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Baby Wearing: The Art and Science of Carrying Your Baby - Part One

This article covers topics such as New Support for an Old Idea, choosing the right baby carrier, how to wear your baby: a personal choice, putting on the sling, cradle hold, snuggle hold, kangaroo carry (forward-facing position), and the hip straddle. There will be three more parts to this article; please watch for these additional parts.

"As long as I carry my baby, he's content" mothers of fussy babies would say. Here is the story of parents and babies in a pediatricians practice and how it can change yours.

New Support For An Old Idea

In many other cultures parents wear their babies; in our culture we wheel our babies, then park them somewhere. Infant development specialists who travel throughout the world studying infant-care practices have repeatedly observed that babies who are carried in a variety of cloth-type slings or front packs seem more content than infants who are kept in cribs, playpens, strollers, prams, and plastic seats. The mother of an infant visited the island of Bali, where she witnessed a ground-touching ceremony. The Balinese babies are carried, or worn, for the first six months of life. The mother or some other caregiver in the extended family wears the baby all day long, and baby is put down to sleep next to the mother. The baby literally does not touch the ground for the first six months, at which time a ground-touching ceremony is held, and for the first time the baby is put down on the ground to crawl and learn freestyle movements.

For a number of years research in infant-care studies have found general agreement that babies behave and develop better when they are carried a lot. Years ago, while attending an international parenting conference, two women from Zambia were interviewed who were carrying their babies in slings that matched their native dress. They were asked why women in their culture wear their babies most of the time. One woman replied, "It makes life easier for the mother." The other woman volunteered, "It's good for the baby." These women went on to relate the feelings of "completeness" and "value" that baby wearing gave them. Women in their culture don't have the benefits of books and studies about mothering hormones. What they have is centuries of tradition that have simply taught them that something good happens to women and their babies when the babies are worn.


Doesn't every parent in every culture have these two simple desires: to make life easier for themselves and to make life better for their baby? Baby wearing does both.

Encouraged by these observations, a personal study was done on the beneficial effects of baby wearing on babies and their parents. Since that time a lot of miles have been logged of wearing their own babies and have kept precise records as various carrying styles were experimented with. It is advised that parents carry their babies as much as possible, beginning right after birth. Try out a variety of baby carriers and choose the one most comfortable for themselves and their babies.

To mothers it is now said, "Try to get used to wearing your baby in a sling-type carrier just as you would wear one of your favorite items of clothing." At baby's first checkup, usually at one week, new parents should be shown how to wear their baby. During their personal course on baby wearing, each parent should be advised to experiment with various carrying positions, to find the one that is most comfortable and allows baby to mold to the contours of the parent's own body; encouraging them to shift carrying positions to match baby's development.

This is why it is called baby wearing. Now, to teach you how this practice can make your parenting life easier and enhance the development of your baby, here are the results of the study and your own course in baby wearing.

The Baby Wearing Mind-set
In case you are wondering how much parents should carry their babies, certainly parents have to put down their babies sometimes! In fact, it is important to take a balanced approach to baby wearing. But this style of parenting means changing your mind-set regarding what babies are really like. You may envision your picture-book baby lying quietly in a crib, gazing passively at dangling mobiles, and picked up only to be fed and played with and then put down; you may think that "up" periods are just dutiful intervals to quiet your baby long enough to put him down again. To understand baby wearing, reverse this view: Carry you baby much of the time, and put him or her down for longer nap times, nighttime, and to attend to your personal needs. Take a balanced approach to baby wearing. Allow baby to enjoy down periods and freestyle movements on the carpet, but pick her up when she signals the desire to be carried. You will note an interesting contrast in behavior. "Down" babies learn to cry to get picked up: "up" babies learn non-crying baby language signaling their need to get down. The amount of holding time naturally decreases as your baby increases in age and motor skills. Even your toddler, however, may show occasional high-need periods when he or she wants to be picked up and worn.

Choosing The Right Baby Carrier

Early in the study it was realized one of the reasons Western mothers did not wear their babies much was that the baby carriers then available were not easy to use. One of the reasons that mothers in other cultures wear their babies so much is that they fabricate a sling-type carrier that looks like part of their garments and, in fact, usually is. Mothers are encouraged either to find or create a carrier that would be comfortable for them and easy to use and that would keep their baby from fussing. When exposed to a whole parade of baby wearing mothers, it was observed what types of carriers and styles of wearing worked for most parent-baby pairs most of the time. After years of watching baby wearing parents, the same conclusion was reached that mothers in other cultures have known for centuries and Western mothers are now beginning to discover -- a sling-type carrier works the best. In selecting a sling-type carrier look for the following features.

Safety. The most important feature of any baby carrier is safety. The sling must both support and contain the baby.

Comfort. A baby carrier must be comfortable for both parents and baby. A well-designed carrier should distribute the baby's weight on the adult's shoulders and hips, not the back and neck. The sling should be comfortably padded over all pressure points, especially along the wearer's back and shoulder and wherever the edges of the carrier press against baby's torso and legs.

