Most parenting books and antenatal teachers will tell you that you can’t cuddle your baby too much. Babies crave physical closeness with their parents or caregivers, as touch is their first communication channel. Baby wearing is like an endless cuddle. Your baby enjoys the movements and enclosed environment that remind him/her of the womb, while you get to keep a close eye on him/her at all times – no need to interrupt your activities to attend to a crying child in his cot or pushchair.
In 1986, a study carried out in Montreal by a team of paediatricians found out that carried babies cry on average 43 percent less than their pram-bound counterparts (1).
Fussy or colicky babies will often calm down and fall asleep after only a few minutes in the sling. In traditional cultures where babies are carried a lot, long bouts of crying are unheard of – after spending two and a half years with an Stone Age Indian tribe in the Amazon, reknown author of The Continuum Concept Jean Liedloff stressed the importance of what she calls the “in-arms phase” for young infants: “This in-arms experience had an impressively salutary effect on the babies and they were no trouble to manage” (2).
Crying brings about a surge of stress hormones that overflow the brain. Because they cry less, slung babies are generally happy and content.
But rather than sleep, most babies over three months of age remain in a state of quiet alertness for most of the time spent in the sling. Which means they observe and learn, learn, learn.
They follow their parent’s every move as s/he sorts out the laundry, washes the dishes, cooks and eats, etc. They get their share of social interaction and language exposure up close every time their parent talks to someone else at home or outside the home. They discover the world around them from the safety of a parent’s arms. New experiences and new faces do not seem quite so frightening to a baby safely held against a parent’s body. The baby thus becomes very much part of his/her parent's everyday life, rather than a passive spectator. And when the stimulation gets a little too tiring, the baby can bury his/her face against his/her parent’s warm body, and quietly go to sleep.
For parents, baby wearing can be a life-saver. First of all, this hands-free approach to parenting means that you can still get things done around the house, or look after a busy toddler. Granted, you won’t do as much, as quickly, as before having a baby, but you won’t be totally helpless while the pile of dirty laundry keeps building up. Baby wearing can also help reduce sibling rivalry when a new baby arrives in the family (3). With a sling, you can keep your new baby close to you at all times and attend just like before to the needs of your older children.
With a sling, forget the feeling of “being stuck at home” that so many new parents experience. Your mobility is as good as it ever was, especially if you use public transport – without a heavy, bulky pushchair to lug around, you don’t need to look out for lifts in your local train station or to wait for a nearly empty bus, and you don’t have to rely on sympathetic strangers to open heavy fire doors for you in the shopping centre.
While out and about, discreet breastfeeding becomes a breeze thanks to a sling. Certain sling types allow for breastfeeding “on the go” – you can feed your baby while s/he is in the sling. But even if you have to take your baby out of the sling to breastfeed, the cloth provides a helpful cover to drape over your baby, or to use as a support cushion.
Baby wearing parents also tend to be more attentive and more tuned-in to their baby’s needs – they also appear more confident: “A baby who is contented makes a mother feel more competent” (4). In short, baby wearing allows you to get on with your life, while enjoying a close bond with your baby.
Talk of a win-win situation!
1. Hunziker, U.A. and R.G. Barr (1986). “Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomized controlled trial”. Pediatrics. 7:641-648.
2. “The importance of the in-arms phase”, Jean Liedloff, Mothering magazine, winter 1989.
3. “Reducing rivalry”, Elizabeth Johnston, The Mamatoto Project, 2006.
4. News Beginnings, Vol. 21 No. 6, Nevember-December 2004, p. 204-208, La Leche League International
Thank you to Jess, Shani and Lucy for letting us use their beautiful photos.
Text Copyright Calin Bleu 2005-06. Photos are copyrighted. All Rights Reserved, they can not be used without the author's permission.