I would like to talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart – babywearing. It’s something that my pre-baby self would never have envisaged doing but I am a huge convert! It has afforded me many hours of happy or sleeping babies, endless cuddles and a chance to get things done around the house! Sound good? Read on for all you need to know about babywearing.
Although babywearing has recently regained popularity and has had quite a lot of (mostly) positive press in the last few years, it certainly isn’t new. In fact, Stone Age humans constructed the first baby carriers up to 2.2 million years ago, as they needed a way to safely transport their babies whilst foraging for food. According to Timothy Taylor of Bradford University in an article in The Independent, the increased brain size of early humans would not have been possibly without the invention of the sling (a rather lofty claim!). He said:
In effect, the kangaroo-style, early female human ancestors became marsupial, carrying their immature youngsters outside their wombs. The invention of the baby sling, which allowed more babies to successfully mature outside the female body, instantly removed the barrier to increased head and brain size.
The earliest baby carriers were probably made from materials like animal skins and plants and, although the design of the early carriers evolved over the years and varied according to location, baby wearing became the norm for most humans. In fact, Mary of Nazareth is even depicted in a 14th century fresco in Padua, Italy carrying the baby Jesus in a sling whilst riding a donkey (even back then, mums were amazing at multitasking!).
In 1733 the first baby carriage was invented by an English architect, William Kent, to transport the 3rd Duke of Devonshire’s children, however it wasn’t until Victorian times that prams became more en vogue and crucially, more accessible to the public. It was around this time that baby wearing fell out of fashion in the Western world and began to be seen as primitive and slightly uncouth. Our great grandparents and grandparents wouldn’t have been seen doing anything as unfashionable as wearing their babies. And by the 1940s and 50s, strollers had begun to be mass produced and had become the must-have item for new parents. And so they remained for a few decades.
Baby wearing temporarily regained popularity with the invention of the Snugli carrier in the 1960s by an American woman who had been to Africa with the Peace Corps and had seen African woman carrying their babies on their backs. The hippies of the 1960s and 1970s wholeheartedly embraced the baby carrier as it represented the total opposite of what their parents did and was considered suitably anti-establishment. However this resurgence in popularity was short lived and baby wearing again fell to the wayside in the late 1970s, along with the hippy movement.
During the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, babywearing was still associated with the hippy counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s and was therefore not considered ‘cool’ enough for the power dressing career women of the eighties and nineties. In the early 2000s, celebrities and WAGs made certain brands of very expensive prams the ultimate fashion accessory (along with hair extensions, small dogs in hand bags and spray tans) and suddenly flocks of young mothers could be spotted around the ‘nappy valleys’ of London pushing their precious cargo in these prams that cost a month’s salary.
Okay, so I am guilty of having one of the aforementioned prams, but I am also a big believer in the healing and bonding power of touch and cuddling children as much as possible while they are still young and willing. So lucky for me, babywearing is now back in fashion and I am the proud owner of three carriers!
Believe it or not, before I had my son I was a sceptic! I admit it…I thought babywearing was a bit ‘hippyish’ which isn’t really my style and, up until then, being an independent career woman, I couldn’t picture even wanting to have a needy little person strapped to my body 24/7. Then shortly before I gave birth to my son I received a sollybaby wrap as a gift and never looked back! I wore my son from birth until he was two and I became pregnant with his sister and I am still wearing my 17 month old daughter. I plan on continuing to wear her until either she outgrows her carrier or no longer wants to be in it.
I am always fascinated by how much interest my babywearing has garnered amongst friends, acquaintances and even strangers I meet on my travels out and about with my children! People often remark “Oh, how lovely, she looks so cosy! Some people say, “I wish I could do that but my baby is heavy so it would probably hurt my back.” And many times I have heard (usually from people of my parents’ generation, “Wow, how clever! We didn’t have contraptions like that back when my kids were babies.” (Actually you did, they just weren’t cool!).
Other common concerns I have heard are:
- I missed the boat. My baby is now too old to be worn. Maybe. Is he/ she over 45 pounds? If not then your child is not too old for certain types of carriers. Shop around and find a carrier with an extended weight limit. My Ergobaby can comfortably carry children up to four years old or 45 pounds.
- My baby wouldn’t like the feeling of being constrained, he/ she likes to be able to move freely. Babies are naturally hardwired to want to be carried because, since early human times, it has kept them safe from predators who would have happily gobbled up a human infant left unattended. Babies are generally most content when up high, close against their mothers. Young infants also like the feeling of being tightly wrapped, especially against their mummy’s chest where they can hear her heartbeat, as it reminds them of being in the womb where they felt safe. If your child initially protests to being placed in the carrier, this does not mean they don’t like being worn. Give them time to adjust, as you would with any new situation and they might end up loving it.
- My baby is too heavy and wearing him/her will hurt my back. Many baby carriers allow you to carry a child up to 45 pounds, so if it hurts your back, you are either using the wrong carrier for you or you are using it incorrectly. Choose a carrier that evenly distributes your baby’s weight across your shoulders and has a wide, supportive waist band which will take some of the pressure off your upper back. I find that the more padded the shoulder straps, the better.
