Five Reasons to Wear Your Baby

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This piece was originally published as a guest post on the Ergo Baby Blog, which you can visit hereFor my review of the Ergo Carrier, see here.

By Tracy Cassels

It seems that in many Western societies, one of the first things people do when they find out they’re expecting is to look at strollers, baby carriers, bassinets, anything that will hold your child for you.  And yet most people don’t realize that there is another way in which you can keep your little ones with you, a way that is far superior in many regards and will also be much cheaper: babywearing.

Historically and in many other cultures today, strollers and other baby carrying gadgets are simply not used.  Babies are wrapped and strapped to their caregiver to get around when their own two legs can’t take them.  Though some might argue that there’s no difference, or that our modern inventions are more convenient, I would like to argue that there are actually good reasons to wear your baby.  So here I present what I believe to be are five of the best reasons to wear your baby…

Reason #1: Babywearing allows for lots of touch

Sadly, infants and children are not receiving the amount of touch they need to thrive.  Touch is our oldest and largest form of communication[1][2] and we tell our infants so much by our touch, or lack thereof.  Not only can it share emotional communications, touch also regulates stress and arousals, something infants need help with in their early days[1][3][4].  But in our society of gadgets to hold your baby, the average baby is only touched about 12-20% of the time and decreases to 10% by the time children reach 1 year of age[5].  Compare this to hunter-gatherer societies where the time an infant is held is upward of 95%[5].

Babywearing can change this.  Not only does it replace stroller time, but can also replace all those other gadgets people buy to hold their babies, such as bouncy chairs or activity centers.  Although people have started babywearing more and more when they go out (yeah!), it can also be done indoors while doing chores, reading, watching tv, working, cooking, etc.  In fact, there is really no reason your baby can’t be touching you the entire time you’re awake (okay, minus diaper changes).  If you figure the average adult is awake 16 hours a day, that’s 66% of the time that an infant can receive touch, a HUGE improvement over what our babies are currently getting.

Reason #2: Babywearing is actually easier (and you get more of a workout)

Let’s face it, when you’re out and about, pushing a huge thing around with a tiny infant inside is not easy.  Most strollers make getting in and out of doors a real pain in the you-know-what and don’t even think about trying to get on the bus.  I know people argue you can carry packages in the stroller so you can do shopping, but guess what?  You can do that while babywearing too.  With your hands free, you can carry bags, or use a backpack, or bring a portable shopping bag on wheels.  And if you’re carrying the bags and baby, you’re definitely getting a better workout than using a stroller.

I’ll be honest – we bought a stroller and my daughter sat in it for a whopping 5 minutes one time.  Other than that, she’s never used it (and we later sold it).  She has always been worn until she could walk and even now she’ll sometimes hop in the Ergo on my back.  It is easy.  I got shopping done, errands run, took the bus without taking up five seats, and all the while my little girl was happily snuggled close to me.  And you know what else was easier?  Breastfeeding.  We very quickly got used to nursing on the go and with my girl snuggled right up at my chest, it was very easy to nurse and walk at the same time, meaning I didn’t have to take breaks or find a place to sit down before I could feed her.  This meant my daughter barely ever cried while she was on me and that made things easier for everyone.

Reason #3: Babywearing can improve the bond between parent and child

As parents, one of the things we strive to ensure is that we develop a deep and positive bond with our children.  We hope this because we know how important a secure and stable relationship is for a child.  And amazingly, one of the ways we can do this is babywearing.  Usually it’s hard to disentangle the effects of parenting practices on child or parent-child outcomes because people self-select into their own groups without controlling for a lot of other variables (which is done though), but with babywearing, there actually is experimental research on its positive effects on bonding.

In a study looking at mother-infant dyads[6], researchers randomly assigned half the group to receive an infant seat at birth for their child while the other half received a soft infant carrier.  Importantly, parents used it only as they saw fit and nothing stopped the control group from using a carrier if they had one, meaning the results would most likely be on the conservative side (i.e., we would be more likely to see no difference between the groups).  Yet, at 3 ½ months, mothers who were given the soft carrier were significantly more responsive to their infants’ vocalizations and at 13 months the children were significantly more likely to be securely attached to their mothers.  Not bad for a bit of cloth.

