The Babywearing Connection
BY Jeanette Johnson
Babywearing is simply wearing a cloth carrier to keep your baby close. That gives you a connection that makes it easier to keep everyone happy. You don’t have to carry your baby to be a good parent, but babywearing makes it easier to be a good parent (and makes it easier for your baby to be a “good baby”).
Did you know that we are evolutionarily designed to be in physical contact with an adult caregiver during our earliest months? Babies breathe better, their heart rates are more regular, their temperatures are better regulated, and their emotional well being is best served by being nestled against your chest. The effect is most noticeable in premature babies, whose health is more delicate and for whom this connection is more vital, but the benefits exist for all babies.
Beyond that, of course, it allows you to involve your baby in the daily activities that are important to you, and it gives you two free hands to engage in those activities. In the many families in which the mother is the primary caregiver, babywearing is a valuable tool of feminism. It means that a woman does not have to choose between “having a life” and “having a baby” whether she is a homemaker, homeschooler, or entrepreneur, whether she is engaged in community programs, active with playdates and parenting groups, or employed in a workplace that accommodates her baby.
It is fascinating to note that the baby sling is considered by British prehistorian Timothy Taylor to be one of the most crucial stone age inventions, and one with enormous implications on human evolution because it allowed stone age woman to keep her baby safe after birth while his brain continued to develop. Suddenly brain size is not limited to pelvis size, and human evolution takes a forward leap. An early feminine contribution to human advancement.
For modern parents it means:
- keeping your baby close so more of his needs are met
- less crying (babies cry less because their need for human contact is met)
- less crying (moms cry less because they are meeting baby’s constant needs without burning out)
- increased confidence in your parenting ability
- being able to leave the house more easily
- hands free to care for yourself, your home, and your family
- for nursing mothers, increased lactation and convenient nursing
On you is the safest place for your baby. Obviously, there are exceptions: in the car your baby should be buckled into a car seat. When sleeping, you should not be attached (except for the nipple-mouth connection, of course). If you are doing anything with dangerous machinery, very loud noises, or toxic fumes, baby should be left safely in the care of another. But in general, holding or wearing your baby is almost always a better choice than putting him or her down.
I don’t mean to make it sound like you must carry your baby all the time, or to make you feel guilty when you do put your baby down. On the contrary, you should use babywearing as a tool for optimum convenience and happiness of all the members of your family and not try to push it to do or be something that doesn’t work for you or your baby. Instead I want to stress that the more time you spend holding or wearing your baby, the better! So pat yourself on the back for all the time you do spend babywearing–with two hands free, it will be easy!
When your baby is on your chest, you are able to constantly observe him or her and will know if your baby is awake or asleep, that your baby is breathing regularly, and be clued into baby’s needs before your baby must resort to crying to communicate them. This connection takes some of the stress out of parenting while giving your baby an optimum environment for physiological and emotional development.
Conversely, spending excessive time laying on their backs or reclined in baby contraptions such as carseats, strollers, swings and bouncers can lead to flat head syndrome and developmental delays.Babies just weren’t evolutionarily designed to be put down and that’s why babies who are not held frequently are supposed to get “tummy time” when they can work on holding their heads up and pushing up against the floor—things that happen naturally when being held.
So don’t worry about laying your baby down for naps and nighttime. Don’t worry about putting him or her down when you need to answer the phone, make a sandwich, or zip up older brother’s coat. But when you notice that your life is a constant barrage of things that you need to put baby down for, you’ll be glad to find that wrapping him up leaves you free to do most of those same things without leaving your baby lying around!
Babywearing options, sizes, and lengths
The perfect carrier for a newborn baby is a baby wrap or a wraparound baby carrier. It’s probably the original baby carrier and the one most commonly used across diverse cultures throughout history. Unlike structured carriers, it conforms perfectly to your baby’s shape, offering customized support and positioning no matter what your size and shape or your baby’s size and shape. Structured carriers, even when they come with newborn inserts, are just not optimum for newborn physiology.