Versatility. Choose a carrier that you can use from birth to at least two years of age, thus making it unnecessary to purchase a series of carriers as baby gets older. Fussy, colicky babies are seldom content to be carried in the same position all the time. Carriers that flatten baby against mother's chest are often too restrictive for a baby who, like all of us, is more content being stimulated by a 180-degree view of the world around him.

Ease of use. A fact of human nature is that if something is not convenient to use, we won't bother with it. Fathers, especially, shy away from carriers that have sets of buckles and straps. A well-designed sling-type carrier can be adjusted with baby inside, with one hand, without disturbing the baby. Another important feature of a well-designed carrier is that you should be able to easily and safely slip out of the carrier, leaving baby still inside -- a useful maneuver while putting baby down if you want, once baby is asleep.

Suitability for feeding. One thing often heard from mothers is that they have to remove their babies from a carrier in order to breastfeed. With a sling-type carrier, however, you can easily and discreetly breastfeed your baby while she is still in the sling. A hungry baby can be quickly attached before having to fuss for a feeding and can quietly drift off to a satisfied sleep while still in the sling. Using the sling carrier as a shield allows you to meet baby's need to feed at those inopportune times when you just can't get to a quiet, private place or when you don't have a place to sit down (such as standing in line at the grocery store).

Consult experienced baby wearers for advice on which carrier to select and how to use it. Borrow and test-wear various carriers before settling on the best one for you and your baby. You are not only selecting a carrier, you are investing in a parenting style. Baby carriers are nurturing devices, and sling carriers make rediscovering the lost art of wearing the baby easier for parents -- and good for the baby.

How To Wear Your Baby: A Personal Course

Each baby has his or her individual preference on how to be carried, and each baby wearer has his or her preference on how to carry the baby. Because the sling-type carrier has enjoyed worldwide use for centuries and is the one us for research, it is suggested that the sling be the standard apparel for your course in baby wearing. (The following general instructions apply to most sling-type carriers. They may vary according to the design of the carrier.)

Initially parents may feel uncomfortable wearing their newborn because baby seems scrunched down too far in the sling. Remember, your baby was scrunched in the womb, so she is used to this secure feeling. Being curled up is a natural position for a newborn. Colicky babies especially are comforted by rolling into a little ball and drawing their legs up onto their abdomen.

The following is a step-by-step approach to wearing your newborn.

Putting on the Sling

Decide which shoulder you wish the sling to rest on. Hold the baby sling where the tail passes through the rings and place it over your head, letting it come to rest on your shoulder and across your chest. For the standard position, have the tail in front and the shoulder pad on your shoulder. For a newborn, put the sling on "backward" (with the shoulder pad in front, and rings and tail at top of shoulder) so that your newborn's head can rest on the shoulder pad as a pillow.

Adjusting the sling. You can adjust the size of the sling by simply pulling on the tail, creating a snugger fit. The smaller the infant and/or the baby wearer, the longer the tail will be. Holding baby's bottom while you adjust the size of the sling lessens the weight on the sling, making adjustment easier.

Put it in gear! As soon as baby is nestled securely and comfortably in the sling, start walking immediately; babies usually associate being nested in the sling with movement. If you stand still too long after putting baby in the sling he may fuss.

Cradle Hold
The cradle hold and its variations are useful from birth and throughout the first year.

1. Put the sling on "backward" for babies under about 10 pounds.
2. While supporting baby's back and head, align baby in the direction you wish him to be in the sling, open the sling, and slide baby's body into the sling while lowering the back of his head into the pocket formed by the shoulder pad and padded railings of the sling.
3. Rest baby's head on the shoulder pad as a pillow.
4. Adjust the size of the sling.
Variations of the cradle hold. In the first month or so, for a snugger fit on a newborn, place her head toward the ring buckle. Some babies enjoy riding higher in the sling, semi-upright; others prefer nesting more horizontally especially when asleep; some enjoy the wrap-around position, facing toward your body as when breastfeeding. Other variations of this hold are described later in the article.


Snuggle Hold
This carrying position is useful from birth to six months. During the first two months, the snuggle hold usually works best if the sling is put on in the backward position, using the shoulder pad as an added support for baby's back and head and taking up the slack in the sling As baby grows and seems to fill the sling more, try putting on the sling in the regular position, with the pad on your shoulder. Experiment to find the position that works best for you and your baby.
1. Put on sling in the backward position.
2. Hold baby against your left shoulder with your left hand. With the right hand, pull the edge of the sling out and up over baby.
3. Bend over slightly, holding baby's back with your right hand, and with you left hand pull baby's feet down under and outside the lower railing of the sling, or, if baby is still so young that he likes tucking his feet up close to his body, leave baby's feet nestled inside the sling.
4. Adjust the snugness of the sling so that baby is securely nestled against your chest. In the snuggle position the shoulder pad acts as an added back and heat support for the tiny baby. Be sure the lower railing is snug against baby's thighs and the upper railing snug along the back of his head and neck. In a properly secure snuggle hold, baby will seem to be sitting in a little pouch, just above the lower padded railing of the sling.
Some babies need the sling to be very snug or they don't feel securely held. If after adjustment the sling still feels too large in the snuggle hold, try the following: (a) The upper edge will usually have much more slack that can be taken up by tuck it underneath your are opposite the ring. Hold that arm tightly against your body to secure the upper edge of the sling under your arm so that it sits snugly around the back of baby's head and neck and all the slack is transferred to your back. (s) Cinch in the sling so that the lower edge snugly cups under your baby's bottom, making sort of a pouch -- enabling baby to sit on the inner railing of the sling.

