Baby Wearing: The Art and Science of Carrying Your Baby - Part Three
This article covers topics such wearing twins, baby wearing for medical benefits, premature babies, failure-to-thrive babies, the handicapped baby, how baby wearing benefits infants and parents, baby wearing organizes and regulates the baby, the womb lasts eighteen months, baby wearing reduces crying and colic, and baby wearing enhances learning,. There will be one more part on this article. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.
Baby Wearing for Medical Benefits
Premature babies. A premature baby, especially one with medical problems needing weeks or months of intensive care, is deprived of those final weeks or months in the womb. Instead, baby must grow in an outside womb. The problem is that outside wombs are static. They don't move. Research has shown that a premature whose "womb" moves gains weight faster and has fewer stop-breathing (apnea) episodes. Specialists in newborn care have fabricated a variety of moving wombs, such as oscillating water beds.
A group of newborn-care specialists in South America made an ingenious discovery. Some hospitals could not afford incubators and all the technology needed to care for the preemies. They were forced to use the mother. These preemies were wrapped around their mothers in a sling-like wrap, a custom called packing. To everyone's amazement the babies thrived as well as or even better than the technologically cared-for babies.
The researchers concluded that the close proximity to mother helped the babies to thrive. Being close to mother enticed babies to feed frequently. Mother's warmth kept the baby warm; mother's movement calmed the baby, enabling the baby to divert energy from crying to growing. Mother's breathing movements stimulated baby's breathing, so that these babies had fewer stop-breathing episodes. Mother acted as sort of a respiratory pacemaker for baby's breathing.
As soon as a premature baby no longer needs oxygen and intravenous therapy and enters the growing phase, mothers are encouraged to wear their babies as much as possible., the practice called kangaroo care.
Failure-to-thrive babies. The infant who fails to thrive also benefits from baby wearing. Some babies, for a variety of medical reasons, are very slow to gain weight, the condition called failure to thrive. In some pediatric practices, baby wearing has been used as a therapeutic tool to stimulate thriving. Doctor's orders to the parents are very simple: "Put your baby on in the morning and take him off at night. Wear him down for naps and to sleep. Wear him when you go out and about the house. Take long relaxing walks while wearing your baby. This will help both of you to thrive."
How does baby wearing help babies thrive? Motion does good things for growing babies. It has a calming effect on infants. They cry less and therefore divert the energy they would have wasted on crying into growing. Also, proximity increases feeding frequency, another reason that baby wearing stimulates growth. Frequent feedings are a potent stimulus for growth. Perhaps baby wearing promotes growth hormones and body enzymes that enhance growth. This has been shown to be true in experimental animals. It is believed that in addition to these growth-promoting effects baby wearing helps babies thrive because of the organizing effect on the baby. The baby's overall biological system seems to work better when she is worn.
The handicapped baby. Parents often spend much time and money on infant stimulation techniques and better-baby classes when the best stimulation available at the lowest possible cost is right in front of them -- baby wearing. The handicapped baby especially profits from being worn. Picture the stimulation baby gets: He hears what you hear, sees what you see, moves like you move, because he is near your eye, ears, and mouth. Baby is in constant touch.
Cerebral palsy babies who arch and stiffen are greatly helped by baby wearing. The contoured, bent position of the cradle hold and kangaroo carry competes with baby's tendency to arch backward, and lessens this annoying back-diving posturing. (See Baby Wearing Enhances Learning to follow.)
How Baby Wearing Benefits Infants and Parents
During a study of the effects of baby wearing on infants and parents, many benefits were noticed. Here's how this age-old custom of infant care brings some of them about.
Baby Wearing Organizes and Regulates the Baby
It's easier to understand baby wearing when you think of a baby's gestation as lasting eighteen month -- nine months inside the womb and at least nine more months outside. During the first nine months the womb environment regulates baby's systems automatically. Birth temporarily disrupts this organization. The more quickly, however, baby gets outside help with organizing these systems, the more easily he adapts to the puzzle of life outside the womb. By extending the womb experience, the baby wearing mother (and father) provide an external regulating system that balances the irregular and disorganized tendencies of the baby. Picture how these regulating systems work. Mother's rhythmic walk, for example (which baby has been feeling for nine months) reminds baby of the womb experience. This familiar rhythm, imprinted on baby's mind in the womb, now reappears in the "outside womb" and calms baby. Mother's heartbeat, beautifully regular and familiar, reminds baby of the sounds of the womb as baby places her ear against her mother's chest. As another biological regulator, baby senses mother's rhythmic breathing while worm tummy to tummy, chest to chest. Simply stated, regular parental rhythms have a balancing effect on the infant's irregular rhythms.
