Wearing a baby in a sling or a soft carrier increasingly seems to be a trend in parenting. A simple search will reveal several websites selling all manner of ways to “wear” your baby. At first glance, it may seem like some sort of fashion statement, like a fun accessory to add to your list of baby equipment. Or it may seem like something that certain types of parents use, and words like ‘hippie’ or ‘alternative’ may spring to mind.
However, there is certainly nothing new about baby wearing. It’s a practice that is as old as time and that is still practised around the world in many forms among many types of people – and not just because they cannot afford pushchairs. The sorts of slings and carriers available today have designs that are based on the way babies have been cared for in traditional cultures around the world for generations.
There are practical advantages to wearing your baby. So much of the struggle of having a new baby in the home is the fact that getting simple tasks accomplished is challenging. Unfortunately, we do not live in the sort of society that would allow us to simply sit with our babies all day and ignore all other responsibilities. We live busy, fast-paced lives and parents feel pulled in many different directions. Adjusting to a new baby in the home is a massive undertaking.
Babies normally spend a lot of time feeding and often do not like to be put down to sleep. Parents feel pressured to ‘sort their baby’s sleep out’ so that they can be free to get on with other aspects of their life. A lot of emotional and mental – not to mention physical – energy is spent trying to teach babies to sleep independently from a very young age, long before many babies are really ready for this or capable of it. A more simple solution is to wear the baby in a sling where it can rest and sleep and feed, leaving the parent’s hands free to do other things like household tasks or to attend to older children.
There are also physical advantages to wearing your baby. The sling acts as a ‘transitional womb’. Similar to when the baby was being carried in the womb, the baby in the sling is in tune with the mother’s breathing, with the sound of the heartbeat and with her movements. This sort of close stimulation helps the baby to regulate their own physical responses and also exercises their vestibular system, which controls balance. Taking the baby for a ride in a pram, or placing it in a mechanical swing, may reduce crying and help them to sleep, but it does not provide the same benefits as wearing the baby physically.
There are also emotional benefits for your baby when you wear them. All babies are known for their crying, but excessive crying has been shown to be unhealthy for the brain, overloading it with cortisol, the stress hormone. Studies have shown that babies who are worn in slings cry 43 per cent less than babies who are not. Babies love to be held and wearing them provides a practical way for them to be held more than they normally would be in our busy lives. It builds trust and enhances communication between the parents and the baby. It meets the baby’s needs of security, closeness and comfort, all at the same time. It is a way of integrating the baby into the everyday life of the family, while still meeting its needs.
Many new babies struggle with acid reflux and excessive wind in the early months. This is due to their immature digestive systems. They usually outgrow these conditions, but living with this can be quite trying for a while. Many parents discover that babies with these issues just hate being put down. The baby will often fall asleep in an upright position, but then as soon as the parents move to put them down on their backs, they wake up crying. Wearing the baby upright in the sling is a great way of allowing the baby to rest and sleep but also remain comfortable while the parents get on with other things.
For parents who may have previously viewed a baby sling or carrier as an optional extra, they may want to consider looking into the different types of slings out for their new baby.