Imagine this; you’ve been eagerly and nervously anticipating the arrival of your new baby.
Now, the wait is over and your bundle of beauty and chaos has arrived in a flurry of contraction-timing, gown-wearing and immense excitement.
It’s intense, special, extraordinary...and terrifying.
Mum can appear to take to the parenthood gig like a duck to water, while you may feel more like a hippo on ice.
But the good news is, there’s a simple way to get involved, get close and develop that all-important bond with your baby.
Babywearing isn’t just for Mums, it’s a great way for Dads to let out their nurturing side, take some pressure off Mum and encourage enormous health benefits for your baby.
Let’s look a bit closer…
According to online babywearing resource, Babywearing International, “Babywearing is the practice of keeping your baby or toddler close and connected to you as you engage in daily activities through the use of one of a variety of types of baby carriers.”
Think slings, carriers, wraps; there are a ton of options out there today (which we’ll delve into more later).
But babywearing isn’t a new fad; it’s been practiced over centuries around the world, transcending time, generations and culture. Babies are born with zero ways of protecting themselves from danger, they are vulnerable and rely completely on their community to keep them safe.
Your little one has spent nine months tucked up in their mother’s belly; protected from sunlight, loud noises, extreme temperatures and unfamiliarity.
Suddenly, they’re out in the open, it’s bright, there are hundreds of different smells, they’re exposed to the elements and there are noises and faces they just don’t recognise. Everything is unfamiliar except Mum and Dad’s voices.
They just want to cling on to that snugness and security so they feel safe.
“But what about when they need to sleep?” I hear you cry.
This is the best bit - you can carry your baby with you whilst you do chores, do the dreaded supermarket run or meet your friends and the rocking sensation of your travelling will lull them to slumber...and keep them there for an acceptable amount of sleeping time.
An added plus? You’ll have two hands at your disposal!
Of course, there are alternatives; the stroller, pram, buggy, travel system etc. There are an endless abundance of transport options for your baby that many families choose to go with, either alongside babywearing or as a replacement altogether.
Although undoubtedly these alternatives have their place, there is one big difference - your baby being snugged up away from you ignores their basic need for closeness with their parents.
So far, so good right? You can keep your baby safe, tucked in close to your chest, go about your day and there’s untold bonding to be had.
IT PROMOTES ATTACHMENT
It promotes attachment: Psychoanalyst, Bowlby states: Attachment (in the evolutionary sense) is the deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space; a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”.
There is a growing bedrock of tangible evidence that tells us that attachment is the key to confident, independent and emotionally healthy children, continuing into adulthood later in life.
One study suggests that babies who are carried cry up to 51% less than babies who aren’t. It’s simple really; as human beings we’re not just empty vessels, we need to feel like we belong and we’re part of a team.
That we’re connected.
Soft, loving touch releases oxytocin which helps to form a bond. So all that time you’re carrying your little one around and they’re getting that skin-to-skin contact, they’re feeling content and loved.
Oxytocin is a hormone, often called the love hormone. It's released in large amounts during childbirth, but also during sex, cuddling, kissing etc.
In mum, it helps with lactation, it also helps with bonding and produces feelings of love and attachment.
IT TEACHES THEM SKILLS
If you need to learn, what better way to do it than from a front row seat?
Your baby is learning from you constantly, and when you’re carrying them going about your day, they get an eye-level view of your interactions, physical tasks and how to relate to their environment.
Carried babies become more aware of their parents’ scent, voice inflections, tones and bodily reactions. They learn to be in tune with the world around them.
Imagine you’re washing up: your baby is going to take in everything from an adult perspective.
Smells, sights, what your hands are doing - these are all simple things that your baby would not have picked up on if they were sitting away from you at a lower level.
Because your baby is voice and eye level, they are absorbing all the tiny details and learning a very valuable skill of listening.
IT'S BETTER FOR THEIR PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT
With the travel system trend it’s become common for parents to simply lift their car seat out of the car and onto the pram base.
Hey presto - no need to wake the sleeping baby and you can go about your business happily.
While this is thought to be ok for a short period of time, studies show that babies who sleep in car seats for long periods are at risk of physical issues such as decreased oxygen levels and increased heart rate.
Carrying your baby in a sling allows them to self-regulate their breathing and temperature in tune with yours, acting as an extension of the womb - finally, your own uterus!
It also promotes healthy development of the spine. People don’t have perfectly straight spines, but instead have flexible curves that help our bodies to balance.
Babies don’t develop these curves until roughly a year old and are born with a C shaped spine, so it’s important for them to gradually be allowed to develop these muscles to support the changes to their spine.
That’s why carriers are great as they allow the baby to rest in their natural position.
YOUR BABY MAY BE MORE CONFIDENT
Here’s a little nugget you’ll regularly hear from the grandparents: “You’ll spoil him by carrying him everywhere. Why don’t you put him down? He’ll be really clingy otherwise.”
There is however evidence to suggest that Grandma has got this a tad wrong.
If a baby is physically and emotionally secure, its not concentrating on anxiety and crying, but instead can focus on learning and absorbing the world.
Emotional and physical insecurity and lack of knowledge encourages lack of confidence, while if your baby is carried they will feel more able to relax.
There’s safety in numbers, right?
We emulate this throughout our adult life. We join teams and create groups: the workplace, sports, friendships - being part of something makes us feel more rooted and confident in our everyday lives rather than flying it solo.
