All You Need to Know About Babywearing

The practice of a mother wearing her baby close to her body is centuries old and is known to have immense benefits for the well-being of a child. Here’s how you can do it right

By Priya Kathpal and Jasmine Randelia-Bavan

All You Need to Know About Babywearing

Babywearing is defined as the practice of wearing your baby on your body in an ergonomic position, that suits both the child and the caregiver. But, this unique custom goes much beyond such a definition. It is a tool to make the caregiver independent, and bond with the child. Both the mother and the father should babywear, as it is important that the child forms a strong connection with both the parents.

Origins of Babywearing

India and Africa are two regions in the world where babywearing has been practised for ages. Surprised? Don’t be. If you have been to the tea gardens of Darjeeling, West Bengal or Assam, you may have seen the women workers there wearing their babies on their backs or close to their chest and picking away tea leaves. Rural India has been practising this custom since time immemorial, while the urban milieu is waking up to the many benefits of babywearing only now. Also, in many regions of Africa, babywearing is a norm. The child is never left alone and is always strapped on to one or the other family member.

From Homemade Slings to Ergonomic Baby Carriers

The best type of carriers are the ones that distribute most of the baby’s weight evenly through your hips and can be secured around both shoulders. Such a carrier is designed to seat the baby in the “M” posture, whereby their bottom is positioned in the central part of the carrier, knees are above it and their hips are spread apart. These are also known as ergonomic baby carriers.

There are many non-ergonomic, non-certified, baby carriers available in the market today that are widely used as they may be a bit easy on the pocket. But these are not recommended because they give little or no back support for the caregiver. The weight-bearing capacity of these carriers may not be more than 8 to 10 kg, while most ergonomic carriers have a weight-bearing capacity of almost 20kg, which is sufficient to carry a five-year-old preschooler.

Advantages of Babywearing

Medical professionals agree that infants thrive with touch and ‘wearing’ your baby is a simple way to meet this need. Here are the advantages of babywearing --

1. Promotes bonding – The skin-to-skin physical contact makes the child feel like she is in a womb-like environment. Children, early on, have a strong sense of smell and recognise their mother with her unique scent. If a mother wears her baby, it helps increase the oxytocin levels, which leads to a more intimate maternal bond.

2. Helps in weight gain – Premature babies and babies with special needs often enter the world with fragile nervous systems. When a baby is carried in a carrier attached to his mother/caregiver, he is in tune with the rhythm of her breathing, the sound of her heartbeat, and all her movements — walking, bending and reaching. This stimulation helps him to regulate his own physical responses. Research has shown that premature babies who are touched and held, gain weight faster and are healthier than babies who are not.

3. Lowers the risk of depression – After delivery, some mothers suffer from postpartum depression, which may come in the way of nurturing their little one. Babywearing helps lower the risk of postpartum depression, which has become a quite common in urban India.

4. Promotes better nourishment – Worn babies feed well and on demand. You can easily breastfeed your child while babywearing in all types of carriers. Babywearing helps a premature child gain weight at a faster pace, since they can feed regularly and more often.

5. Calms a cranky child – Walking and moving rhythmically, while wearing the baby near your body, helps calm her down when she is cranky, in just a matter of minutes. It has been seen that carried babies are much calmer and more receptive. This is also because their basic requirements are met immediately and comfortably.

6. Reduces colic in infants – Keeping your baby close to your skin is an excellent way to combat colic in babies. This is because, when you are wearing your child upright, incidences of colic are reduced to a bare minimum. Worn babies sleep well too.

7. Helps reach milestones – Babies who are worn by a parent are known to achieve their milestones quicker and to become independent faster, contrary to popular belief that babies who are carried get clingy and dependent. Carried babies show enhanced visual and auditory alertness. They learn and grasp things quicker.

8. Reduces dependence on others – A baby carrier gives mothers and caregivers two free hands and help them become independent. They need not depend on a nanny or any other family member, while stepping out of the house or when they are doing regular household chores.

How to choose 

There are many types of carriers that one can choose from. Ring slings and wraps are an ideal choice for newborns and can be used till about toddlerhood, depending on the kind of fabric used. Then, there are Meh Dais and full buckle carriers that are great for slightly older kids. Another type of carrier is the onbuhimo, which is specifically meant to carry a baby on the back.

Before buying a carrier, make sure they are ergonomically designed, use tested raw materials like buckles, rings and have been tested for safety. Read and follow the manufacturers’ recommendation. It’s always better to try and then buy. Every parent and baby will have a different comfort zone; to find that, it’s important to meet a babywearing expert and get some important tips before you begin your babywearing journey.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions: 

1. When can I start babywearing? 

A. From the day the baby is born, is what we recommend. The sooner you transfer them from your womb to the external womb of a wrap or sling, the better it is for the baby.

2. How long can you babywear? 

A. For as long as you and the baby are comfortable. There are parents who babywear preschoolers, especially during vacations and sickness.

3. Will it affect my baby’s spine? Will his backbone become curved? 

A. No, never. Babies in the womb are in a curled-up position, which is possible only if the backbone is in a curved ‘C’ position. The backbone/spine of a child gradually straightens over the course of 12 to 13 months.

Babywearing is a boon, waiting to happen to urban, working parents in India. Wear your baby a bit more, cuddle them a bit more each day because in the long run, no mother ever said I loved and carried my baby too much!

References:

1. Hunziker UA, Garr RG. (1986) Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomised controlled trial. Pediatrics 77:641-648

2. Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for pre-term infants. J Perinatol. 1991 Sep;11(3):216-26.

3. Pelaez-Nogueras M, Field TM, Hossain Z, Pickens J. (1996). Depressed mothers’ touching increases infants’ positive affect and attention in still-face interactions. Child Development, 67, 1780-92.

4. Tessier R, M Cristo, S Velez, M Giron, JG Ruiz-Palaez, Y Charpak and N Charpak. (1998) Kangaroo mother care and the bonding hypothesis. Pediatrics 102:e17.