The Basics of Babywearing
Today's special guest blogger is Kathryn Bazan. Kathryn is a Dallas wife and mother with a passion for eco-conscious living. This year, Kathryn left her job at the state’s environmental agency and became a full time mother to her ten month old son. Pregnancy and motherhood have both encouraged her to focus on what her family puts in and on their bodies and to avoid products and foods that contain harmful chemicals. She has a lifestyle blog, House of Bazan where she shares lifestyle tips for natural health & beauty, parenting and domestic DIY.
I'd love to say I went into this motherhood journey decided on a parenting philosophy. But the truth is that if I researched anything while preparing for baby's arrival, it was usually obsessing over my random pregnancy symptoms or possible unfortunate words that rhyme with the list of potential names we'd chosen.
Instead, my parenting style developed naturally over those first few months. We co-slept. We co-bathed. We nursed as often as he wanted. We did what felt organic. I know now that my philosophy falls mostly along the lines of attachment parenting while trying my hardest not to be a helicopter to a tenaciously walking (frequently falling) ten month old.
One of the ideals of attachment parenting I've enjoyed embracing most is babywearing.
Oh, the snuggles. The smell of new baby always just under your nose. The thought of it still makes my little mama heart swell. With so many physical and emotional benefits, I've found babywearing to be not only practical, but key to our son's development and well-being.
In those earliest days of recovery after a c-section, I relied heavily on my carrier to take short walks down the block. When I built up enough stamina to leave the house, wearing our son was much easier than lifting him in a bulky car seat while I conquered errands and took him to his first appointments.
Soon, wearing him became the most efficient way to get things done at home too. He disliked being swaddled. He hated being put in his bassinet. Even the fancy overpriced swing didn't win his approval. But after just a few minutes of snuggling in our wrap, he'd sleep for hours while I did chores.
It was at this point that I identified the familiarity of my movements and sound of my heartbeat in the carrier to his experience in the womb. When he went through sleep regression phase and later when he started teething, it was his father who wore him for hours on end so I could get a few consecutive hours of sleep. It turns out daddy's the best snuggler we know. I shamelessly used my son to obscure my newly minted mom-bod as we took our first swim this summer. And our first plane ride was made effortless with the aid of a carrier. Now, we wouldn't leave the house without one.
As our needs and our baby have changed, so has our carrier. I've tried almost every kind of carrier and have loved each for different reasons at different stages. Carriers come in several types and endless fabrics, patterns and price points and vary in ease of use. The most popular types of carriers are: wraps, slings, and soft structured carriers.
Types of Carriers
Sling & Ring Sling
A sling is a simple carrier that is worn over one shoulder, like a sash. A regular sling is usually a tube of fabric (think infinity scarf) and must be fitted to the wearer to ensure a snug, safe carry. I never could achieve the fit I wanted with a simple sling, and so we used this design least. In a sling, baby should be worn in an upright position and never in a cradled position due to the risk of suffocation.
Alternatively, a ring sling is a long piece of fabric secured by two rings worn like a sling over one shoulder. Ring slings are adjustable to obtain a secure fit and are therefore great for sharing between wearers and growing with a baby. A neat gathering of fabric at the ring will ensure a comfortable carry. You may find that heavier babies are more difficult to carry for longer periods.
A wrap is a long piece of fabric that can be wrapped around the body and tied in a variety of positions. The wrap is probably the most intimidating style carrier for beginners, especially at 2 am or when you're in a hurry. But in terms of versatility, it is probably one of the best. There are so many different ways to carry and endless tutorials online. In the front and back wear positions, weight is evenly distributed across both shoulders. In the hip-carry position, the wrap mimics the one-shoulder carry of a sling. The wrap should not be used for back carries if made of a stretch or jersey material.
A soft structured carrier is a solid rectangular piece of material connected by buckles and adjustable straps that go around the wearers waist and over the shoulders. These can be used for front, back and side carries and are easy to adjust between multiple wearers. This is my husband's favorite carrier. Ours came with zippered pockets, a hood to shield the sun and a padded waistband for comfortable extended carries. A newborn insert is often required until the baby achieves independent head support and neck control and is usually sold separately.
Before purchasing a carrier there are a few things to consider, including whether there will be one wearer or if the carrier will be shared with a spouse or other caregiver. If you prefer the latter, you'll want to avoid the basic sling and fitted carriers (carriers where you select a size).