Your baby feels that even when they’re tiny. They want to be part of your team, not sitting on the sidelines as a spectator.
Remember, baby has never been alone before, he’s always been a part of someone until he pops out. Must be weird!
The positives to babywearing don’t just stop with your baby, there are some really great benefits for you too.
Let’s go back to that earlier thought about having two hands at your disposal. Trying to go about your business with a baby crying in the background or attempting to carry them around is tough and stressful.
Imagine trying to eat your dinner with one hand behind your back?
Yep, that’s right - a frustrating and endless task!
You can also get out and about quickly without lugging a pram around. Lots of people spend tons of money on an ‘all-terrain’ buggy they can take on long off-road walks, but with a sling you can just get straight onto that terrain like the mountain climber you are, baby and all.
There’s strong evidence to suggest that Postpartum depression can be reduced by being close to the baby, which helps strengthen the bond and minimises stressful crying, which is a trigger for a lot of parents with PPD.
With 10-15% of mothers (and fathers) being affected by Postpartum depression, it’s important to get that closeness in wherever possible; encouraging attachment and getting that all-important oxytocin flowing.
Sorry, dude, you sure can. It's a fact that is not widely reported, but men do get post partum depression.
Yeah, you thought men didn't have feelings, didn't you? Well, this is the 21st century now and men certainly DO have feelings.
If you suspect you may be suffering from PPD or any other form of depression, anxiety or mental illness in general, you should seek help. There are plenty of resources available on the internet, but if you want you could start here.
The positives with regards to PPD are limitless. Wearing the baby gives Mums the chance to feel connected and attached to their baby, to be more flexible and it also means you can take some of the load off to give her some much-needed ‘me time’.
Sheffield Sling Surgery says: “Slings give you and your baby the freedom to be on the move together, rather than feeling stuck; to go out into the world for a walk or go shopping without struggling with the complexities of a pram.”
Wearing your baby allows you to get close time with your baby in motion, that you might not capitalise on if you always just default to put your baby in a seat or pram.
Familiarity is key here, you don’t just have to be the Dad who picks them up when Mum isn’t available. Wearing your baby will help you feel connected and at ease with each other.
Think how it feels to walk alongside another person?
You become in tune with each other and fall into a natural rhythm.
This is essentially what you’re doing with your baby rather than pushing them along in front of you separately.
Your baby will also have direct access to your heartbeat and they’ve been hearing Mum’s for the past 9 months. It will be calming for your baby and they’ll nestle into you to get closer to that comforting sound.
We’re hardwired to react negatively to the sound of our baby crying. It triggers an immediate response to soothe them and eliminate the problem. If your baby is separate from you and crying your stress levels are going to shoot up, which your baby will pick up on too.
The added advantage of being freed up to do chores, attend to an older sibling or even answer your phone easily will make your life far more stress-free.
I know what you’re thinking. All of this is well and good, but is my baby actually safe? The answer is yes, if worn correctly and you choose the right sling.
There are a wealth of options out there and it can get confusing. Let’s walk through it…
The range of baby carriers in the UK fall into four main categories: wrap, ring sling, mei tei and soft structured carriers. It’s very much subjective and down to the individual which one is for you.
Wraps come in stretchy (such as Cuddlebug and Moby wrap, for instance) and woven types (such as Dolcino wraps) and are essentially a long piece of cloth that you can wrap around both you and your baby. Woven wraps come in different lengths to suit different sizes while stretchy wraps usually come in one size.
Ring Slings are two pieces of cloth with two rings sewn at one end. The free end easily loops through the rings so it makes a little pouch for your baby.
These carriers were formerly referred to as mai tais but this is incorrect. If you see either form of the name, they refer to the same type of carrier.
Meh dais are Asian-style carriers that usually have four straps. One set of straps tie around the parent’s waist and the other around the shoulders, which forms a snug little pocket for the baby.
Soft-Structured Carriers are a happy medium between a mei tai and a rucksack. It does what it says on the tin, as in the design is more structured than a softer, stretchier sling but not as rigid as, for instance, a baby back pack.
"Baby danglers" are, according to some, a big no-no. This is a forward-facing sling which doesn’t support knee-pit to knee-pit as recommended. One of the most commonly referenced carriers is the Baby Bjorn One.
This sort of carrier holds your baby under the hips, causing legs to dangle, hence the term "baby dangler".
These types of carrier are also among the most common.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute is quite clear that they do not "endorse nor advise against any particular baby carrier or other equipment".
There is no evidence to suggest that carrying your baby in this manner can cause DDH (Developental Dysplasia of the Hip) although if your baby is diagnosed with this condition then a more comfortable carrying position may be advised.
It's worth noting that carriers are not mentioned as a cause of DDH on medical websites such as Patient.info.
The fundamentals of sling safety are TICKS, which stands for "tight, in sight, close enough to kiss, keep their chin off their chest, supported back". In a bit more detail:
This short video sums up basic sling safety visually; have a look at it if you want clarification on anything.
There’s nothing in the world that can compare to having your baby in your arms, but the reality of life is that you are busy and need to get things done!
It’s a no-brainer.
Before you hit the shops, here’s some key points to remember.
Hopefully the wonderful world of babywearing is demystified and you are ready to get out there and try out some slings. We promise, you won’t look back.
Do you have any sling experiences or tips you’d like to share? Comment below.