By Tracy G. Cassels
One of the simplest yet most effective aspects of Evolutionary Parenting is baby wearing. I’m also pleased to say it’s one of the ones making a rather large comeback after years of a stroller monopoly. These days you walk down the street and see many parents – moms and dads – carrying their babies in bjorn’s, ergo’s, wraps, etc., something that was rarely seen even just ten years ago. So why is baby wearing making a comeback? And why is it a good thing?
Oddly, I don’t actually believe the answers to these questions are related – the primary reasons baby wearing is good are most likely not the reasons people are doing it. In fact, most of the people I know who baby wear are completely unaware of the benefits to their child’s well-being or their relationship with their child; the reason they do it is simple – it’s easier. For anyone who’s lugged the stroller around, you probably know what a pain in the ass it can be. Just try getting into a store – you try to open the door while holding the stroller as the door then falls closed again or hits the stroller, waking up your little guy or simply hitting his arm which is hanging over the side. You eventually end up going into the store backwards because it’s the only way to both hold the door open and maneuver this large contraption though it’ll still hit the stroller or your child on the way in. And what if people try to help you out? They end up squashed against a wall with the wheels of the stroller going over their feet one at a time ensuring it’ll be a while before they extend that courtesy to anyone else. And heaven forbid you have to ride the bus – the dirty looks you get for having to take up valuable seat space for the stroller are enough to keep any sane individual off the bus as much as possible. Of course, you can always drive and pack your stroller in the car, but then where do you put all the things you go shopping for? Your massive stroller takes up all the space in the trunk. All in all, it’s enough to give anyone a headache.
In contrast, the simplicity of baby wearing means you avoid all of these hassles. You can open doors, cook, clean, walk, shop, talk, nurse, hold a coffee, eat a muffin and so much more all while holding your child close and getting to where you need to go. You can sit on one seat on the bus, thus avoiding the wrath of the masses. A carrier takes up a fraction of the space of a stroller, thus enabling you to bring it places with little to no inconvenience (note that the cloth wraps are particularly great for this – fold ‘em up and they’ll fit in a diaper bag). This is particularly helpful for traveling where you can now end up paying obscene amounts of money to check oversized items (like strollers). All in all, life becomes much easier when your child is attached to you instead of some gizmo with wheels.
But ease was only part of the evolutionary story. The other parts consist of safety and what’s best for babe. Previously, one of the only ways to ensure your infant’s safety was to make sure they were with you at all times. In former (and current) hunter-gatherer societies, infants spend considerably more time attached to their mother (or another person, but primarily the mother) via a baby wrap and part of this is simply logical – if the mother must be out foraging, it is absolutely safest to have her infant with her at all times. Leaving an infant alone would be potentially deadly. But even safety and ease don’t explain everything because the vast majority of hunter-gatherer societies also carry their infant in ways to maximize skin-to-skin contact (this is obviously weather dependent as well). Skin-to-skin contact promotes the release of oxytocin which reduces levels of stress and increases feelings of love and the desire to connect with another. And while skin-to-skin contact isn’t necessary for the release of oxytocin, it certainly helps. By carrying the infants in wraps that promote skin-to-skin contact, the babies are producing oxytocin which helps them bond with their mother, feel a sense of calmness and love, and thus they fuss less than their non-carried counterparts.
While the structure of our society has changed to become more complex and industrialized, there is nothing in our behaviour that has changed that would suggest this type of closeness is no longer needed or beneficial to babies. In fact, research out of Sweden has shown that newborns will reactively cry when separated from their mother, suggesting that it is their innate preference to be as close to their mother as possible, regardless of where or when they were born. And the benefits of baby wearing are not limited to those in hunter-gatherer societies. While the safety of babies is less of a concern in Western societies, the ease factor is obviously quite relevant and the benefits with respect to comfort and attachment have also been observed in Western societies. In one study, researchers found that mothers who used a baby carrier were more responsive to their infants at 3 ½ months and showed a more securely attached pattern at 13 months. This study also suggests that perhaps the reduction in fussiness seen elsewhere may be partially due to the physical contact with mom, but also the physical contact seems to increase mom’s responsiveness to baby. This responsiveness, in turn, may also help to reduce fussing as the babies are aware their needs are being met and thus don’t need to fuss to get attention. Regardless of the reason, the science remains the same – babies who are worn by their caregiver are calmer, happier, less fussy, and more securely attached than those who spend less time in their mother’s arms.
Given this, it is difficult to understand why anyone wouldn’t baby wear, at least for the beginning months when baby is light enough (although you adapt quite readily to their growing weight). I realize that stroller companies probably hate this fact, and it’s partly why we are presented with ever more flashy strollers – ones that turn, multiple cup holders, rain covers, sponge wheels, etc. It’s as if by making them as exciting as possible, we’ll think that we must need them; after all, we are a society obsessed with its gadgets. And while it’s been working, I do believe that the tide is turning and people are starting to realize that the $700 they could spend on a fancy stroller would be better off as $100 towards a great wrap to carry their baby and $600 in a RESP for their child’s education. When you child truly is too big to be carried, there are plenty of cheaper but useful strollers that will suit you just fine. Or, by that time, your child could just walk – after all, it is what we’ve evolved to do.
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