WRITTEN BY ROBYN HUNT
Registered Counsellor &
Certified Car Seat Technician
As much as parents love cuddling our babies, we simply cannot do it all day. Mothers (and fathers) have other responsibilities to take care of; like older children, housework, grocery shopping, running errands, etc. and it is almost impossible to do all of that with a newborn in one arm.
It is also well known that newborn babies do not like being put down very often and prefer the warmth and comfort of their parents holding them. This phase is termed the “Fourth Trimester”. It is a big adjustment for the mother as well as for the baby.
This is where babywearing is very practical and helpful.
What is baby wearing?
Babywearing is the act of “wearing” your baby in a soft baby carrier against your torso. Baby carriers are secured to your body to ensure safety and comfort for both the baby and the parent. This allows you to attend to other responsibilities while still “holding” your baby.
However, apart from the freedom that baby carriers give parents, they also have many benefits for the baby if done correctly.
What are the benefits of babywearing for the baby?
- Medical Benefits
Studies show that wearing baby close, particularly with a special carrier designed for skin-to-skin contact, may help regulate a baby’s heartbeat, temperature, and breathing patterns. Babywearing is especially beneficial for premature infants who are still in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The type of babywearing that is done in hospitals is primarily called “kangaroo care”, where the baby is placed tummy down against the parent’s bare chest and covered with a blanket.
Some other benefits of babywearing for premature babies include better weight gain, less chance of severe illness, a more successful start to their breastfeeding journey, and more stable sleep patterns. As a result, these benefits usually lead to the baby being discharged from the hospital much earlier than expected.
2. Emotional Benefits
Babywearing also allows for babies to adjust to life outside the womb as they are still close with their mother and can hear familiar sounds that they heard while in the womb such as the mothers voice and heartbeat.
Babywearing ensures the baby has a smooth transition into their new world while still having the comfort and security that they had in the womb for the last 9 months.
3. Physiological benefits
As mentioned above, babywearing helps in keeping a baby happy. Therefore, when a baby is calm and content, they have a steadier breathing rate, heart rate, and body temperature.
Additionally, these babies are more efficient at digesting their food due to being in a more upright position and experience less “spit-ups” than babies who are not carried in baby carriers.
For the same reason, babywearing is beneficial for babies with digestive issues, abdominal pain, and excessive gas, which could be caused by allergies or intolerances.
Babywearing is especially beneficial for babies who have been diagnosed with Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which is severe reflux that makes feeding, sleeping, and even moving around extremely painful and uncomfortable for the infant.
4. Developmental and social benefits
Research has also proven that babies who are carried in baby carriers frequently, have a better/quicker attachment and bond with their parents than the babies who do not get carried.
Furthermore, these babies have even shown to have more advanced motor, verbal, and communication skills due to being spoken to and hearing their parents speak and communicate with others much more than babies in other baby devices (For example: a baby walker, a baby swing, a stroller, etc).
Babywearing also helps with the baby’s core muscle development. The reason for this is that when a baby is being held in a carrier by the parent, they are constantly responding to the parent’s muscle and body movements. For example, if the parent were to lean over while babywearing, the baby would automatically tighten his/her core to maintain balance and security.
Babywearing has even been used as a type of home therapy for babies and toddlers with low muscle tone or inconsistent body and neck control.
5. Therapeutic and psychological benefits
When children have sensory processing disorders, visual deficits, and developmental delays, parenting can be extremely stressful and filled with overwhelming emotions.
Research has shown that babywearing is beneficial for children/babies with special needs or disabilities. Specifically, children who seek calming self-stimulatory behaviours which are called “stimming”.
This is most common with children with autism but is prevalent in children with sensory processing disorders as well. Children with autism or sensory processing disorders may display “stimming” behaviours, which include rocking and/or swaying.
The rocking and/or swaying movements stimulate the vestibular system in the brain which is essential for neurological development. The effects of vestibular stimulation have been shown to increase gross and fine motor proficiency.
Additionally, for children with autism, vestibular stimulation resulted in enhancements in relationships, language, role-play, and motor skills. Furthermore, it actually decreased self-stimulatory behaviours.
