Ring Slings and Things: The Beauty and Benefits of Babywearing

My husband defines babywearing as ‘wearing your baby before they wear you out.’. It’s quite a good definition really! October the 5th kicked off International Babywearing Week around the globe. When I had my first child seven and a half years ago, I had never heard of ‘babywearing’. I was the mother who used to complain of not being able to get anything done because her baby always wanted to be held. If I were to have my first child all over again, I would have just carried him. What about you? What would you say to yourself as a new mother, now looking back with the benefit of experience? 
But what is babywearing and how does it work? Babywearing is using a cloth baby sling or baby carrier to wear your child on your front, hip, or back. Parents have been using natural materials to tie their babies to their bodies since ancient times. It is an ancient practice used traditionally in many cultures throughout the world, and it is now becoming more mainstream in modern society. In fact, it’s become all the rage. I’ve even heard of babywearing coffee groups and walking groups!  Babywearing has become a huge market and there are safe and effective carrier options for every budget and taste. Mothers and fathers now have many options ranging from the frontpacks like the one that I had with my first child, to more comfortable, functional, and attractive baby carriers in classic, feminine or funky designs that make babywearing comfortable, stylish, and fun. Babywearing apparel have become fashion accessories!
In the practice of babywearing, your baby or toddler is kept close and connected to you as you engage in daily activities through the use of one of a variety of types of baby carriers.  Aside from convenience, babywearing benefits both children and caregivers. Dr William Sears, a well known pediatrician, developed the term attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is a philosophy based on the principles of attachment theory in developmental psychology. According to attachment theory, babies form a strong emotional bond with caregivers during childhood with lifelong positive consequences. One of Sears’ principles of attachment parenting is babywearing and he attributes many benefits to babywearing and the in-arms style of parenting.
The Benefits of Babywearing include:
Babywearing promotes bonding, supports breastfeeding, makes caregiving easier. Furthermore, babywearing can be a Godsend for parents of high-needs children, such as those suffering from reflux or colic. Carried babies sleep, feed, and grow better. In fact, one study even found that carried 6-week-olds cried 43% less than other children.
When a mother has close physical contact with her baby, oxytocin is increased, leading to a more intimate maternal bond, thus lowering the incidence postnatal depression in the mother. Many mothers have testified that babywearing has helped heal postnatal depression. And for fathers, babywearing benefits the paternal bond too.
Babies who are carried are calmer because all of their survival needs are met. The caregiver can be seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted. Parental rhythms (such as walking, heartbeat) have balancing and soothing effects on babies.
Babywearing contributes to the socialization of babies. Carried babies are closer to people and can study facial expressions, learn languages faster and be familiar with body language.
Contrary to the belief that babywearing may make children clingy, independence is established earlier in children who are worn, and the attachment between child and caregiver may be more secure.

Babywearing decreases the risk of “flat head syndrome” caused by extended time spent in a car seat and by sleeping on the back. Sleeping on the back is recommended to decrease the risk of SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death of Infancy). Babies can even be worn while they sleep, also decreasing sleeping time spent in a supine position.
Babywearing is seen as an optimal solution for parents to provide an optimum environment for attachment between parent and child, and there are many studies of parent-child attachment, parental satisfaction and infant crying that support this. Baby carriers and slings help increase the number of hours a day an infant is held, and there is an inverse relationship between the number of hours spent crying and the number of hours a child is held in a given day. Even three hours per day of babywearing reduces infant crying significantly. Fortunately, the unfounded belief that babies that are held too much will be spoiled, is one that is loosing credibility as our society rediscovers the benefits of attachment parenting and babywearing.
I was a bit of a slow learner when it came to babywearing, and it wasn’t until my third child was born that I began to babywear. I wish that I had used a baby carrier with my second child; they are especially handy when rushing in and out of kindergarten or school at pick up time. I used a floral ring sling, and in all honesty I think I wore it incorrectly! There seems to be more to babywearing than meets the eye, given that one can attend courses, and even train to receive babywearing teaching certification! Some baby carriers are more complicated than others to use. Then I was fortunate to win a very comfortable black moby wrap. When my daughter became too heavy for this I invested in a Manduca carrier, and what a good investment this was, I only used the Manduca for a short period time, but at that time it become quite a lifesaver. Many a nap was taken, meal was cooked or older children ferried around with baby tucked up safely in the carrier. 
SAFETY
When using any style baby carrier, it is important for baby to:
be visible to you – even in a back carry you should be able to see baby in your peripheral vision
be high on your body
be tight and snug to your body
have a clear airway – you should be able to put two finger widths under baby’s chin (baby should NOT be chin-to-chest)
be in a seated squat position with knees at or above the bottom. This position allows for baby’s hips to develop properly.

Hermione carries Toby aged 10 months
HOW DOES ONE CHOOSE THE RIGHT CARRIER?
Many factors that come into play when choosing the right baby carrier.  Your height, baby’s age and size, plans for use (quick trips in and out of school or longer day walks), weather, fabric preferences, length of use, whether you intend to nurse with it, not to mention fashion preferences! Whatever the style of carrier, you will want one that will fit your baby comfortably and support your baby’s legs in a natural seated position.  When you hold your baby, their legs are naturally “froggied” up, with their knees slightly higher than their bottom.  The ideal carrier will support your baby’s bottom with the fabric reaching from the back of one knee to the back of the other knee.
Wearing position is another factor. I liked my manduca because I could carry my baby on my back (when she was old enough) which took the weight off more than carrying her on my front. Several carrier options will allow for carry positions not only on the front, but also the hip and back.  
The weather is another consideration. It is fairly cold here in Dunedin and a thick, cozy wrap is very suitable, whereas it may be if you live in Perth for example you may wish to choose something more breathable.  Look at fabrics, thickness, and padding when choosing a carrier. 
Babywearing is just so enjoyable. And when I see mothers carrying their babies, it always looks so beautiful. Is there any more beautiful way to carry, bond, cuddle and snuggle your baby? It is such a precious time.

Credit: Life Photography