I specifically recommend, teach, and sell woven wraps, which are not stretchy like the Moby wrap. Because a woven wrap is more supportive, it can be used in dozens of carries and is safe to use for back carries, too. All of the advice below is for use with a woven wrap only—not stretchy.
You can expect a good woven wrap to be comfortable from newborn through pre-school, so it can really be your one and only baby carrier.
A woven wrap can be used by different caregivers of very different sizes without need for adjustment because it is a custom fit each time you wrap it on.
A woven wrap can also be used by people with various injuries or disabilities because there are so many ways to use it that it can be customized to your needs. However, a parent with the use of only one arm/hand may find a ring sling to be easier to use and adjust.
A short 2.7 meter wrap, called a rebozo or Size 2, is long enough to form a loop that goes over your shoulder and under the opposite arm. A slipknot is usually tied at the hollow just below your shoulder on the front, and the slipknot allows you to adjust each part of the wrap independently to get perfectly uniform snugness. This is the carry that ring slings have been designed to emulate, with rings in place of the slipknot. A rebozo can be used in this traditional loop carry, but also gives you some great options for back carries that are great for toddlers and hot weather!
Wraps of about 3.2 or 3.7 meters are commonly known as sizes 3 and 4. Along with rebozos, these are the “shorties.” There are many carries that you can do with these sizes that have fewer layers than longer carries, which makes them nice for hot weather (cooler), nice for rainy/muddy weather (less length to drag on the ground), more portable (easier to fit in a diaper bag), and handy for quick carries if your baby or toddler will be up and down for short spurts, like when running errands or a toddler who wants up and down frequently on hikes or at the zoo.
Full length wraps are the most popular size for new wrappers and will give you enough length for all of the popular carries. This is my favorite size for small babies, and will continue to provide you with many options as your baby grows. You can also use the length for very supportive and comfortable multi-layer carries with a toddler, or even a pre-schooler. When your three year old falls asleep on your back, you will find that they automatically gain 10 lbs and you’ll be glad you have them in a nice, supportive carry!
Size 5 (4.2 meters) is the full length wrap size for petite moms—usually right for moms under 130 lbs.
Size 6 (4.7 meters) is the full length size for most moms up to 180 or 200 lbs, generally.
Size 7 (5.2 meters) is the full length wrap size for moms and dads of 180 to 200 or more lbs.
A parent of any size will be able to use any wrap length since there are such a variety of carrying options. But if you have a newborn or are new to wrapping, I recommend getting a full length woven wrap as that will give you the most options.
Your baby should be centered high on your chest in an upright position, with her face visible, chin up, and close enough to kiss. Use this rule no matter which baby carrier you are using and do not buy one that does not allow for this kind of positioning. Exceptions are hip carries and back carries with older babies or toddlers, as there are some carriers made exclusively for those positions.
Your wrap or other carrier should form a seat under your baby’s bottom extending out to both knees so that baby’s lower legs are hanging down from the knees and the knees are higher than baby’s bottom. This will form the most comfortable seat and optimum positioning for healthy hips and spine. You do not want to over spread a young baby’s legs to straddle the parent, so avoid spreading a newborn’s knees wider than his or her pelvis and expect baby’s knees to come in between mother and baby more than an older child who can spread the legs wider around the parent.
You and your baby will both be most comfortable in a heart to heart position so that baby is facing you, not facing outward. Facing in also makes it possible to keep your baby’s pelvis tilted, knees up, and spine curved naturally for optimum developmental health. For those babies who insist on seeing more of the world, you can use a high shoulder Burp Hold (infant), a hip carry (once baby can sit unassisted), or high back carry (once the parent is competent to safely back wrap). These carries have the added benefit of allowing your baby to withdraw from the action before becoming over-stimulated. Your baby can nestle into the safety of your body, which is his port in every storm.
