Sling the Pram – The Benefits of Baby Wearing

Babies love to be carried. This is a blanket statement that applies to all little humans, it’s in their nature to want to be close and connected to their parents or carers at all times.

When my son, Sebastian, was born, I very quickly learned the necessity of baby wearing. I was not at all prepared for how much bodily contact a newborn baby needs, it was quite literally 24/7 in our experience. Seb never wanted to be put down.

Having a sling was a Godsend for me, it allowed me to keep Seb close, supporting his weight evenly whilst giving me my hands back – to attempt to fold the laundry or actually make myself a cup of tea; those things you take for granted until you have a newborn baby.

What Exactly is Baby Wearing?

Baby wearing is the practice of wearing or carrying a baby in a sling or other form of carrier. Although Dr. William Sears, American pediatrician and author of more than 30 parenting books, coined the term in the 1980’s, baby wearing isn’t some new concept designed by hippy mothers who hate prams, it’s been practiced for centuries all around the world and is still the method of choice by many parents for carrying a baby. Parents have long used a variety of cloths, shawls, scarves and even bed sheets to carry and snuggle their little ones whilst having their hands free to work.

The Rise and Fall of Baby Wearing

Baby wearing lost much of its popularity in industrialised countries with the invention of the first horse-drawn baby carriage, invented in 1733 by William Kent, for the Duke of Devonshire to transport his young children around. Baby carriages then became a luxury item only the wealthiest parents could afford and people stopped carrying their babies as often in an effort to follow this “luxury” trend.

This, along with the ensuing movement intent on making a baby independent by not holding them as often, therefore not giving them the physical closeness and attention they need in an effort to not “spoil the baby”, baby wearing dropped widely in popularity, particularly in industrialised countries.

But in countries that may not have been so highly affected by the movement to avoid holding their babies so much, baby wearing is still the most convenient, practical and effective way of transporting and caring for an infant.

Interestingly, prams that have recently been marketed for sale in Africa failed miserably. Where mothers all across the country are seen carrying their babies on their backs, they said the idea of putting a baby in a pram would actually be bad for the baby. Many African pediatricians think the pram may even damage the relationship between mother and child, with a literal sense of “pushing the baby away” in a pram, as opposed to the warmth and comfort of being held and carried. (Read the article here.)

Benefits to Baby

Studies have shown that babies who are held and carried often during the day (that is more often than feeding and as a response to crying), display less crying and fussing and show increased contentment, particularly during the evening hours which is often the most challenging time with a new baby. Crying is exhausting for both baby and parents, and may cause long-term damage as the baby’s developing brain is continually flooded with stress hormones.

In indigenous countries where it is the norm for a baby to be held and carried for most of the day, a baby may only cry for minutes during the day, as opposed to the hours of crying we commonly see in Western countries.

As mothers we carry our babies for almost a year in the warmth and security of our bodies. In utero, our breathing and heartbeat are their constant, familiar companions; baby wearing allows us to replicate this contact and closeness. Baby wearing calms the baby and helps their brains develop; as they spend less time crying and fussing they spend more time in quiet alertness, learning about their world from the security, warmth and closeness of their parent.

Benefits to Mother

One of the things I missed the most being a new mother is the gym; but carrying my baby to the shops or whilst walking through our local farmers market, on public transport or through an airport (this is when I was probably the most thankful for our sling!), my goodness does it feel like I’ve done a workout at the end of the day! You are weight-lifting, sometimes combined with doing squats if you need to get them to sleep. In my opinion, if you want to lose the baby weight trust two things, breastfeeding and baby wearing.

The sling became my main source of transport for Seb when he was small because he hated the car. Any journey in the car became really stressful for both him and me, so I stopped driving anywhere I could take the bus or train. While a stroller can be very useful when you have an older baby (and it also works as a great bag-carrier), when you have a tiny baby who is too small for a stroller, the pram can be quite bulky on public transport and to push around the shops. Instead I would put Seb in the sling, use a small backpack for our needs and get on the bus, where he would sleep and I would enjoy not having to drive with a screaming and distressed baby.

While baby wearing tends to be the more frequently used method of comforting a fussy baby, any baby will benefit from being held and carried during the day. It’s a cheap, practical, convenient and comforting way to carry your baby with benefits to both mother/father and baby.

Resources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3517799

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Do you have any comments you’d like to share from your experience on baby wearing? Have you found it a helpful asset to parenthood? Comment below!

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