Kangaroo Carry (Forward-Facing position)
Between three and six months (earlier in some babies) your baby may prefer the kangaroo carry, or forward-facing position. Once baby has developed good head control and a curious personality, he may find the cradle and snuggle holds too confining and want to see more. The kangaroo position is usually preferable for very active babies who are quieted by the stimulation of the 180-degree view. If your baby is one of those "archers" who fusses and stiffens out as if attempting back dives while you are trying to wear him in either the snuggle or the cradle hold, the kangaroo carry may be the answer.

To determine whether your baby is ready to be carried facing forward, try the following. Without the sling, hold your baby against your chest with her head and back resting against your chest, your arms underneath her legs, bending her highs upward to touch her abdomen. This one of the colic curl positions also. Start walking and revolving a bid side to side, giving your baby a full 180-degree sweeping view. If your baby likes this position, she is probably ready for the kangaroo carry.

Six-month-old babies love the forward-facing carry. Started early, some babies may enjoy this forward-facing position for up to a year or longer.

Use your sling as following for the kangaroo carry:
1. Support baby facing forward with one arm under her legs and her back against your chest.
2. With your free hand hold the edge of the sling outward, forming a pouch.
3. Slide baby down into the pouch, bottom first, either with her back resting directly against and sliding down the front of your chest or nestled in the crook of your arm. Most babies sit cross-legged at the bottom of the pouch. Some older babies enjoy being flexed so much that they feet protrude over the edge of the sling.

Sidesaddle carry. This is a variation of the forward-facing position. Slide baby down into the pouch, bottom first as in the kangaroo carry. Next burn baby's feet toward the side opposite the rings and nestle his head in the sling pocket a few inches beneath the rings.

Hip Straddle
Between four and six months, or when baby can sit without support, you baby may like to be carried on your hip (see illustration on next page). Try the following steps:
1. Most parents prefer to wear their baby on the hip opposite their dominant hand; wear your baby on your left hip if you are right-handed, for example.
2. With your left hand (if you are right-handed), hold baby high up on your shoulder.
3. Using your right hand, pull baby's feet through the sling so that his bottom rests on your hip and his legs straddle your left side.
4. Adjust the sling to have the lower padded railing resting snugly behind baby's knees and the body of the sling across his buttocks. Pull the upper railing of the sling upward so that it fits snugly beneath baby's arms and high on his back.

Some babies like to play the game of arching themselves backward shortly after being put in the hip straddle. It is all right for baby to lean away from your body to some extent; he doesn't have to be held in as tightly as in the snuggle hold. Try giving your baby a toy, or engage your baby in immediate eye-to-eye contact to lessen this nuisance, convincing him that he wants to be close to you rather than push away from you.

Shifting positions from the hip straddle.
Baby can be shifted easily from the hip straddle to the safety high carry by shifting baby backward so that her legs straddle the back of your hip, rather than the side, and her head is behind your shoulders. This position is a favorite for the toddler, especially if you are doing something in front of you and wish baby to be safely out of the way. Baby can still peer around your side and observe what you are doing.

To shift from the hip carry to the cradle hold for breastfeeding or comforting, bring baby's back leg to the front alongside the other one, and swing both legs over to the ring side, letting baby cradle across your front. Pull up extra fabric from the upper railing so that you entire front area is covered for private feeding.

The real fun of baby wearing, for you and your infant, is experimenting with various positions and carrying styles to find the ones that work best for you and your baby (preferably begin in the newborn period), the better baby will become accustomed to the sling. Even infants six months old or older can be taught to enjoy the sling, but it often take some creative wearing styles to get the older first-time sling baby to get used to being in a carrier.

There will be more articles on infants, breast or bottle feeding and other related topics to follow. So please keep an eye out for more of my articles.

Article Tags: Baby Wearing, Other Cultures, Life Easier, Baby Carriers, Sling-type Carrier, Baby Carrier, From Birth, Baby Against, Away From, Baby Down, Cradle Hold, Baby's Back, Some Babies, Snuggle Hold, Hold Baby, Left Hand, Right Hand, Hand Pull, Baby's Feet, Upper Railing, Kangaroo Carry, Forward-facing Position

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Here at ring sling baby carriers we know your baby is precious and worth keeping close. Our ring sling baby carriers help you make the most of life while making the most of your baby's. Please visit our website ring sling baby carriers to see our broad selection of Hotslings adjustable pouch, Rockin Baby pouch, Rockin Baby ring sling and Lil Cub Hub convertible sling baby carriers and find the right print and style for you and your baby.

 



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