Victoria Ward shares five things you may not know about babywearing

babywearing-33Many parents have tried babywearing (carrying a baby, toddler or child in a sling or baby carrier). A sling or carrier is often an essential item for new parents, and more and more expectant couples have discussed babywearing in antenatal classes, are recommended to try a sling by their health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor, and have popped along to a sling meet or sling library or seen one of the growing number of babywearing consultants across the UK. Babywearing can be great for parents, who get to be hands-free, bond with their babies and pick up on their cues, have reduced levels of post-natal depression, and enjoy the convenience of being able to go to places that buggies can’t.

Here are some other aspects of babywearing that you may not be aware of:

1. Babywearing is soothing for babies and helps their healthy development

A research study by Esposito et al. (2013) into infant carrying found that babies whose mothers moved as they carried them (aided by a sling) cried less, made fewer body movements associated with being unsettled and had slower heart rates than babies being held by mothers who were simply sitting.

Many other studies have shown that being close to a parent helps babies’ temperature, breathing and heart rate to stabilise. They sleep more deeply and usually for longer, spend more time in a state of quiet alertness when awake, and strengthen the muscles that would otherwise require them to spend long periods on their tummy to develop. Their balance system also develops more quickly, and symptoms of colic and reflux are reduced, as is the risk of plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome). Premature babies gain weight much faster when they have prolonged skin-to-skin contact with a parent, and the stress of separation is reduced when babies are carried.

2. Babywearing is a practice – it’s not about the product

In the UK, we are fortunate to have access to a great variety of slings and carriers. Although the widest selection is found online, high-street retailers are taking a greater interest in the range of carriers available, and the number of good, ergonomic carriers found in mainstream shops is increasing. But the benefits of babywearing come about because of the practice of babywearing itself and not because of what people choose to use. Many African women use a towel to carry their babies in what is known as a torso carry, where the baby sits low down on the woman’s back, tied in by a towel, which passes around her body, often rolled at the top and tucked in at the bottom. In Mexico, a rebozo is a long shawl that can be tied with a simple knot to make a one- shoulder carrier used for carrying children from newborns right through to 3- or 4-year-olds. You can use a slip knot or a pair of sling rings (aluminium or nylon rings designed and tested for use with slings) to turn any scarf, shawl or piece of fabric into a make-do carrier, or a beautiful carrier to match an outfit for a special occasion.

3. You can make good use of a sling before you have a baby to put in it

Around the world, women use pieces of fabric for support in pregnancy and for help during labour and childbirth. More and more doulas, antenatal teachers, yoga teachers and midwives are training in the use of slings for labour and birth, and sharing what they have learnt with expectant parents.

Did you know that you can use a sling to support the bump and ease ligament pain? Or to squeeze hips, easing hip pain and making more space in the pelvis? Or to give a gentle massage in pregnancy or during labour, or a firm post-natal massage?

Packing a shawl, scarf or other short length of fabric in a birth bag means that you’ll always have something to drape over yourself for modesty or warmth, a way of personalising your birth environment, or an aid to make it more comfortable to lean over a birth ball or chair. You can tie a knot in it and hang it over a door (closing the door – and only if the door opens away from you!), so that you can use it to lean, swing and squat. And you’ll be able to wrap your newborn baby in it, use it as a pillow or a breastfeeding support, and much more.

4. It’s ideal for post-natal fitness

Wearing your baby in a good position in a sling or carrier can aid the recovery of your core strength post birth and is especially helpful for good post-natal posture (helping yourself to adapt to no longer having the weight of the baby low down on your body). Even walking with your baby in a sling or carrier for a short period each day will gently help to tone your tummy muscles and pelvic floor, and by adding in some simple post-natal exercises you can increase your fitness level gently. Mothers in a few areas of the UK are getting the chance to trial SlingYoga classes, a new form of post-natal yoga designed for mums and babies to take part in together. Babies start the class in a sling or carrier while their mums carry out some gentle stretches and movements. During floor work, babies can stay in a sling or lie on the floor alongside their mums – all of the stretches work whether you have a small baby on your front, a bigger one on your back, or a baby asleep in a buggy or on the mat. Classes end with a relaxation and a chat.

5. It can be a lifesaving practice

In the Japanese tsunami of 2011, women used anything they could to carry their children to safety. A workshop at the European Babywearing Conference, which took place in Bristol in July 2013, covered emergency babywearing and was full of ideas for how to turn everyday objects into make-do baby carriers. Threading a long scarf through the arms of a T-shirt makes a carrier similar to the Korean podaegi and creates straps that go over the adult’s shoulders and tie under the child’s bottom. A man’s shirt and belt can be used to create a ‘body’, with the arms of the shirt tied around the adult’s shoulders or torso. Other items that can be used include sweatpants, belts or luggage straps, curtains, flags… almost anything you could imagine!

What I love most about babywearing is the versatility of it as a practice. It can mean different things to different people, and can be carried out by parents, grandparents and siblings with something as simple as a towel or as expensive as a luxury woven wrap or handmade carrier that has cost hundreds of pounds. And it’s a practice that has benefits for everyone involved.

Victoria Ward is the mother of four children, aged from nearly 2 to 8, and she runs Babywearing UK (which includes the School of Babywearing). After the birth of her second child, she opened a maternity and baby shop and trained as a babywearing consultant, an NCT antenatal teacher and a Birthlight antenatal, post-natal and baby yoga teacher. In 2010 she launched the School of Babywearing, offering babywearing training and free resources for parents and professionals. (Accurate at the time this issue went to print).

Illustrations by Mar

Resources

For details of sling meets, libraries and babywearing consultants in your area, visit www.babywearing.co.uk/localsupport or tel. 0300 800 1471.

SlingYoga classes are currently being run as trials only but should be running in different locations across the UK from 2014. Details of SlingYoga training courses will be published by the School of Babywearing. www.schoolofbabywearing.com

First published in Issue 33 (Autumn 2013) of JUNO:

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