When a parent is holding a baby or child, either in their arms or in a baby carrier, they instinctively bounce, rock, and sway from side to side. Therefore, babywearing can be beneficial for little ones who are struggling with these issues.
Additionally, for children with autism spectrum disorders, the deep pressure aspect of babywearing has been shown to calm children and reduce “stimming” behaviours.
What are the benefits of babywearing for the parents?
1. Adjustment to parenthood and responsiveness
Babywearing has been shown to help mothers adjust to life with a newborn. Studies showed that babywearing increases parental sensitivity to their baby’s needs and cues.
Therefore, parents who babywear are more likely to attend to a baby’s needs before the baby becomes overly upset, tired, or hungry. This will ensure the baby has his/her needs met timorously and sufficiently which should result in a calmer baby and a happier parent.
Babywearing has also been associated with increased feelings of competence and social support for the mother, and additionally enhances the mother’s responsiveness, not to just her baby’s needs, but to other people’s needs as well (E.g., older children, partners, friends, and family members).
2. Establishment, duration, and success of breastfeeding
Babywearing has been proven to assist in the establishment of breastfeeding in the first few days, but more importantly, babywearing also contributes to the duration of your breastfeeding journey. Research shows that mothers who babywear tend to breastfeed for longer than mothers who do not babywear.
Babywearing also helps to increase a mother’s milk supply. This is due to a new mothers’ hormones which react to the sight, smell, and sound of their baby. This reaction stimulates lactation, which assists in the efficiency of consumption when baby is feeding and in turn, this increases the mother’s milk supply.
3. Post-partum Depression
Babywearing is just as important to mothers as it is to babies in the first few months as that is when most mothers experience “baby blues” or post-partum depression.
Babywearing has been proven to actually decrease feelings of anxiety, depression, worry, and stress that come with being a new mother.
This will decrease the likeliness of the mother developing depressive symptoms associated with post-partum depression. Mothers who babywear are 35% less likely to develop post-partum depression due to a few reasons, but the main reason is the hormone called “oxytocin” which is typically known as the “feel good hormone”. Oxytocin is released when a mother holds, smells, sees, or hears her new baby and babywearing ensures that the baby is close to the mother at all times.
A study involving new mothers and their new babies, who cried much more than average (from diagnosed colic), revealed that 70% of the mothers had depressive symptoms varying in levels of severity.
Babies who are worn in baby carriers have been shown to cry and fuss much less than babies who are not worn in baby carriers. Naturally, if the baby is not crying to be held or waking up as soon as they are put down, the baby is happier and so is the mother!
4. Healthier, happier, stronger
Babywearing makes life more manageable for the parent. Parents who babywear get more sleep because a baby who is worn is usually calmer and more content. Therefore, these babies usually sleep better during the night with less wake-ups. This helps new parents to get adequate amounts of sleep to face the next day of parenthood.
When parents get enough sleep, there is less chance of them getting sick due to a stronger immune response than parents who do not get enough sleep. Therefore, parents who babywear are generally healthier than parents who do not babywear.
As mentioned, babywearing helps in the development of the baby’s core muscles. However, it also helps in the strengthening of the parent’s core muscles. So even though you may not be working out at the gym, your core muscles are still getting a workout.
If a parent is more energetic, healthier, and stronger, it is natural that they would most likely be happier as well.
Furthermore, babywearing allows the parent to have their hands free to tend to other responsibilities while still holding their baby, which is a big advantage for parents with older children who still need help with day-to-day activities.
Overall, this will result in happier children, happier baby, happier parents, and a happier family.
How do I ensure that my baby is safe while babywearing?
Most of the baby carriers on the European market are safe as long as they are used as specified by the manufacturer, as they have been approved to the relevant safety standards. However, not all the baby carriers, especially those made locally, are officially approved by any safety standard.
Of the approved baby carriers, some baby carriers offer better stability, security, design, and ergonomics than others. There are some baby carriers that have actually been recalled due to babies falling out of them as well as the risk of positional asphyxiation for the baby. Read below to make sure you purchase the safest carrier for your little one.
1. Choose a certified baby carrier
All carriers that are sold in Europe should be approved by European Commission who create the standards of which various products need to meet in order to be certified as safe and allowed to be sold to the public. Each product has its own unique reference number of that standard.