The Womb Last Eighteen Months: Nine months inside mother, and nine months outside.
Another way mother exerts this regulatory effect is by stimulating the regulating hormones in baby's developing adrenal and nervous systems. Researchers have shown that continued mother-infant attachment, such as baby wearing provides, stimulates the infant to achieve quicker day-night regulation. They believe that mother's presence exerts a regulatory influence on the baby's adrenal hormones, which promotes night sleeping and day waking.
Mother's voice, which baby is constantly exposed to during baby wearing, regulates baby's limb movements. In a 1974 study video analysis of an infant's body movements while the mother was talking to her baby showed the baby moving in perfect synchrony with the inflections of mother's speech during her unique "baby talk." These synchronous movements did not occur in response to a stranger's voice. In essence, the mother's rhythmic movements and vocalizations "teach" the baby to put more rhythm into her movements, balancing out the usual newborn tendency toward irregular, uncoordinated, and purposeless movements.
Baby wearing exerts a balancing effect on baby's vestibular system. This system, located behind each ear, helps keep a person's body in balance. For example, if you lean over too far to one side, the vestibular system signals that you should lean over to the other side to stay in balance. The system is similar to three tiny carpenter's levels, with one oriented for side-to-side balance, another for up and down, a third for back and forth. The "levels" function together to keep the body in balance. When carried, baby moves in all three of these directions. Every time baby moves, the fluid in these levels moves against tiny hair-like filaments that vibrate and send nerve impulses in the muscles of baby's body to keep him in balance. The preborn baby has a very sensitive vestibular system that is constantly stimulated because the fetus is in almost continuous motion. Baby wearing "reminds" the baby of and continues the motion and balance he enjoyed in the womb.
What may happen if the baby does not have the benefit of a strong mother-infant attachment, spending most of his time lying horizontally in a crib, attended to only for feeding and comforting, and then again separated from mother? A newborn has n inherent urge to become organized, to fit into his or her new environment. If left to his own resources, without the frequent presence of the mother, the infant may develop disorganized patterns of behavior: colic, fussy cries, jerky movements, disorganized self-rocking behaviors, anxious thumb sucking, irregular breathing, and disturbed sleep. The infant who is forced to self-regulate before his time spends a lot of energy self-calming, wasting valuable energy he could have used to grow and develop.
Fussing and disorganized behavior is a withdrawal symptom -- a result of the loss of the regulatory effects of the attachment to the mother. Babies should not be left alone to train themselves to become self-soothers, as some parenting advisers suggest. This style of detached parenting is not supported by common sense, experience, or research. Behavioral research has repeatedly shown that infants exhibit more anxious and disorganized behaviors when separated from their mothers. While there is a variety of child-rearing theories, attachment researchers all agree on one thing: In order for a baby's emotional, intellectual, and physiological systems to function optimally, the continued presence of the mother, as during baby wearing, is a necessary regulatory influence.
Baby Wearing Reduces Crying and Colic
During the course of a study, parents would commonly report, "My baby seems to be content as long as I wear him." Baby wearing parents of previously fussy babies related that their babies seemed to forget to fuss. Parents enjoyed their babies more because their babies were more content. Babies were happier because they had less need to cry. Families were happier. Stimulated by this new discovery of the old art of comforting, you wonder why baby wearing reduced crying; also, did other pediatricians notice that carrying a baby reduced his crying?
In 1986 a team of researchers in Montreal reported a study of ninety-nine mother-infant pairs, half of which were assigned to a group that was asked to carry their babies in their arms or in a carrier for at least three hours a day. In the control, or non-carried, group, parents were asked to position their babies facing a mobile or pictures of a face when baby was placed in a crib but not to try to calm the baby by increased carrying. The infants who received supplemental carrying cried and fussed 43 percent less than the non-carried group. The unique feature of this carrying study is that mothers were encouraged to carry their infants throughout the day regardless of the state of the infant, not just in response to crying or fussing. The usual mode of carrying in Western society is to pick up and carry the baby after the crying has started.
