The practice of carrying babies in soft slings or carriers, known as "babywearing", is becoming more common in modern parenting circles. Truth be told, however, the practice of carrying children is far from newfangled; it is ancient and part of the human story. Newborn babies are perfectly shaped to be carried in arms on their parents' chests, and later to perch on the hip, being taken everywhere with their families. Strong evidence is emerging that this early period, known as the "fourth trimester", is a vital time in baby development, physiologically and emotionally. The care they receive in these first few months, where a baby is utterly dependent on his parents for every need, begins to lay the foundations for their future. Responsive parenting in the early years matters; the choices we adults make for our children at the beginning has a significant impact on their later lives. Modern society encourages us to separate from our children sooner than is biologically normal; it is becoming clear that well-attached children with healthy relationships with their families are likely to have smoother paths through life. A soft carrier can be a very helpful tool for responsive parenting.
Here are the Seven C's of Carrying!
Human beings thrive on love; food, drink and shelter alone are not enough for good health and wellbeing. In the early months, vulnerable babies long to be close to their caregivers and cry for contact. Often they will only calm and settle when held in loving arms, as it is reminiscent of life in utero. Soft touch (as well as breastfeeding) stimulates the release of oxytocin, the hormone of bonding, in both baby and parent. A sling helps to facilitate this close connection.
Life in our society is busy, with many demands on our time and high expectations from our peers to "get back to normal". Time with our babies is precious and fleeting; being able to take them with us in a sling allows us to meet their needs for connection while we can be hands free. Public transport can be easier without a buggy, as can enjoying the outdoors. A soft sling can help a mother carry after a caesarean while she is healing and can be useful for breastfeeding, with great care. Many modern carriers are very easy to put on with minimal fuss and complexity.
Babies who are carried tend to cry less; in part because their parents are reassuringly close to them and also able to respond to any distress cues early, before howling begins. They often sleep better in a sling as they feel safe and secure when held by someone who loves them. Gentle motion is calming for an upset child. Being upright can help with the distress of reflux and also reduce the risk of "flat head syndrome" from lying flat for too long.
The early months of parenthood can be very hard. Anxiety, isolation and postnatal depression are all worryingly common. Evidence is emerging that oxytocin released during close contact helps to reduce stress and increase bonding; loving feelings often follow loving actions. Being able to carry your child easily will allow you to escape from the house to places you love and to be part of the outside world. (Please do see your doctor or health visitor if you think you may have postnatal depression).
If your child is held close to you, she will be able to see your face and learn about the world based on how you react to it. This place of safety makes learning easier. Closeness encourages communication and facilitates earlier recognition of your baby's cues. This will help you be responsive and increase your baby's trust in you, boosting your calmness and confidence.
Having your baby close to you in a comfy, ergonomic carrier is very enjoyable. It allows you to remain active which is good for your body, and will be kinder to your back than lifting car seats, or pushing a heavy pram (or an empty one while your child perches on your hip!) If your baby is content in your carrier, you will be more able to care for your older children, or provide reassurance to an upset toddler. The school run can be much easier with a child in a carrier on your back!
Both parents can use a sling; dads or partners who have bonded successfully with their children are likely to provide more sensitive parenting and be of greater support to a mother who needs a rest. The babywearing community can be a wonderful place to make friends and discover new skills; your local sling library/consultant will be able to help!
Why Babywearing Matters by Rosie Knowles, Pinter & Martin £7.99 www.pinterandmartin.com