we all lived together, I had lots of opportunities to see my
daughter "wearing" my granddaughter, and I had lots of
opportunity to wear her myself. I was able to learn first-hand
what I had read about "babywearing". She nursed in her
sling, and she napped in her sling. She was totally content and I
still had both hands free to do whatever I needed to do.
What a win-win: happy baby, happy caregiver. Unless she was
hungry and only nursing could meet her need, carrying her in the
sling would always make her happy, whether it was Mom or Dad or
Grandma doing the carrying. Wearing your baby in a sling
completely transforms the experience of parenting an infant.
Now slings could hardly be called "new baby gadgets,"
since they have been used in many other cultures around the world
for millions for years. However, in North America, they are
something new. Whenever one of us was wearing my granddaughter in
a public place, people would always stop to ask us about the sling
and marvel at this great "new" way of carrying babies.
Babies want and need to be "in arms" and they let us
know that. A baby crying in a stroller usually becomes content as
soon as he or she is picked up and held. I often see parents
carrying a baby in one arm and struggling to push an empty
stroller with the other!
Contrary to what we have been taught to believe, research shows
that babies who are held and carried all the time and get their
need for touch well-met in their first year do not become clingy
and overly dependent. They cry much less and they grow to become
happier, more intelligent, more independent, more loving and more
social than babies who spend much of their infancy in infant
seats, swings, cribs, and all the other plastic baby-holding
gadgets that don't provide babies with human contact. We had all
those baby-holders for my granddaughter and she spent a little
time in all of them, but she spent most of her infancy in her
sling because she was happiest there, and we loved carrying her
and being close to her.
Many new parents buy a sling or receive one as a gift and end
up not using it because they can't figure out how to get
themselves and the baby comfortable. I've heard parents say they
tried a sling once, but the baby didn't like it so they just never
used it again. In other cultures, parents naturally know how to
use slings, because as children they grew up seeing slings used,
and wearing their siblings in slings. Since slings are new to our
culture, anyone just being introduced to using a sling will
usually need someone to show them how to get themselves and the
baby comfortable. Since I am passionate about the use of baby
slings - based on both my research and my personal experience - I
often demonstrate the use of slings in my parenting classes.
Parents are thrilled when they learn how comfortable and
convenient it can be to meet their baby's needs and still do all
the other things they need to do.
Slings are different than front carriers. A sling is like a
hammock. From newborn to the sitting-up stage, babies' spines are
best supported in slings because their weight is distributed along
the length of the spine. Front carriers that hold the infant
upright with their legs hanging down, can stress the spine because
they put all the baby's weight at the base of the spine.
There are many styles and brands of slings. While "The New
Native Baby Carrier" is my personal favorite, the best sling
is the one you are most comfortable wearing. It is helpful to try
several and have someone who is comfortable using each one show
you how to use it. If you arenąt comfortable, your baby won't be
either. The two most important things I tell parents about using a
sling are: 1) if the baby's bottom is below your belly button, the
sling is too low and your back will hurt; 2) each time you put the
baby in the sling, you will need to walk around until the baby
settles in. Babies like and need movement.
When we wear/carry a baby, we are providing more than the
comfort of the sound of our heartbeat and voice and the touch and
warmth of our body. According to research by James Prescott, a
developmental neuropsychologist and cross cultural psychologist,
"vestibular-cerebellar stimulation (which happens when we
carry our babies) is the most important sensory system for the
development of "basic trust" in the affectional bonding
between mother and infant. It establishes the biological and
psychological foundations for all other human relationships."
We have learned that carrying infants is a vital part of nature's
biological plan for mother-infant bonding, and that it is critical
to the development of trust, empathy, compassion and conscience.
Carrying or wearing an infant in a sling, keeping the infant in
constant human contact, and breast feeding on demand are the
biological design for optimal physical, intellectual and emotional
human development. Research confirms that carrying human infants
develops their intelligence and their capacity for trust,
affection, intimacy, and love and happiness. Anthropologist Ashley
Montagu refers to this carrying stage, or "in arms"
period, as the "external gestation period" the infant
needs to complete his/her development. There is even a brand of
sling called "Womb with A View."
Recently when I was demonstrating the use of a sling in a
parenting workshop, one of the fathers shared the following story.
On one of his trips to the island of Haiti, a very distraught
father came to the hospital carrying a newborn whose mother had
died in childbirth. The father's biggest concern was "who
will carry this baby". It is unlikely that this baby's father
had read the scientific research on the importance of carrying
babies. Yet he knew it was what his baby needed most. The father
in my workshop told of his amazement at seeing many children there
who had barely enough to eat, few clothes, no shoes, no toys, and
yet were some of the happiest children he had ever seen. As babies
these children were carried all day long as part of the natural
and loving parenting practiced in their culture.
For decades, we have been taught to believe that holding babies
too much "spoils" them, even though in much of the rest
of the world, babies are and always have been carried or worn in a
sling all day until they could walk. In cross-cultural studies of
child rearing practices, James Prescott found that the countries
that are the least violent are the countries where babies are
constantly carried or worn on the body of the mother/caregiver.
The United States has the highest rate of crime and violence in
the world and it has the lowest number of constantly carried
babies in the world. Is there a connection here?
Meeting our infant's biological need for human contact is not
about following a particular parenting philosophy. It is about
honoring and adhering to nature's biological plan for
optimum human development. Keeping our infants in almost constant
human contact for nine to twelve months may sound like an
impossible goal in modern society. Sleeping with our infants
provides that contact at night. Holding them or wearing them in a
sling will give them more of the human contact they need. Now that
research has shown that holding babies does not "spoil"
them, but is, in fact, what they need most, we would be wise to
listen to our hearts and "hold that baby all the time."