A survey was done of the writings of anthropologists who study infant-care practices in other cultures. These researchers uniformly agree that infants in cultures that wear their babies cry less. In the Western culture we measure our baby's crying in hours per day, whereas in other cultures it may be measured in terms of minutes. In Western culture we have been led to believe that it is "normal" for babies to cry an hour or two a day, whereas in other cultures this not the accepted norm. Stimulated by the general agreement among infant-care researchers that increased carrying reduces crying, the next question is why?
Baby wearing reduces crying by its organizing effect on the baby's vestibular system, as previously described. Vestibular stimulation (rocking, for example) has been shown by long experience and detailed research to be the best cry stopper. Vestibular stimulation, as occurs during baby wearing, soothes baby because it reminds him of the womb, allowing baby to click into the familiar experiences that were imprinted upon his developing mind during life inside the womb. The familiar overcomes the unfamiliar to which he is now exposed. This lessens baby's anxiety and lessens the need to fuss.
Because baby wearing resembles the womb as closely as is humanly possible, it fulfills a style of parenting that baby would have anticipated and helps a new baby fit into her environment. This rightness of fit lessens the need to fuss. Baby is learning to fit into her outside womb as she did in the inside womb. We may erroneously regard birth as the end of an assembly line, producing a tiny adult immediately ready to adapt to the work. It helps if we regard the newborn as somewhat incomplete. Baby wearing completes the attachment that baby was used to, giving her a sense of rightness. A baby feels valuable because of the way she is treated. Wearing values the baby.
Baby Wearing Enhances Learning
If infants spend less time crying and fussing, what do they do with the extra time and energy? We've already discussed how baby wearing helps babies thrive and grow physically. It also helps baby's mental development. A pediatrician's own observation and that of others who study carried babies is that these babies do not sleep a lot more but actually show increased awake contentment time called quiet alertness. This is the behavioral state in which an infant is most content and best able to interact with the environment. It may be called the optimal state of learning for a baby.
Researchers have reported the following effects of baby wearing and quiet alertness: Carried babies show enhanced visual and auditory alertness. The stability of the infant's physiological system is related to the capacity for contented behavior during awake periods; simply stated, during the state of quiet alertness, the infant's who system seems to work better.
The behavioral state of quiet alertness also gives parents a better opportunity to interact with the baby. When worn in the cradle hold, baby seems mother's face in the en face position. Notice how mother and baby position their faces in order to achieve this optimal visually interactive plane. Researchers have found that the human face, especially in this position, is a potent stimulator for interpersonal bonding. In the kangaroo carry, baby has a 180-degree view of her environment and is able to scan her work. She learns to choose, picking out what she wishes to look at and shutting out what she doesn't. This ability to make choices enhances learning.
Carried Babies Are More Involved
Another reason that baby wearing enhances learning is that baby is intimately involved in the baby wearer's world. Baby sees what mother or father sees, hears what they hear, and in some ways feels what they feel. Wearing humanizes a baby. Carried babies become more aware of their parents' faces, of the parents' walking rhythms and scents. Baby becomes aware of and learns from all the subtle facial expressions and other body language, voice inflections and tones, breathing patterns, and emotions of the baby wearer. A parent will relate to the baby much more often, just by virtue of the baby's sitting there right under his or her nose. Proximity increases interaction, and baby can be constantly learning how to be human. Carried babies are intimately involved in their parents' world because they participate in what mother and father are doing. A baby worn while a parent washes dishes, for example, hears, smells, sees, and experiences in depth the adult world. He is more exposed to and involved in what is going on around him. Baby learns much in the arms of a busy person.
Consider the alternative infant-care practice, in which baby is separate from the mother most of the day and picked up and interacted with only at dutiful intervals. The voices he may hear in another room are not associated with anything happening to him. Because they have no meaning to him, he does not store them. He gets the message that they are neither important nor worth storing. For the infant who lives alone, normal daily experiences have no learning value for him and no bonding value for the mother. Because baby is separate from her, mother does not, as a matter of course, gear her activities and interactions as if baby were a participating second or third party. At best, baby is involved as a spectator rather than a player.
The baby wearing mother, on the other hand, because she is used to her baby being with her, automatically gears her interactions to include the baby. The baby, in turn, feels that he is included and feels that he is valuable -- a real boost to baby's emerging self esteem.
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