- I’m pregnant or a first time mum and I’m not sure whether babywearing is right for me. Fact: Babies who are worn cry less, on average, than those who are not – music to any new mother’s ears! Baby wearing also has many benefits, especially for infants (see below). Plus wearing your baby means your hands are free to carry out other tasks! The motion of walking around with your baby in the carrier mimics the motion they felt in your womb. Do you remember how your baby kicked less in your tummy during the day when you were out and about and you could feel him/her more when you were still? Same concept. Babies are lulled into sleep or calm by your movements. And if you have the right type of carrier for you then it should be very comfortable. So everyone’s a winner!
- I would like to try babywearing but I am not sure what type of sling or carrier is best for me and they are so expensive that I don’t want to purchase the wrong one. This concern is fair enough, but thankfully (at least in the UK) there are sling libraries where you can try on and even borrow various types of sling so you can get a good feel for which one is right for you. Big department stores such as John Lewis usually also keep some carriers out of the box, available for customers to try on before they buy. Click here to enter your postcode to find your nearest sling library (UK residents only). You may even be able to attend a group workshop or a one to one consultation with a sling advisor through your local sling library where you can ask for guidance, demonstrations and fittings! South London Slings also has a handy sling comparison chart which you can access here.
- I have read horror stories about infants suffocating whilst being worn so I am too afraid to try it. Yes, over the years there have been some horror stories in the news about babies suffocating in their carriers. However baby carrier accidents are very rare and are usually due to improper positioning of the baby in the carrier, not an inherent danger in babywearing. As long as you can see your baby’s face and nothing is covering his/ her nose and mouth and you continue to check that your baby is able to breathe properly, baby carriers are perfectly safe (more on how to wear your baby correctly below).
- Too much being carried and cuddled can spoil a baby. This is a common misconception and seems to be more prevalent in the older generations (have you ever had a parent or relative tell you that you shouldn’t rush to pick up your crying baby or you should put your baby down to avoid spoiling him/ her?). However, quite frankly, it is not possible to spoil a young baby as they have no concept whatsoever of cause and effect. And in my opinion love, cuddles and affection can only be beneficial to a child of any age, so if you like wearing your baby and your baby likes being worn, then go for it and ignore all the ‘helpful’ advice!
The Benefits of babywearing
- Wearing your baby can promote skin to skin contact which encourages a strong bond between a parent and an infant;
- Babies who are worn cry less overall in comparison to babies who are never carried in a sling or carrier;
- Baby wearing can help with colic/ reflux as the baby is kept in an upright position;
- Baby wearing can help regulate an infant’s body temperature;
- A babywearing parent has their hands free to carry out other tasks, particularly useful if you have other children to look after;
- Babywearing can help prevent or in some cases reverse plagiocephaly or “flat head syndrome” which results from infants spending a large amount of time on their backs (please note that current advice is that all infants should be placed on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS));
- wearing your baby can help establish breastfeeding and you may even be able to breastfeed hands free while your baby is in the carrier!;
- As long as your baby doesn’t have any specific medical concerns, babywearing is very safe when practiced correctly.
Types of baby carriers
There are many different types of baby carriers, but the main types are:
- baby wraps which consists of a long strip of soft, stretchy or woven fabric which is wrapped around the body and tied;
- soft structured carriers which are a cross between a meh dais and a backpack. These are usually the easiest to get the hang of and are great for beginners!
- meh dais which are an Asian-style carrier, consisting of a square or rectangle of fabric attached to four straps.
- ring slings and pouches which are pieces of cloth worn over one shoulder, sometimes with the free end of fabric looped through a couple of rings; and
- bag-style slings which are carriers that look and act more like a bag for a baby than a carrier. These carriers can be dangerous as they do not hold the baby in a safe position and can inadvertently cover a baby’s face. This type of carrier is NOT RECOMMENDED.
There are also several different carrying positions, including inward and outward carry, hip carry and back carry. Some carriers adapt to allow for any of these carry positions and some only allow for one position. When choosing a carrier, remember to take into consideration your baby’s age, whether you intend to carry your baby facing in or out (for babies over six months) as well as how often and for how long you will be using your carrier. For example, ring slings which go over one shoulder may be very useful for carrying a toddler, but might become uncomfortable if you intend to carry your child for a long period. In this case, a soft structured carrier in the back carry position might work best.
Click [here – link coming soon] to see me demonstrate how to correctly tie a wrap and how to place a baby in the inward front carry positions in the Ergobaby Adapt and the Baby Bjorn We carriers. You can find demonstrations on how to correctly place your baby in the side and back carry positions in the Ergobaby Adapt here and instructions for the Baby Bjorn We here.
