In many other cultures parents wear their babies; in our culture we wheel our babies, then park them somewhere. Infant development specialists who travel throughout the world studying infant-care practices have repeatedly observed that babies who are carried in a variety of cloth-type slings or front packs seem more content than infants who are kept in cribs, playpens, strollers, prams, and plastic seats. The mother of an infant visited the island of Bali, where she witnessed a ground-touching ceremony. The Balinese babies are carried, or worn, for the first six months of life. The mother or some other caregiver in the extended family wears the baby all day long, and baby is put down to sleep next to the mother. The baby literally does not touch the ground for the first six months, at which time a ground-touching ceremony is held, and for the first time the baby is put down on the ground to crawl and learn freestyle movements.
For a number of years research in infant-care studies have found general agreement that babies behave and develop better when they are carried a lot. Years ago, while attending an international parenting conference, two women from Zambia were interviewed who were carrying their babies in slings that matched their native dress. They were asked why women in their culture wear their babies most of the time. One woman replied, “It makes life easier for the mother.” The other woman volunteered, “It’s good for the baby.” These women went on to relate the feelings of “completeness” and “value” that baby wearing gave them. Women in their culture don’t have the benefits of books and studies about mothering hormones. What they have is centuries of tradition that have simply taught them that something good happens to women and their babies when the babies are worn.
Doesn’t every parent in every culture have these two simple desires: to make life easier for themselves and to make life better for their baby? Baby wearing does both.
Encouraged by these observations, a personal study was done on the beneficial effects of baby wearing on babies and their parents. Since that time a lot of miles have been logged of wearing their own babies and have kept precise records as various carrying styles were experimented with. It is advised that parents carry their babies as much as possible, beginning right after birth. Try out a variety of baby carriers and choose the one most comfortable for themselves and their babies.
To mothers it is now said, “Try to get used to wearing your baby in a sling-type carrier just as you would wear one of your favorite items of clothing.” At baby’s first checkup, usually at one week, new parents should be shown how to wear their baby. During their personal course on baby wearing, each parent should be advised to experiment with various carrying positions, to find the one that is most comfortable and allows baby to mold to the contours of the parent’s own body; encouraging them to shift carrying positions to match baby’s development.
This is why it is called baby wearing. Now, to teach you how this practice can make your parenting life easier and enhance the development of your baby, here are the results of the study and your own course in baby wearing.
The Baby Wearing Mind-set
In case you are wondering how much parents should carry their babies, certainly parents have to put down their babies sometimes! In fact, it is important to take a balanced approach to baby wearing. But this style of parenting means changing your mind-set regarding what babies are really like. You may envision your picture-book baby lying quietly in a crib, gazing passively at dangling mobiles, and picked up only to be fed and played with and then put down; you may think that “up” periods are just dutiful intervals to quiet your baby long enough to put him down again. To understand baby wearing, reverse this view: Carry you baby much of the time, and put him or her down for longer nap times, nighttime, and to attend to your personal needs. Take a balanced approach to baby wearing. Allow baby to enjoy down periods and freestyle movements on the carpet, but pick her up when she signals the desire to be carried. You will note an interesting contrast in behavior. “Down” babies learn to cry to get picked up: “up” babies learn non-crying baby language signaling their need to get down. The amount of holding time naturally decreases as your baby increases in age and motor skills. Even your toddler, however, may show occasional high-need periods when he or she wants to be picked up and worn. babysitting jobs