Baby carriers that have been approved by the European Commission will have the reference number of EN 13209-2:2015.
There are many locally made carriers in South Africa that are not approved to this European safety standard, however, the manufacturers may have designed their carriers in accordance with these standards. It is best to check with the manufacturer if you are uncertain.
2. Choose a carrier that is “hip-healthy”.
There is additional approval that is completely optional to manufacturers. This is acknowledgement by The National Hip Dysplasia Institute. When a baby carrier has been approved, it will be deemed as a “hip-healthy” product. Only certain baby carriers have this approval because the design of the carrier and how the baby sits in the carrier is the most important aspect of the design.
These carriers are designed to be ergonomically correct and position the baby’s hips and legs in a way that does not put pressure or strain on the baby’s developing hips and legs.
These carriers position the baby in a way where their legs create an “M” shape. The baby’s thighs spread around the mother’s torso and the baby’s hips are bent so their knees are slightly higher than their bottom with the thighs supported. It resembles a frog type position. This is the ideal position for healthy hip development and prevention of hip dysplasia.
Therefore, it is not recommended to use carriers that make the baby’s legs hang straight down. Not only is this not ideal for the baby’s spine, hips, and legs, but it will also put uneven strain on the parents back which could lead to back pain or injury, and a strong dislike towards wearing their baby.
3. Choose a carrier that positions your baby’s head in an optimal position for breathing.
Additionally, the baby’s head and neck must be positioned in such a way that does not restrict your baby’s breathing and airway. You should ensure that your baby’s chin is not resting on his/her own chest, but rather have their chin tilted slightly upwards to ensure their airway is open and not restricted.
If baby’s chin is resting on its chest, there is a higher chance of positional asphyxiation, especially in babies under 6 months old.
Furthermore, suffocation is another risk when babywearing. Accidental suffocation can occur if the baby’s mouth and/or nose is covered by the baby carrier or pushed up against the parent’s clothing/body.
Therefore, you should always position your baby’s head in such a way that allows for an open airway and easy, unrestricted breathing. It is also very important to make sure that your baby’s face can be seen by you at all times to minimise the risk of these dangers.
4. Choose a carrier that is suitable for the climate.
Overheating is another risk when babywearing. Babies under 6 months are most vulnerable to temperature extremes due to their inability to regulate their own body temperature. They rely on their clothing and parents to regulate it for them.
So, when babywearing, it is important to consider how your baby is dressed, how you are dressed, and the temperature in general.
Depending on the baby carrier, you will be adding a layer (or two or three) to what your baby is already wearing. Therefore, if it is warm outside or wherever you may be going, dress your baby in lighter clothing. This is also applicable to the parents as the baby’s body heat will make you warmer than usual as well, so dress yourself appropriately for the current temperature with babywearing in mind.
If it is warmer than average, it is advisable to keep a thin layer of clothing between you and your baby to minimise sweating and stickiness from skin-to-skin contact.
While babywearing, if you are feeling hot, your baby is probably also feeling hot. It is therefore recommended to take a short break from babywearing to cool down. Avoid going to places that are outdoors with no shade as babies are much more susceptible to sunburn and overheating than adults.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can also affect babies much more rapidly than it does adults. Take note that a sleepy, lethargic baby may actually be overheating so it is important that you familiarize yourself with the signs of heat stroke in babies.
If you do stay in an area that has higher-than-average daily temperatures, it is recommended that you avoid baby carriers with bulky inserts, excessive padding, and multiple layers of wrapping as these will all restrict airflow and increase temperature.
Single layer carriers made with breathable and light-coloured materials are the best when babywearing in higher climates. Carriers with side fabric vents, mesh panels, and curved hourglass shaped sides will all offer increased airflow as well.
Babywearing is a convenient way to soothe and bond with your baby, whilst conveniently allowing your hands to be free in order to attend to other duties and responsibilities. It has been proven to have many benefits to babies and parents, when done correctly. It is important to choose a suitable carrier to ensure good ergonomics for you and your baby, and to use it correctly to reduce any health risks.
Remember the TICKS rule to ensure that you are wearing your baby correctly.
In view at all times
Close enough to kiss (their head)
Keep chin off chest