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The Benefits of Baby Wearing
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 6, November-December 2004, p. 204-208
There's nothing in the world that compares to having your baby in your arms - the feeling of a sleeping child against your chest, the sweet-smelling, down-covered head under your nose. In the early days with a newborn, mothers have time to enjoy these moments. Then reality sets in.

Baby is still dependent on you for nourishment, care, and comfort but everyday tasks and errands demand your attention. And you may have other children who need you. Life goes on, and there is always too much to do. But busy mothers do not have to give up the bliss of keeping baby close. They can accomplish those tasks that need to be done and still enjoy their baby’s companionship by "wearing" the baby in a carrier. According to Dr. William and Martha Sears, "Baby wearing does good things for…

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About

The Benefits of Baby Wearing
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 6, November-December 2004, p. 204-208
There's nothing in the world that compares to having your baby in your arms - the feeling of a sleeping child against your chest, the sweet-smelling, down-covered head under your nose. In the early days with a newborn, mothers have time to enjoy these moments. Then reality sets in.

Baby is still dependent on you for nourishment, care, and comfort but everyday tasks and errands demand your attention. And you may have other children who need you. Life goes on, and there is always too much to do. But busy mothers do not have to give up the bliss of keeping baby close. They can accomplish those tasks that need to be done and still enjoy their baby’s companionship by "wearing" the baby in a carrier. According to Dr. William and Martha Sears, "Baby wearing does good things for babies, and it makes life easier for mothers."

Benefits for Baby
During the flutter of excitement and activity before birth, parents can get caught up creating lists of "necessities" for their soon-to-be newborn. Many expectant parents are led to believe that they will need a variety of specialized equipment in order to care for a baby. In reality, most babies need very little in the way of specialized equipment. Since you will be breastfeeding, the need for feeding equipment is non-existent. You already have the ability to meet baby’s nutritional needs without spending any extra money! The other thing, besides milk, that babies want and need most is human contact -— to be close to those who love them. This too requires little or no specialized equipment.

In many cultures, babies are constantly in the arms of caregivers. Anthropologists and psychologists who study the behavior of mothers and babies have observed that when mothers and babies are together, they are constantly shaping one another's behavior. When her baby whimpers or seems to be in distress, the mother responds and reassures her little one. If her baby seems hungry, she offers her breast. When the baby looks into her eyes, she smiles and talks to her baby, and her baby responds by gazing at her, smiling, or trying to "talk" in baby language. When babies encounter new people or new experiences, mothers and fathers who are holding them can help them overcome their fears and learn more about their world.

These sensitive, personality-shaping interactions happen most readily when babies are in the arms of their parents. When you wear your baby, the two of you move through your day together. You see the world from similar points of view. Your baby hears your voice as you talk to others, picks up on your emotions, and trusts you to provide safety and comfort. Even when a mother is focusing on other people or other tasks, a baby who is held in her arms or tucked into a sling is reassured by the physical contact. Wearing your baby provides closeness even when you can not give your baby one hundred percent of your attention.

Some parents worry that a baby who is constantly held or worn will become a fussy baby, always crying for attention. Actually, the opposite seems to be true. In cultures where babies are constantly in the arms of caregivers, infant crying spells are virtually unheard of. A study in North America showed that babies cried less when parents were instructed to wear or carry them for several "extra" hours each day. THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING comments:

These findings confirm what our mothering instincts tell us —- that plenty of loving contact does not "spoil" a baby or make him more demanding, but instead helps him feel more comfortable and happy in his new world.
A happy baby is quiet and alert. In this state of mind, he is ready to interact with people. When worn or carried by a parent, a contented baby can see what’s going on around him. When he sees facial expressions and hears his mother's voice, he is learning about the world.