When learning to use a wrap, make sure that you and your baby are both well fed, well rested, clean, dry, and happy. Do not pressure yourself to get the carry right the first time as babies often pick up on a new wrapper’s uncertainty and begin to cry, which makes the parent feel harried and rushed. This isn’t likely to end in a good experience for either of you. So give yourself permission to stop if it becomes stressful, to continue wrapping with careful motions even though your baby is crying, or to pause in the wrapping to calm your baby before continuing. Any partially wrapped carry or sloppily wrapped carry should be counted as a successful practice that is leading to proficient wrapping—just make sure you keep your arms around your baby if the carry is not tight and safe!
Front Wrap Cross Carry is a wonderful first wrap carry that uses a full length wrap. The first few steps are tied on before picking up your baby. If your baby is new to wrapping, he or she may cry when you put him or her into the pouch created by the wrap. You can keep your arms around baby and wrap so that baby feels held in a familiar way, and you can walk or dance around or make soothing sounds—whatever will help your baby to become comfortable. When your baby is calm, you can go back to wrapping and finish the FWCC. This carry is great for a baby of any age.
If you will be putting baby in and out of the wrap frequently, such as when running errands in and out of the car, you can use a Front Cross Carry. Wrap your baby at home to get the fit exactly right, then pop baby in and out of it as needed without removing the wrap. A lot of parents who are new to wrapping and do not feel up to wrapping in public will use this carry so it is already in place when they arrive at a public location. This carry can also be used with a baby of any age.
When you are proficient at using a wrap for front carries, you can learn to wrap your baby on your back, which a lot of babies enjoy as they get older and want to have a view of the world. In a high back carry your little one will share your vantage point and interact with people at the same level that you do. It is also very comfortable and convenient, because—even more than a front carry—it makes it easy for a parent to engage in simple but necessary activities like dishes and laundry!
It is best to wait until you are competent with front carries before learning to back wrap. When learning to back wrap, practice with a spotter to make sure baby is safe at all times, or practice while sitting on the edge of a bed or other soft surface. Use a mirror to check your work. Back wrapping is a skill that takes practice, as we do very few things behind our backs and our arms are not used to moving in that direction. It gets much easier in time and you will find that your arms become more flexible, too!
Getting started with wraps
I hear from a lot of moms who have jumped into the online babywearing community and become overwhelmed with all the choices. It’s not easy to choose between brands, blends, and sizes that you are not familiar with and can lead to spending WAY too much time researching online with no conclusions to show for it.
My advice is not to worry too much about finding the “best” wrap because everyone has a different favorite. There are too many for you to consider them all, and they are almost all really excellent wraps, any one of which could give you years of happy babywearing! So look for the prettiest one—the one you want to wear everyday for the next two years. Check the price and care instructions to make sure you are comfortable with both (cotton wraps tend to be cheaper and easy to care for). Make sure it is a well-known, reputable brand. And go for it.
Susan M. Ludington-Hoe, “Evidence-Based Review of Physiologic Effects of Kangaroo Care,” Current Women’s Health Reviews 7 (August 2011): 243-253.
Timothy Littlefield, et al., “Car Seats, Infant Carriers, and Swings: Their Role in Deformational Plagiocephaly,” Journal of Prosthetics & Orthotics 15 (July 2003): 102-106.
Annette Majnemer, et al., “Influence of supine sleep positioning on early motor milestone acquisition,” Developmental Medecine and Child Neurology 47 (2005): 370-376; discussion 364 (ISSN: 0012-1622)
Find your local babywearing tribe: http://wrapyourbaby.com/babywearinggroups.html
Ask questions and share your babywearing journey on Everyday Babywearing: https://www.facebook.com/groups/everydaybabywearing/
Learn how to use your wrap with the photo and video tutorials at www.wrapyourbaby.com
Description and illustrations of optimum hip positioning: http://hipdysplasia.org/developmental-dysplasia-of-the-hip/prevention/baby-carriers-seats-and-other-equipment/