Many parents are making the choice to wear their babies. In this article, a mum shares her reasons for babywearing and what lessons she has learnt from her experience.
My interest in babywearing began innocently enough.
I saw a couple of friends wearing their babies before I was even married, and it left an impression.
My first carrier was a pouch sling and I started wearing my baby when she had difficulty taking a nap at age four months. At that time, I had no idea that I was not wearing my baby correctly and that there is a whole world out there for those who choose to wear their babies.
All these learnings came only after I joined Babywearing Singapore when my daughter was about 15-months-old.
Joining the group is one of the best things that happened to me because not only did I learn to wear my daughter safely and continue to enjoy the closeness that I share with her; I also stopped carrying my stroller, diaper bag and my baby when I went out.
I would like to share the 11 lessons that I have learned from babywearing.
#1 Learn T.I.C.K.S for safe babywearing
Image credit: Winifred Ling
All parents planning to wear their baby should make T.I.C.K.S their mantra. It stands for: Tight, In view at all times, Close Enough to kiss, Keep chin of the chest, and Supported back.
I initially carried my baby in a cradle carry (as shown on left picture above). Here the baby is not close enough to kiss. I had to ensure that her chin was off the chest, which is harder when baby is very young. Cradle carry is acceptable when baby is actively nursing. Otherwise, the ideal position is upright.
This is because the newborn’s airway is very small, and when a newborn’s head falls into a chin to chest position, the airway narrows and not enough air may get through, a condition known as positional asphyxia. Most of the time this means that baby’s oxygen saturation level will drop and it is unsafe.
I also carried my baby in cradle carry for several months and as she got heavier, it put a huge strain on my back. Once I learned to carry her in an upright and snug position, the problem was resolved.
#2 Front-facing is not optimal for baby
Image Credit: Winifred Ling
The carrier that we used initially offered a front-facing option.
Thinking that it might be interesting for my baby to see what was going on around her, I carried her this way for a few months. As she got heavier, my shoulders ached a lot. I also felt like I was off balance and about to fall down quite often. Then I read about why facing out is bad for baby and wearer and it made a lot of sense.
What I also disliked about front facing was that I couldn’t see my daughter and read her cues; she could be over-stimulated and would have no place to hide herself; I couldn’t cuddle her comfortably; and her hips were hardly supported.
Also when babies fall asleep in front-facing carriers, they slump forward with little support on their back. This does not support the natural development of the spine particularly in the first year of the child’s life.
The way that you wear your baby can have an impact on the baby’s spine.
#3 Newborn’s spine is C-shaped, not S-shaped like adults
Image Credit: Babywearing Singapore Facebook page
This was new information for me, and is vital as it affects the choice of appropriate carrier so that one can promote the natural development of the spine of the baby.
Do not be alarmed when you notice that your baby seems to be “slouching” in the carrier at the newborn stage. Wearing the wrong carrier may force the spine to straighten prematurely. Hence, the recommended carriers for newborn and young infants are something that is soft and mouldable like the ring sling, stretchy or woven wraps.
#4 How to choose the right carrier
Image Credit: Babywearing Singapore
A common question that new mums and mums-to-be ask is: Which is the best carrier? The answer really depends on the age of your child, your needs, budget and preference.
Personally, I went through four soft structured carriers (SSC) before deciding on the current one.
The second question is: Do I have to keep buying different carriers as my child grows? Here is where being part of a group is helpful, because you can try different types of carriers during a sling meet (For the uninitiated, a sling meet is when babywearers meet to socialise) before deciding on one.
Common carriers available in the market include: pouch sling, ring sling, woven wraps, stretchy wraps, SSC or full buckles, mei tai and other variations of Asian carriers.
Within each category, you have different brands. For example for SSC the brands include Manduca, Ergobaby, Kinderpack, Boba, Tula, Kokadi Flip, Emeibaby, Lenny Lamb, Lunari, Connecta, Madame Googoo etc.
I also found that as my child grew heavier, my preference for a carrier also changed. When she was younger, I used the ring sling mostly. A wrap is great from about the age of three to 12 months.
Once a child learns to walk, he may not have the patience for the mother to wrap. That’s when SSC or ring sling comes in handy where you can place the baby in and out very quickly.
#5 Snug and high please
Image Credit: Winifred Ling
I see many babywearers who wear the baby quite low and loose. This goes against the T.I.C.K.S. rules. Wearing the baby lower tends to create more strain on the wearer.
When it is loose, the baby is not well-supported. As babywearers, we need to learn to take care of our own posture and wear the baby correctly so that we don’t injure our body.
A friend has the impression that babywearing is harmful to the wearer and I had to explain that it is safe provided we follow the stipulated guidelines.
A woven wrap can be used to make different kids of carriers.
#6 A piece of “long cloth” can be so versatile
Photo: Baby wearing allows Nick Vujicic to bond with this baby. Image Credit: Nick Vujicic Facebook
Prior to joining the babywearing group, I had never heard of a woven wrap. Hence, when I met a mum using it, I was super intrigued. By then my daughter was already 15-months-old and we were happy in our ring sling and SSC. In spite of that, I plunged into it.