The climate in your area may impact the fabric you choose. In Dallas, there's summer, followed by three very short months of not-summer. My go-to fabrics are light natural materials like linen, cotton or blends of the two. Linen keeps our sweaty boy cool while offering more support. Osnaburg is commonly recommended for a heavier baby wearing fabric, but you should avoid any materials that contain formaldehyde, as osnaburg and other permanent press fabrics commonly do. A well used carrier gets funky, especially in the summertime, and may need to be washed frequently. A good fabric will hold up to many washes. Finally, you'll want to consider whether you'd prefer a carrier that grows with your baby or one that you don't mind replacing as you child grows. Our jersey cotton wrap was great for a front position wrap when he was smaller, but doesn't hold his weight now.
It is important to review the recommended uses and limitations of the carrier you select. Some carriers are not meant for long carries. Others are not recommended for back or side carries. For all carriers, some general rules that will keep your little one safe are:
- Your baby should be secured tightly and close enough to kiss. This means you'll be wearing high on the torso and baby will not slump.
- Maintain the baby's airway at all times. If the baby's chin is touching their chest, it may be difficult for them to breathe. Use the finger test to ensure that there is always at least finger-width space between the baby's chin and chest.
- Baby's knees should always be higher than their bottom, making an M shape. This supports a rounded back and proper spine and hip development. This can be achieved in an unstructured carrier by spreading the fabric knee to knee and creating a deep seat for baby.
- Check on your baby frequently. Make adjustments and re-position as needed.
- Until you are confident and comfortable using your carrier, enlist a second set of hands to put baby in and take baby out, or do so over a soft surface like a bed or sofa or while sitting down.
- Always use one hand to firmly secure your child while using the other to adjust the carrier. A bigger, stronger toddler who does not want to be put into a carrier may injure you or themselves trying to avoid being carried. If they do not want to be carried, take a break and try again later.
Baby Wearing International has optimal positioning guides for each kind of carrier and for each stage of child development that I've always found very helpful.
Common ways to carry baby are forward facing in, forward facing out, the hip carry and the back carry, which can be used once baby becomes too heavy for a front or hip carry and can hold their own head up. Although your carrier may accommodate a forward facing out position, many people in the babywearing community are split on whether this position is safe for baby. If you choose this position, you should make sure that baby is developmentally ready (can hold their own head up), is emotionally ready and not overwhelmed by the additional stimulation, and that the carrier supports the M position of the legs and does not allow the legs to dangle straight downward, which can cause hip dysplasia.
It's also important to remember that you should not do anything while baby wearing that you wouldn’t do while pregnant. Use caution while cooking and never stand or climb on unstable surfaces. Brace your child if you must lean forward or stoop down to pick something up, as they can fall out, head first.
A 2013 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the incidence of plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome, in infants at 7 to 12 weeks of age was estimated to be 46.6%. Researchers concluded that the increase in cases was an unintended consequence of the Back to Sleep campaign, which urges parents to place babies on their backs to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and babies spending more time on their backs in strollers, car seats and infant seats. Cranial distortion can be remedied with a helmet, but is oftentimes expensive, costing between $1,000 and $3,000. Another study found that developmental plagiocephaly seems to be associated with early neurodevelopmental disadvantage, which was most evident when testing motor skills. Further studies are needed to confirm a link. Plagiocephaly can be prevented by carrying the infant and promoting tummy time. Regardless of any suggestion of plagiocephaly or developmental delay, the safest way for babies to sleep still aligns with the Back-to-Sleep campaign's recommendations to help prevent SIDS.
International Baby Wearing Week is Oct 5-10, 2016. International Babywearing Week is a week-long opportunity to celebrate, promote, advocate for, and focus media attention on the many benefits of babywearing. Find out more at babywearinginternational.org.
(1) Aliyah Mawji, Ardene Robinson Vollman, Jennifer Hatfield, Deborah A. McNeil, Reginald Sauvé, "The Incidence of Positional Plagiocephaly: A Cohort Study," Pediatrics (Aug 2013): 132 (2) 298-304. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/132/2/298
(2) Matthew L. Speltz et al. "Case-Control Study of Neurodevelopment in Deformational Plagiocephaly," Pediatrics (February 15, 2010)https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100215081730.htm
(3) Anne H. Zachary, "Why Tummy Time Matters" Advance Heathcare Network for Occupational Therapy Practitioners (February 14, 2012)http://occupational-therapy.advanceweb.com/Archives/Article-Archives/Why-Tummy-Time-Matters.aspx