Saturday, October 9, 2010

AP Principle 3: Babywearing

Oh my goodness he used to be tiny.

Babywearing is the practice of carrying a baby on the body with some kind of carrier. Like breastfeeding, I never gave this principle much thought before I had a baby. Naturally moms carry their babies all the time, and sometimes their arms get tired, so carriers are pretty handy! However, I soon found that many mothers don't carry their babies as much as I think is normal. Instead, they cart their babies around in strollers and infant car seats.

My first beef with these is that they are really not all that convenient. Those infant seats are heavy! Our carseat is convertible and doesn't come out of the car easily, so that was never an option for us anyway. But I have carried babies in those seats, and they're so large and awkward.

As for strollers, we do have one. I gave it a test drive awhile ago, on a trip to the grocery store. I figured it would be way easier, so I wouldn't have to carry the heavy baby. But it wasn't really. I constantly had to be pushing this thing around, maneuvering it around obstacles, pushing open doors for it -- it's like being tied to a grocery cart! (I hate shopping carts; I use a basket if I can manage it at all.) Plus, I couldn't see the baby's face, and I hated driving him around at tailpipe level along the street. By the way home, he didn't want to be in the stroller anymore, so I picked him up and put him in the sling, stuffing the heavy diaper bag into the stroller. I wanted my baby near me!

Now, carriers aren't strictly necessary; they are more of a convenience. Carrying the baby a lot -- that's necessary, in my opinion. Cranky babies, in particular, cheer up a ton when they're picked up. Carrying seems to soothe colic, reflux, and gas.

It's also very healthy. Babies' heart rate, breathing, and temperature regularize when they are in contact with an adult. We now know that "kangaroo care," skin-to-skin holding, works better for preemies than the best incubator. In fact, a recent study suggests that prehistoric women furthered the development of the human race when they devised slings out of skins to hold their babies. It kept babies with large heads -- who, because of their head size, had to be born earlier -- from dying due to the under-development of the rest of their bodies.

Babies seem uniquely adapted to their mothers' arms. Their legs naturally seek the "froggy position," which is the same angle as a parent's body. While on their mother's chest, they are able to seek out and latch onto the mother's breast from birth. Carrying a baby helps encourage neck and back development more than "tummy time" does, and prevents positional plagiocephaly (flat head) that babies get when in cribs and carseats most of the time.

Biologists are able to distinguish baby animals as "den animals," like wolves and bears, who remain behind in the den as mother's go out hunting, "follow animals," like cows and sheep, who follow behind their mother all day, and "carry animals," like marsupials and primates, who ride on their mother's back or her pouch. The lower fat content and higher sugar in human milk and the dependence of human infants suggests that we are "carry animals," expected to nurse frequently and be in constant contact with the parent.

This seems normal to me. I stick the baby in his Moby Wrap when we go to the store, on a walk, or to work, and he sees the world from my level. He sure seems to like it; he's very content and rarely fusses at all. If he's fussy at home, a short ride in his ring sling generally cheers him up or even puts him right to sleep. He loves the bouncing of my walk. Unfortunately, I'm a sedentary person, so I would prefer to hold him on my lap, but when he's fussy, nothing will do but being carried around the house -- or better yet, outside.

I don't think of myself as counter-cultural. But occasionally I do get comments: "Does he like that?" "Boy, he sure seems happy to be up here," "Hey, that looks convenient." I guess people aren't used to seeing a baby carried this way, even though in other cultures it's completely standard. (Almost every primitive culture had its own baby carrier -- from Indian cradleboards to specialized obis in Japan.)

Besides all the benefits for baby, I think babywearing helps the grown-ups too. It seems to change people's attitude toward the baby -- he is no longer thought of as completely separate from me. People don't ask to hold him or expect me to leave him places. I find the kids I teach are much less distracted by him. People are willing to see me as a normal adult, capable of doing all the normal things (rather than suggesting limitations on things I do), but at the same time, they do notice the baby and interact with him. I can see why this system has been so favored by women at work for generations.

This post will be linked at Adventures in Babywearing. You can read more there or at the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance Facebook page.


Stephanie Wilson she/her @babysteph said...

Wonderful post!


Beth said...

Our children were the 5th and 6th grandchildren in my husband's family and the 1st and 2nd breastfed and "slung". I vividly recall everyone marveling at my ability to participate in every family activity and meals with our babies in the sling, as well has my extended family's inability to discern when I was nursing with the sling.

I for one faily to understand why any parent WOULDN't babywear, if for no other reason than it keeps baby so content and keeps momma's hands so free to function.

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