The beauty of a woven wrap is that it distributes weight much better compared to other types of carrier and it’s also a lot more comfortable for baby and the wearer.
Essentially, a woven wrap is a long piece of cloth (between 2.5m to 5.2m), which is specially made for babywearing, hence its safety is assured. It can either be machine-woven or hand-woven. There are many different blends (cotton, linen, bamboo etc.), brands such as Didiymos, Lenny Lambs, Tekhni, Bebe Sachi, and designs.
The learning curve for wrapping is steeper, but with practice and determination, doable.
#7 Babywearing for the win
One of the main reasons why we are crazy about babywearing is because it allows us to be hands-free. When you have a heavyweight baby, you want to be hands-free.
Mothers of babies who are high need, those who have Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and/or carpel tunnel will find babywearing a lifesaver. With babywearing, Nick Vujicic (who is without arms and legs) is able to carry his baby. Imagine his joy in being able to take care of his child independently.
If you have twins or babies who are born close in age, you will find babywearing very useful. Many mums experience guilt when child number two comes a long for fear of not being able to pay him/her equal attention.
The solution is tandem babywearing. Mama in the picture (first column) is nursing her baby while comforting her older girl. Mama in second picture is nursing on the go as she continues with her lifestyle out and about. Also, when your baby is ill or going through a growth spurt and needs extra cuddles, you will be thankful that you can wear her close.
Being hands-free means you can eat with both hands (while your baby naps), pursue your own interests, clean, cook and do household chores. You can continue to hold your spouses’ hands too. Historically, a lot of mothers wear their babies as they work in in the field or shops in some countries. Stroller is a modern invention.
#8 Travelling is made easy and safer
My husband and I love to travel, and since our daughter arrived, she is a part of it.
She is a good traveler, however, I do ensure that she feels safe and protected especially when we are in a foreign place. Babywearing allows her to be close to me. When she’s tired or over-stimulated she can easily cuddle and rest on my chest.
Babywearing is also very handy when strollers are either not allowed or are impractical, such as the beach. Another advantage of babywearing while traveling is that there is no worry about the child going missing or getting lost.
#9 Family can bond easily
Image Credit: Babywearing Singapore
Some new parents are concerned that their lives will change forever with the arrival of the new baby. Yes, your life will change for sure but it’s entirely possible to still continue with your lifestyle and bond as a family.
Babywearing allows mummy, Sandra to engage in activity with her elder daughter while her second child is secure on her back.
I brought along my daughter for a charity walk and we got to hike a considerable distance together. It was a physical test for me surely but we did it successfully with her dozing off at one stretch. Family bonding is critical in the development of the child, and as much as possible involve your child(ren) in the activities that you enjoy, made easier by babywearing.
Photo: Baby wearing allows families to undertake a lot of activities together easily.
#10 Creating lasting memory as babywearing doesn’t last forever
Yes, babywearing doesn’t last forever. For parents with high need children, it may feel like it will never end. It will, trust me. One day, your child will decide that she prefers walking and doesn’t want you to carry her anymore.
That time will come sooner than later and when that happens, you will have a bittersweet feeling. I know because my daughter is at that stage now. I rejoice when she allows me to wear her, even if it’s for a short while.
Why do I continue to babywear? Simply put, intimate moments occur when I babywear; we share kisses, laughter, jokes and cuddles. I teach her as we observe new things together. I savour every such moments and store them in my love bank.
Babywearers live for moments like these. They keep us sane and serve as impetus when the going is hard.
#11 Join a babywearing group
After being in Babywearing Singapore for more than a year, I can clearly see the benefits of being in such a group.
Anyone who is keen to babywear ought to join a babywearing group because you will learn things that you may not necessarily find on the Internet. I resisted before I joined the group because I didn’t think I needed one, and also I’m not much of a “group” person. I assumed my savvy husband and I are capable of doing our own research.
Little did we know that there are carriers in the market that are not ergonomic and unsuitable for young babies regardless of the claims made. Initially, I bought all my babywearing gear online. While it came with instructions, I did not know that these were not the optimal way of wearing a baby.
For example, I carried my baby in cradle style in the pouch sling as advised. The manual also gave the option of kangaroo carry, which is front facing and that is not ideal as well.
One, you make new friends with people who understand your obsession and support you. Two, friendships form easily in the group. Plus, it is a snap to organise play dates. Both children and parents have fun during sling meet, our version of play dates. We also have fun doing activities together, like babywearing yoga and babywearing ballet.
The admins in this group have done great work and the evidence is in how rapid we have grown from 2,000 members when I joined, to more than 10,800. Consider this an invitation to the group and hope to see you around.
This article was contributed by Winifred Ling, Director and Principal Psychologist of W3ave Pte. Ltd., Singapore.
Do you wear your baby? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.