Congruent with this, Darcia Narvaez from the University of Notre Dame has done work looking at the factors that influence infant and child well-being and has found that, coupled with methods like co-sleeping and full-term breastfeeding, babywearing contributes to positive infant brain development[7].  These results related to reason #1 to babywear – touch – as it is this contact that helps shape development and mother-infant bonding.

Reason #4: Babywearing replaces the dreaded tummy time

Why do people care about tummy time?  It’s actually not random or superfluous.  Tummy time helps infants learn to move their head up and from side to side.  Why does this matter?  Because it can help them avoid suffocation if they find themselves in a prone position[8].  When infants were put to sleep on their stomachs (or prone), they built up neck and stomach and arm strength much faster, though it had the unintended effect of increases SIDS risk.  However, as infants now sleep on their back and spend the majority of their time on their back, they don’t get to work their neck and stomach muscles which are used to help them if they ever find themselves in an undesirable and dangerous position.  Hence tummy time.

However, most infants don’t enjoy tummy time and it’s something parents have to force.  Except they don’t.  Babywearing works the same muscles and allows the same benefits as tummy time.  An infant in an upright carrier is able to work on moving his or her neck while building up the muscles, and just having to remain upright (even while supported) builds the stomach muscles.  There is no tummy time in many cultures but it’s also not needed as the infants get ample time building necessary strength while being worn.  My personal experience was of a infant that hated tummy time so we never did it, but she could hold her head up on own (briefly, for her passport picture) at a month.  And even now I’m shocked (and jealous) of how strong her core is.

Reason #5: Babywearing can help you see the world as your child does

Babywearing can improve the bond between parent and child, but it goes further.  When you walk around with your child that close to you, you learn to see the world as they do – and it’s magical.  I wrote about my own experience of this here, but in short, it awakens you to the things that capture your child’s attention and even allows you to become a child of sorts again.  Imagine seeing leaves for the first time as they come into bloom in the spring.  Or a digger doing construction.  I can tell you that it’s truly honestly fascinating if we allow ourselves the chance to sit back and discover the world anew.

But it goes beyond that.  Because to honestly spend time with others is to learn to take their perspective when looking at the world.  And that is key to parenting and relationships more generally.  Perspective-taking allows for greater empathy[9][10] and our own levels of empathy and responsiveness are related to the development of empathy in our own children (for a review, see [11]).  This isn’t to say you won’t be able to take the perspective of your child if you don’t babywear, but it just makes the process that much easier.  This is probably one of the reasons why we see greater instances of secure attachment in families where babywearing is done[6].

***

At the end of the day, it’s up to each family to decide what works best for them.  But with all the benefits of babywearing – including the very basic cost difference compared to a stroller – why wouldn’t you try it?  You don’t have to do it all the time, but babywearing even occasionally will confer many of the benefits listed here.  And those are all good things.  So grab whatever it is that is most comfortable for you and spend that extra bit of time touching your child.  You will both be thankful for it.

 


[1] Montague A.  Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin.  New York, NY (1971): Columbia University Press.

[2] Field T.  Touch.  Cambridge, MA (2001): MIT Press.

[3] Brazelton TB. Touch as a touchstone: Summary of the roundtable. In K.E. Barnard & T.B. Brazelton (Eds.), Touch: The Foundation of Experience (1990).  Madison, WI: International Universities Press.

[4] Mooncey S, Giannakoulopoulos X, Glover V, Acolet D, & Modi N. The effect of mother-infant skin-to-skin contact on plasma cortisol and β-endorphin concentrations in preterm newborns.  Infant Behavior and Development (1997); 20: 553-557.

[5] Hewlett BS.  Diverse Contexts of Human Infancy.  New York, NY (1996): Prentice Hall.