In addition to helping infants develop emotionally and socially, baby wearing also meets their physical needs. Babies need and enjoy motion. In the womb, they become accustomed to the sound of mother's heart pumping blood and to the feeling of being confined in a small space. The experience of being in the womb also teaches them to enjoy the rhythm of their mother’s movements. After birth, the experience of being held close to a parent’s body helps them recall the peace they felt in the womb. A baby sling swaddles them and helps control the movement of their arms and legs. As parents move around the house or walk down the sidewalk, the motion soothes babies. Parents quickly discover that their newborn will sleep while in their arms, comforted by the rise and fall of mother or father’s chest. Lay that newborn down in a crib that neither breathes nor walks and baby wakes up in a hurry!

Bill and Martha Sears note that baby wearing stimulates the infant’s vestibular system, the parts of the inner ear that work like levels or sensors to control the body’s sense of balance. The stimulation "helps babies breathe and grow better, regulates their physiology, and improves motor development" (Sears and Sears 2001). This applies to both full-term and premature babies.

Baby wearing is usually associated with infants but it is very useful for toddlers, too. The world can be a scary place for toddlers. They will feel more confident when they know they can retreat to the security of the sling or carrier if needed, explains parent and writer Laura Simeon:

Toddlers often become over-stimulated, and a ride in the sling helps soothe and comfort them before (or after!) a "melt-down" occurs.

Benefits for Parents
Baby wearing can make the hectic lives of parents much easier. For example, wearing baby frees mother’s hands for basic cleaning, preparing food, running errands, and other day-to-day activities. With baby tucked in a sling or carrier, she will not have to stop what she is doing when baby fusses or needs reassurance. A few words, a soothing touch, and baby goes back to being contented. Leaving the house doesn’t require as much preparation, either. No large stroller to pack into the car and navigate through crowds and no heavy, removable car seat to carry around. A sling or baby carrier can be folded up and stuffed into a diaper bag so that it is readily available for use. Some mothers automatically put their sling on, like a jacket, whenever they head out the door.

Parents also experience a boost in confidence when practicing baby wearing. A baby who is contented makes a mother feel more competent. Because her baby is there, right under her nose, she knows what has frightened him. She can sense when her baby is growing restless or hungry and can fix the situation before baby’s complaints become disturbing and upsetting to her. "The more confidence parents have, the more they can relax and enjoy their children," explains Simeon. She continues:

A large part of confidence is the ability to read baby’s cues successfully. When a baby is held close in a sling, a parent becomes finely attuned to baby’s gestures and facial expressions....Every time a baby is able to let his parent know when he is hungry, bored, or wet without having to cry, his trust in the parent is increased, his learning is enhanced, and a parent’s confidence is reinforced. This cycle of positive interaction enhances the mutual attachment between parent and child, and it makes life more enjoyable for everyone.
Breastfeeding and Baby Wearing
Breastfeeding mothers who practice baby wearing find it easy to nurse their babies more often. This may help babies gain more weight. The shorter the time between feedings the higher the fat content in mother’s milk. By wearing baby, a mother can easily respond to his early feeding cues:

When a baby is near his source of milk and comfort, he does not have to use much energy to get his mother’s attention; he can use this energy to grow instead. (Sears and Sears 2001)
If a mother thinks that she will feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, baby wearing can help her overcome this worry. Breastfeeding in public is likely to attract more attention if the baby has reached the point that he is crying frantically when mother tries to offer the breast. If baby is already close to mother in a sling, she can respond as soon as he shows early feeding cues, such as rooting for the breast or sucking on his hands. She can adjust his position and her clothing and have him peacefully nursing before anyone even notices. The extra fabric from the sling can easily be pulled over baby’s head, and mother can continue shopping or eating dinner without any fuss. With the fabric of the sling blocking out distractions, baby will settle down to the business of eating and may nurse quietly off to sleep.

Practical Points
Parents use baby carriers for many different reasons and in all kinds of situations. Carriers allow baby to enjoy being in your presence even when you are concentrating on other activities. Your baby does not need constant face-to-face stimulation from you, just the reassurance that you are there. Whenever you find yourself trying to juggle the needs of your baby and the demands of everyday life, it’s likely that baby wearing will make things easier. For example: If you need exercise, put baby in the carrier and go for a walk. Babies fuss less when held close to you. Bundled in a stroller, baby can not see your face or feel your body.

