearing the baby, often the mother initially. In some cultures a woman who has recently given birth wraps her torso to support her internal organs in gently finding their correct place again (having been moved and squashed by the presence of the baby). Wearing your baby in a wrap around sling has this added benefit.

It also allows you the freedom to do chores and go where you wish knowing that your baby is happy and secure and can sleep when he/she wants to. Your baby has slept when he/she wants to for 9 months in your womb and does not need (or want) a quiet, still bed in which to sleep.

Fathers and other family members are able to experience the intimate closeness to their new love that wearing a baby offers.

Families who practice Elimination Communication find that wearing a baby makes it very easy to pick up on their need to pee or poo. They quickly learn that the sling is their little nest and do not wish to eliminate in it. They often squirm and do what ever else they can to be let out to eliminate in an appropriate place.

There are many types of babywearing devices available. Here are some of my favourites and more that I am not so familiar with. Please note that the popular 'front pack' (there are a number of brands) does not support your baby's thighs therefore the baby's legs hang and all the weight is on their spine. This is not ideal and I don't recommend a front pack for this reason. I also don't recommend wearing your baby in a outward facing direction. This goes against the natural curvature of their spine and again is not ideal.

Wrap around slings: There are a number of brands out there or you can make your own! You don't even need a sewing machine unless you want to get fancy. For a young baby you can use cotton lycra, 50cm wide and 4.2 metres long (longer if you are big). As your baby gets heavy this type of sling is not ideal. For the first couple of months it's great.
The other option that will also take you through to carrying your baby as a toddler is a tight knit cotton with 'give' but no stretch. Make this one 65cm wide (in order to be able to wear your baby on your back when they are strong enough) and 4.2 metres long (longer if necessary). Depending on the type of material you use it may need hemming or overlocking.

Otherwise there are heaps of wrap around slings on the market. My favourite is the Girasol. Contact Irma Jager at as she is the NZ importer of these beautiful slings and see for wearing instructions and more great information on baby wearing. This site has heaps of different types of slings that I won't talk about here.

Another good baby wearing device is the ERGO. For information and purchase within New Zealand is

As well as the website links in this post - one that will lead you to La Leche League International site! The following book on baby wearing looks interesting. Click on it to read a review. Babywearing: The benefits and beauty of this ancient tradition

Recently (early 2010) there has been talk in the media of the 'dangers' of slings. The hype was quite unsubstantiated but some good points about safe baby wearing has come out of it. a great New Zealand, not for profit educational website has an article on safe babywearing that is worth a read. It also has really good information on wearing, benefits, history, the philosophy of baby wearing and more article - one for Dads.



Leigh Blackall said...

inspiring! Thanks for taking the time to write this up Anna. Lordy knows I wouldn't listen as long as a read :) All this means a lot more to me now.. thanks

traceys said...

Carrying my daughter Olive until she walked was a wonderful experience and it gave me the gift of great upper-body strength which I have continued to develop through other means which also benefit her and my older son. Olive stil goes to sleep on my arm beside me every night and at four the heartbeat sounds are still so soothing that she falls asleep in 5 minutes every time.

Jenny Leach said...

Wonderfully written piece. Wearing your baby is the sweetest thing...

tie-dyed doula said...

thank you for sharing! I started wearing baby at 11 hours old and he is 2 and I still wear him! I wrote a "babywearing" snippet on my doula website site for all the mamas that are afraid to "spoil" the babe. It seems logical to me that this would encourage independence instead of dependence as some may believe. Anyway, shine on!