[6] Anisfeld E, Casper V, Nozyce M, Cunningham N.  Does infant carrying promote attachment?  An experimental study of the effects of increased physical contact on the development of attachment.  Child Development 1990; 61: 1617-1627.

[8] Paluszynska DA, Harris KA, Thach BT.  Influence of sleep position experience on ability of prone-sleeping infants to escape from asphyxiating microenvironments by changing head position.  Pediatrics 2004; 114: 1634-1639.

[9] Lamm C, Batson CD, Decety J.  The neural substrate of human empathy: effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2007; 19: 42-58.

[10] Bengtsson H, Johnson L.  Perspective taking, empathy, and prosocial behavior in late childhood.  Child Study Journal 1992; 22: 11-22.

[11] Grusec JE.  Socialization processes in the family: social and emotional development.  Annual Review of Psychology 2011; 62: 243-269.

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Comments

  1. Melissa K says

    Babywearing is also much more convenient. First you do not have to store a stroller which often is stored in car trunks reducing gas mpg. Second strollers require use of handicap entrances which I have found while traveling with stroller-using parents are woefully lacking .

  2. Emily says

    I am 50/50 with babywearing and strollers. My son was worn mostly as an infant around the house and while running errands, and still occasionally now at 28 months, usually for a hike. But a stroller can come in handy if you are shopping for clothes for yourself. Can’t try on clothes while wearing the baby. And I love my jogging stroller for taking a jog in the woods! I do wish I had worn him more as an infant. He was so content to nap for long stretches in the pack and play that I didn’t bother to wear him as much as I could have.

  3. Devona Liffick says

    If you are the parent of twins or two children who are close in age, you may find it necessary to invest in a double stroller. Double strollers can be absolute lifesavers, but shop carefully, because they can also be a hassle. Since a double stroller will carry more weight than a traditional stroller, everything is harder. Pushing, steering, and folding the stroller are all more difficult than with a traditional stroller. Don’t let this scare you away, a quality double stroller can make your life much easier. When choosing a quality double stroller, such as those manufactured by Graco, Peg Perego, or Maclaren, there are some things to keep in mind. A double stroller either allows the children to ride one in the front and one behind, or the two children beside each other.

  4. says

    I’m a big fan of babywearing and wear both of mine, but statements like “Sadly, infants and children are not receiving the amount of touch they need to thrive.” are so emotionally loaded that they alienate the very people you’re trying to target. For starters it’s completely unqualified by any evidence that I can find and secondly, makes it sound like unless you’re prepared to babywear 24/7 you might as well not bother.

    Stick to the facts or personal anecdotes, please.

    • says

      Personal anecdotes are no good as anecdote does not equal data.

      However, I had thought the following facts and citations were clear in their link to that statement. Especially, “But in our society of gadgets to hold your baby, the average baby is only touched about 12-20% of the time and decreases to 10% by the time children reach 1 year of age[5].” Of course I’ve also done other posts on touch which are filled with citations, but to me, the first 5 cover the importance of touch and the massive reduction our children are seeing.

      • says

        Personal anecdotes are more appropriate for an opinion piece than clutching at straws. My (albeit brief) searching through the referenced material shows that babies are being touched less, as you quite rightly said, not that they’re “not receiving the amount they need to thrive” which is the statement I take issue with.

        • says

          Lots of people argue this. Look at the rates of depression and other problems with our children. I certainly don’t think it’s a far fetch to say they aren’t thriving. Surviving? Sure. Thriving? Not really. I was recently at a conference (Society for Research in Child Development) which spoke of this very issue.

  5. says

    And another important reason… we have to get babies out of the car seat infant carriers for health reasons! Search AAP’s journal or the JAMA journal archives and you’ll find recommendations readily accessible for anyone to read to use car seat and infant safety seats for travel and in the car only. Keeping babies from spending too much time in devices the maintain baby’s position in a chin-to-chest posture means less time in gadgets and more time in arms, and, as you’ve already mentioned, baby carriers (slings, wraps, buckle carriers, etc.) make that much easier! :)

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