Back in 2004, when I was in grad school studying Applied Cultural Anthropology, one of my best friends in the program got pregnant. We were in our early 20s and I found everything she was learning and feeling fascinating. One day, she showed me a 18 ft long bright red piece of fabric, and announced it was her baby carrier. The color and amount of fabric overwhelmed me and I swore I would never have one of those things myself…
Fast-forward 3 years and I was using a bright yellow wrap for my own newborn! My son was born in January and I loved that I could wear my winter coat over both of us as I wore him. Three more years later, I was working for Moby Wrap, teaching couples in childbirth education classes how to tie it and sharing the benefits of babywearing!
I have come to believe that babywearing is essential to babies and their caregivers. Mothers around the world wear their babies, and with good reason! Strapping your baby to your body allows you to move around, use both hands, while also soothing them (and you!) and responding to their needs as they arise.
While strollers have their place (especially with babies older than 4 months) newborns tend to prefer close contact with caregivers. The connection that pregnant mothers feel with their babies inside their wombs can continue with babywearing. Babies love to be worn as they feel snug in a womb-like environment, and can continue their growth/(exo)gestation feeling safe and held.
My favorite way to wear a newborn is with a wrap (Moby, Solly, Boba, Hugabub, etc). These are easily adjustable for a variety of caregivers, keep a floppy newborn baby upright, and there is no layer of fabric between the baby and the caregiver. Most moms love these wraps, however I have noticed that long swaths of fabric and having to create the pocket the baby goes in overwhelms most dads ( as it did me, at first sight). These dads tend to prefer a structured carrier like an Ergo, Lillebaby, Boba, Baby Tula, etc. Even if you go with a wrap for the first few months, the structured carriers are fabulous for older babies, so definitely check them out when you are ready to wear your baby on your back (once they can hold their head up for extended periods of time).
Whatever carrier floats your boat, here are 6 wonderful reasons to wear your baby:
1. Allows hands-free baby care!
Holding your baby in your arms and watching their every breath and movement can fill your days to the point that you forget what time it is and when you ate last, but most parents reach a point when they want to hold their baby AND do other things…like preparing/eating a meal, brushing teeth, folding laundry, or tidying the house. Babywearing is your ticket! Most newborns go to sleep while snuggling close and being rocked by the movement of your activity. Make sure your baby is clean, dry and fed, and you’ll have an hour or 2 of hand-free options at your finger tips, while your babe dozes peacefully on your chest.
2. Keeps people from touching your baby.
Most adults give each other space and so it is less likely that someone will come up to your baby and touch them or cough on them if they are tied to your body. Getting close to your baby requires the other person to invade your ‘body bubble,’ and they are more likely to ask permission or refrain from touching or getting close than if your baby was in a stroller or bassinet, for example. This is extra important as we continue to deal with a global pandemic!
3. Calms nervous systems.
Babies need others to help them regulate their nervous systems. This co-regulation through breath, heartbeat, touch, and movement is calming to both the baby and the wearer. Having weight on the chest and abdomen is deeply calming, and wearing a baby on your chest as they face you enhances the peace you both feel. Being close to your baby (or any baby) releases oxytocin in both of you! This feel good hormone is at the root of bonding, connection, and falling in love, and can be a powerful antidote to postpartum mood disruptions. I especially love sniffing a baby’s head to get the oxytocin flowing – which you can do hands-free while wearing a baby! Wraps in particular can feel like you are hugging your baby (but your hands are free, see #1), and tightening the part on your lower back and waist can feel like a nice support, especially as your abdominal muscles wake back up from being stretched in pregnancy.
4. Creates a calm and familiar environment.
Wearing your baby creates a womb- like environment that is familiar and comforting to them. Your body temperature, breathing and heart beat regulate your baby. They are soothed by the sounds of your breathing, heartbeat, voice, digestion, etc. Your movements rock them gently as you walk, or do household chores. They are comfortably bound in a tight space (just like the womb!). Sometimes newborns cry as they are put into a carrier, but usually they calm quickly and go to sleep. Dr. Harvey Karp talks about the 5 S’s (shushing, swaying, swaddling, sucking, side/stomach lying) as ways to calm fussy babies; babywearing accomplishes all 5 while also allowing your hands to be free!
5. Stimulates baby’s vestibular system and strengthens their muscles.
Your vestibular systems allow you to move smoothly and maintain balance. When babies are worn, their vestibular systems (based in the inner ear) get a workout – just like being rocked in a swing or cradle, their brains learn to sense where they are in space as you move around. This stimulus is a necessity for proper brain development of all primates. One of the earliest indicators of vestibular development in babies is their ability to hold up their heads. Wearing a baby upright allows them to practice this skill when they are awake and alert (and their heads can be supported by one of the wrap’s shoulder straps when they sleep). Babies can also exercise their back muscles in the same fashion as tummy-time when they arch their backs away from you (usually less upsetting to babies than being set on their bellies all alone for tummy time).
6. Allows partner and other adult caregivers to bond with your baby .
The mother/baby dyad is the container for the first months of a newborn’s life, especially if they are breastfed. Moms often feel the weight of that responsibility and can get overwhelmed and ‘touched out.’ One way that their partners or other trusted loving adults can help out in these early days is to wear the baby. So, Mom, make sure that the baby is fed and clean, then hand them off to this other adult for a nice snuggle (all the benefits listed above) while you shower, nap, eat a meal with both hands, stare at the wall, catch up on communication with the outside world, etc. Win-win-win!
Wherever you are in your journey with your newborn, wearing your baby can make a huge difference to everyone’s wellbeing. Let me know if you have any specific questions about how to incorporate babywearing into your family…and if you’ve already gotten the hang of it, rock on with your bad self!
Life Beyond Birth provides support for expectant parents, and new babies & their families, online and in-person. Find a class or contact Molly at www.lifebeyondbirth.com.