"The single most important child rearing practice to be adopted for the development of emotional and
social healthy infants and children is to carry the newborn/infant on the body of the mother/caretaker all
- James Prescott, Ph.D.
Every mother who has ever had a baby shower has probably heard someone say, "I wish they had made
something like that when I had my babies." For some reason, it always annoyed me to hear that and I vowed
I would never say that to any expectant mother about any new baby gadget. I kept my vow until my first
grandchild was born. By then I had done so much research on the importance of carrying babies and the benefits
of keeping them in close physical contact, I knew we had to have a sling to carry this baby. I wanted my
grandchild to have the holding my own children didn't get enough of, because I was taught to believe it would
I ordered "The New Native" baby carrier from an ad in
Mothering. Since 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 aren't 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."