benefits of babywearing: passive parenting done right
Why wearing your baby is good for YOUR mental health, too
Many people don’t realize that the benefits of babywearing are really also for parents – because babywearing makes parenting so much easier, less stressful, and more joyful.
One common concern I hear from new moms is either surprise or frustration about the high level of neediness that their babies display:
“She cries every time I try to put her down.”
“I can’t get anything done without having to stop and nurse him.”
This is often one reason why many new moms even start to doubt whether they’re producing enough milk:
“Baby seems to cry so often, and she nearly always takes the breast when offered – clearly she must be starving!”
Another common issue I hear about from mothers is that they feel “tied to the couch” – especially in the early days of nursing.
Moms complain that they can’t get anything done because baby needs so much focused attention, cries if he’s put down, won’t play by himself or “self-soothe”, etc.
There is one simple, healthy, and mutually beneficial way to address these sorts of “problems”…babywearing!
In indigeneous cultures, they say there is “no such thing” as a baby – there is a baby and someone else.
Babies and toddlers are ubiquitous BUT they’re never the center of attention.
They are in constant contact with their caregiver (most often their mother) because they are “worn” in soft slings or carriers.
Baby is positioned in such a way as to make nursing easy for him and effortless for mama.
In our culture, by contrast, mothering a baby or young toddler is viewed as a very active task, requiring lots of exclusive attention and focus.
We seem to fear “spoiling” our babies, and strive to make them independent, and so we spend lots of time, effort, and even money on ways to put the baby down.
One of the central goals of new motherhood seems to be separation, independence…yet the innate biological wisdom of babies causes them to rebel against separation.
Babies seem like they always want to be held because they’re supposed to want to be close to their mothers.
Babies have a biological expectation to be in continuous, close contact with their mother, their sole source of nourishment, safety, and comfort.
The very survival of our species depended on precisely this sort of deeply connected mother-baby relationship from the dawn of humanity.
We may have the technology and the affluence to “not have to” hold our babies all the time or feed them with our breasts, but our babies are born with “primitive brains” and aren’t aware of this.
Often starting in the first minutes after they’re born, human babies will turn toward their mother’s voice and root for the breast.
They will latch on, sometimes with difficulty – but always expecting nourishment, warmth, loving arms and soothing tones. It is their birthright, and while they cannot tell us this in words, they are very aware of it.
Babies don’t expect the closeness and comfort of the womb to cease abruptly at the moment of birth.
Think of how intimately inseparable we are from our babies during pregnancy… We care for them passively, without any monumental conscious effort of how to grow a new life inside us. The closeness is nourishment enough, it seems.
This need for intimacy cannot be met by any combination of baby-teaching DVDs, light-up talking toys, bouncy seats, cradle swings, molded plastic pacifiers or breast-shaped bottles.
That’s not to say that any of these things are inherently bad – but they are no substitute for the closeness and warmth of a baby’s own mother.
Babies cry to tell us what they need – and closeness, warmth, and frequent nursing sessions for both comfort and nourishment are all legitimate, optimal needs of human babies in the first year and beyond.
Babies almost always cry when they find themselves alone in a crib, car seat, or carrier.
Speaking from an evolutionary standpoint, the human baby who was left alone for long periods of time didn’t have much chance of survival to pass on his or her genetics.
Of course this isn’t much of a problem anymore.
Thanks to modern living and technology, we’ve figured out relatively safe ways of separating mothers and babies for longer periods of time.
However, just because we know there isn’t a sabre-toothed tiger waiting to snatch up our baby when we leave him alone – doesn’t mean that that biologically driven, legitimate fear of being alone goes away in our baby’s psyche!
Instead of using our modern ingenuity to devise ways of separating from our babies, and then feeling frustrated when they resist separation – why not find ways to honor their biological and emotional needs while meeting our own needs as well?
With the proper carrier for your body and preferences, and a bit of skill mastery, you can wear and even breastfeed a baby of any age – while at the same time cooking dinner, going grocery shopping, playing at the park with your older children, working on an important presentation for work or school, or many other things.
Instead of being needy and clingy, a baby who is always worn in a carrier is extremely likely to feel content and safe.
Even better, babies who are worn often tend to speak earlier and take a greater interest in the world around them, because they’re seeing it from the firsthand, active perspective of an adult, instead of being relegated to the rock-n-play or stroller.
This allows us to focus on the tasks of daily life, and creates a close bond with our babies without making the act of parenting into an exclusively demanding task, all by itself.
Children do better, long-term, when they have a deep, solid foundation of trust that their needs will be met (and yes, human contact is a legitimate need).
Imagine growing up in a world where everything seems to revolve around you...this actually isn't a good thing.
It might be nice at first, but once you grow up a bit, and meet other people who aren’t inclined to drop everything to make sure you’re 110% happy – well, it’s a little disorienting to say the least.
We say that we value independence in our culture – but the elusive truth is that independence must be chosen and taken for oneself, not foisted upon someone else.
Giving independence as a “gift” makes your baby feel like they’re being pushed away – and this actually creates more dependence and neediness then there may have been to begin with.
A baby who’s learned from birth that his needs for closeness will always be met swiftly and abundantly, will be more eager to choose independent behaviors, sooner.
This way, a child can be more independent when he’s ready – instead of when others think he “should” be ready.
When you wear your baby, you shift the take of parenting from an active, demanding, singularly-focused task, to one that’s easily integrated with the rest of your life.
Yes, you do still get to have your own interests and activities as a parent!
In fact, it’s better for your relationships overall if you don’t completely do a 180 once you have children.
I realize this might sound like blasphemy to some – but it’s healthy in the long run for children to understand that their parents are, in fact, human beings with needs, feelings, and interests beyond parenting.
One of the most major benefits of babywearing is actually two-fold:
Babywearing takes parenting from an active to a passive pursuit, and enriches your baby’s experience at the same time.
The paradox is that by bringing your baby closer, you are able to meet his needs more efficiently, and passively.
A baby who gets his “tank filled” with love, physical touch, and closeness during the day is likely to be less demanding at night. Because of the additional visual and auditory stimulation that a baby gets from being in close proximity to adults all day, they’ll have more to process during their dream time, and may in fact sleep more
So while babywearing is indeed an excellent solution for the question of how to get anything done while caring for and nursing baby – it’s also so much more than that – for baby, and for their parents!
A quality baby carrier is one of my most essential baby items – second only to diapers and a car seat.
If you don’t already wear your baby, please get a carrier (or three) ASAP and start! If you’re still expecting, make sure you’ve got a great newborn carrier (the Baby K’Tan is excellent, it works like a Moby wrap but without all the wrapping and tying!) before baby comes.
Babywearing International is an incredible organization which offers local, in-person meetings, support, and more for moms and dads who are just getting started with babywearing.
They even have these incredible people called Volunteer Babywearing Educators, who are trained in the safe use of practically any carrier under the sun, and will help you learn how to use what you’ve got, or choose a perfect new carrier.
You can start babywearing immediately postpartum, and it’s actually very beneficial for both you and your baby to get an early start.
The benefits of babywearing are really about creating a shift – both in our experience of raising a baby – and of a baby’s experience of being raised.
It’s not “just” something convenient or healthy to do.
Babywearing has the potential to deepen the incredible bond we share with our babies, and create a more loving, natural, and easygoing experience of parenthood for us! Who wouldn’t want that?
Courses | Services | Consults: RethinkBirth.com
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