The correct way to wear your baby
In any type of sling or carrier your baby should be snug against your body in an upright position without any gaps to prevent the baby slipping out. The baby’s chin should be raised off their chest to allow for comfortable breathing and their nose and mouth should be free from obstruction. You should always be able to see your baby’s face, therefore never cover your baby with anything or use a carrier that fully obstructs your view. To promote proper hip placement the baby’s legs should be in a ‘M’ shape, with their knees around the level of their hips. This may look uncomfortable from an adult’s point of view but babies and small children are very flexible and this is a comfortable, natural position for a baby. You should be able to kiss the top of your baby’s head in your carry position. If you cannot do this then your baby is too low and you should adjust the straps of your carrier. Finally, it is very important to read all the manufacturers instructions carefully and to be aware of and abide by the weight restrictions on the carrier. And never wear your baby whilst cooking or using any other hot appliance.
Inward or outward carry?
It is completely your own preference whether you decide to carry your baby facing inward or outwards (or a combination of both), however I would advise that you read up on the pros and cons of each carry position before you buy your carrier as different carriers offer different carry positions. Remember that carrying your baby in any type of carrier is beneficial, as long as you use your carrier safely.
In an inward facing position, the baby is optimally positioned with their legs and back supported in the most natural position with reduced pressure on his/her spine. This position is also easier on your back (just think – it is easier to carry something that is curving into your body rather than curving away from it). The baby may not be able to see what is going on ahead but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Younger babies can be easily overstimulated and find they feel safer and more secure facing their parent. You would be surprised at how happy many older babies can be facing inwards as well. My 17 month old daughter has never had a problem with it and continues to enjoy being carried this way. However, if you are adamant that your child wants to face forward, you could also explore the back or hip carry positions which can be used in babies over six months with good head control and these positions maintain optimal support for both you and your baby. Both of my children have found it very easy to nap in the inward facing carrier position and have been able to do so while I shop, tidy the house or go for a walk.
From a forward facing position, a baby has a more extensive view of the world and older babies may be happier to be carried in this position, especially if they are not carried often. Remember that babies can only be carried facing forwards from six months and then only if they have good head control. There us also some (although fairly limited) evidence that a forward facing position may be detrimental to a developing baby’s hips. According to the South London Sling Library’s website, the case against inward carrying positions is:
Experts recommend that for optimal hip stability in the first year (and beyond) while a baby’s hip sockets are forming and hardening, a carrier should provide support for a baby’s thighs with the knees held higher than the hips and only the lower legs hanging down (the ‘M’ position). This is especially important during the first six months of development and for children with a family history of hip dysplasia or similar problems. It’s also the most comfortable position that a healthy baby will normally adopt when they are being carried upright in their parent’s arms, and aids the optimum positioning of the pelvis and spine.
It is important to bear this in mind when choosing a carrier, however as mentioned above, all babywearing is beneficial to your baby, no matter the carry position, as long as it’s done safely.
I love babywearing so much that I have three carriers: the Sollybaby wrap, the Ergobaby Adapt and the Baby Bjorn Family. The Sollybaby wrap is super soft and cosy and was my go-to when both children were newborns. It’s a bit complicated to tie the first few times, but feels very natural once you get the hang of it. The only negative is that if it’s not tied just right the baby can sometimes start slipping down and you need to re-tie. I find that the Ergobaby is the most comfortable to wear for extended periods and it feels the most secure, especially when doing chores around the house. It has a handy sun hood and a padded head support for the baby and I could also breastfeed hands free whilst wearing it as well which was a major bonus! The only downside is it can be difficult to secure the strap behind your back. The Baby Bjorn is by far the easiest to put on and take off which makes it super convenient. It also feels quite secure and supportive for the baby. However I find that after a while, especially with an older baby, my shoulders begin to ache due to the minimal padding on the shoulder straps and the strap that connects them at the back of your neck. However don’t take my word for it – try all the different types yourself and see which feels most comfortable for your body type! Read below for baby carrying experiences submitted by real mums!
Lots of love,
My babywearing experience: testimonials of real mums
From Sally of @particleparenting
Check out her blog!: http://www.particleparenting.co.uk
With my first I was so happy to get to the minimum weight for my baby carrier when he was a few weeks old. My sanity returned as I could keep him with me and do jobs and both of us were happy. I had a small gap before my second son arrived so stopped carrying him at around 10 – 11 months. Life got busy and I used the same carrier until number two was about 15 months – gosh I reckon I was almost doubled over as I used it way over the limit!
My third needed a Pavlik harness for four weeks as she had clicky hips so when I found out that the ergo was better for her hips I bought one. It doesn’t forward carry but that’s not great for hips anyway so that was fine. I opted for the one that doesn’t need the insert as it was super hot at the time so lots cooler for her. She still naps in it now and will go in for a mad supermarket dash too. She likes the cuddles and so do I! I have yet to master the side carry. I hope to use it until she’s four as it opens up what we can do with the boys which would be too dangerous for her (a castle trip in the summer!).
It is definitely one of those things I wished I had known about from the start! 😁
There is lots of information on hip stability on a site I found for babies hips. It is quite a common thing and she now has really good hips which I put a lot down to the Ergo as it continued the position on after she no longer need the harness. – Sally