Babywearing is the term used to describe keeping your baby or toddler close and “in arms” by utilising some form of fabric wrap or carrier. Of course this practice dates back almost as far as humankind itself because, let’s face it, those Hunter Gatherer mummas didn’t get maternity leave.
Babywearing is the most common form of baby transportation in much of the world. It has gained popularity in the industrialised world over the last few decades, largely due to the Attachment Parenting or Gentle Parenting movements championed by Dr William Sears.
Benefits to babies
Dr Sears, world-renowned paediatrician and father of 8 (!) sites that worn babies:
1. Cry less
Babies who are worn have their basic need for contact and security met meaning they do not need to communicate their distress or discomfort through crying. In a 1986 study, conducted at The Montreal Children’s Hospital Research Institute, it was discovered that babies who were worn an extra 3 hours per day were reported to cry 43% less during the day and 51% less during the evening hours than their unworn counterparts.
2. Learn more
When babies aren’t crying and fussing all day long, what do they do with all that extra time? They learn! Babies who are worn spend more time in a quiet state of alertness just soaking in the big wide world around them.
3. Are more organised
This one sounds crazy at first, until you realise what Dr Sears means when he says “organised”. Explained simply, babies are used to being in the womb - feeling the rhythm of their mother’s walk, the beat of her heart and being in a snug embrace. Once born, babies that are left alone in a crib or pram for extended periods are prone to jerky movements and irregular breathing because they no longer have their mother “setting the beat”. They’re also prone to colicky cries, disorganised self-rocking behaviours, anxious thumb-sucking and disturbed sleep. It’s as if they’ve arrived on an alien planet and can’t quite function in the new gravity! Babywearing helps smooth the transition from womb to world.
4. Are “humanised”
Again, a strange term - of course babies are human! But babywearing teaches babies what it means to be human. It shows them the fabric that makes up daily life. Worn babies see what the wearer sees and are along for the ride. Whether it be as simple as household chores or as nuanced as witnessing the full spectrum of emotion, facial expression, language and tone. They’ve got a front row seat at the play of life!
5. Are smarter
Furthermore, as a result of these, almost, first-hand life experiences, a baby develops a store of patterns of experience in their neurological library. In short, these environmental experiences stimulate nerves to branch out and connect with other nerves, which helps baby’s brain grow and develop.
In addition to the benefits that Dr Sears cites, babywearing also prevents your bub from Positional Plagiocephaly, commonly known as flat head syndrome. Because newborns heads are soft and pliable (and we sure are glad they are!) they can become misshapen when constant pressure is applied to one area. This can occur if bubs are left lying on their backs in a bassinet for extended periods of time.
Benefits to caregivers
But the benefits don’t only apply to babies! The obvious one is that babywearing allows you to have both hands free while meeting your baby’s, seemingly insatiable, need for contact. Rather than being “trapped” on the couch, babywearers are able to retain their autonomy and maybe even tackle that laundry pile.
Physical touch is also known to promote the release of oxytocin in both mother and child which, in turn, can reduce the likelihood of, and speed the recovery from, post-natal depression as well as aiding bonding. Babywearing, using a good quality wrap or carrier, is also known to be easier on your back than “in-arms” carrying. And, of course, the gradual increase in your baby’s weight means that mothers can gradually increase their strength and fitness post-birth without trying to find extra time for exercise.