A baby sling can help support baby at the breast, giving mother a free hand to cuddle a toddler or work a puzzle with a preschooler.

A baby carrier puts baby up where the action is when mother or father is preparing dinner. With lots to watch, baby won’t demand your full attention, allowing you to peel potatoes or knead the bread dough. You can shift baby around to your back to keep curious fingers away from sharp knives and other hazards. Or use a backpack carrier in the kitchen.

Strollers are hard to push across the sand or over the wood chips under the playground equipment at the park. With baby riding along in a carrier, you can trail along behind an older child and go wherever you need to be. You can catch a three-year-old at the bottom of the slide or help an adventuresome climber find his way back down.

Many parents choose to bring their breastfeeding baby along when they go to adult gatherings, so that baby can nurse when needed as mother enjoys an evening out. A baby carrier will keep baby happy and contented when awake and provides a safe, comfortable place for baby to settle down, nurse, and sleep.

Mothers who bring their babies to their place of employment or who bring baby along to their volunteer activities use baby slings or other types of carriers to care for their babies while they do their work.

Many babies sleep better when they are in contact with a parent’s body. If you have put baby down in bed for a nap and he wakes up while you are in the middle of a project, ease him into the carrier. You may be able to get him to nap a little longer, giving you a chance to finish what you were doing.

Baby carriers are not just for mothers and fathers. If your baby spends time with a substitute caregiver, encourage the sitter to wear your baby. The familiar feeling of being cuddled close to a loving adult will be reassuring.

You can use a baby carrier even in cold weather. Some mothers wear their jacket open over the baby carrier. Others adjust the carrier to a larger size and wear it over their coat. If you want to be fashionable you can drape a shawl or poncho around yourself and your baby. The warmth of your body will help keep your baby warm.


Long Tied Wraps. For many years, mothers around the world have been carrying their babies in long pieces of cloth that they tie around their bodies in various ways. Now there are commercial brands of long tied wraps that are sold with instructions showing mothers how to carry their babies in various ways. Mother can wrap and tie the fabric in various ways depending on baby’s age and size and mother’s preference. The fabric can be wrapped across both shoulders and around the waist so the weight of the baby can be distributed more evenly. At first, the amount of fabric in these carriers may seem intimidating, and you’ll need to follow the instructions carefully the first few times you use them. After that, you may not need to fully untie the wrap each time you use it and it will become much easier. Mothers find that the versatility in positioning the baby in a long tied wrap makes the initial learning period well worth the effort.

Since there are no weight or size restrictions, this type of carrier can be used from birth through toddlerhood up to 35lbs. Also, as he grows, baby can be positioned in the carrier according to his preferences and moods. Sometimes he may want to be snuggled close facing mother; other times he may want to face outward to see the world. Long tied wraps can be easily adjusted to accommodate discreet breastfeeding. Baby can usually be put in and taken out of the wrap without a lot of disruption. The fabric does not have to be retied every time you use the carrier.


In Conclusion
Baby wearing is incredibly helpful in integrating baby into your daily life. You can interact with your baby throughout the day, breastfeed frequently, and still play with an older child and accomplish adult tasks. Babies benefit from spending time in the rich learning environment of the adult world. Parents feel more confident and less isolated. Baby wearing also makes the world more baby-friendly. As Bill and Martha Sears explain:

When adults wear babies, we let our children know that babies are important and that they belong with their parents. We teach our children...that big people care for little people and that babies are fun to be around.
References

Sears, W. and Sears, M. The Attachment Parenting Book. Boston, Massachusetts: Little Brown, 2001.
THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. Schaumburg, Illinois: La Leche League International, 2004.
Simeon, Laura. Ten Reasons to Wear Your Baby, www.wearsthebaby.com.

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