The ancient, artful practice of keeping your baby close and your hands free is gaining popularity in North America, for good reason.
Babies raised in North America spend far too much time in containers. They get shuffled from crib to bouncy seat to swing to car seat to stroller, and don’t spend nearly enough time being held. As any parent knows, however, it’s impossible to hold your baby all the time. Meals have to be made, laundry must get washed, and other siblings require attention.
Enter babywearing – a wonderful ancient practice that is common in many parts of the world but only just starting to gain popularity here in North America. Babywearing is the act of “wearing” or carrying your baby or small child in a way that keeps them close, supports them, and promotes that important parent-baby bonding while keeping your hands free.
“Our cultural attitude [here in North America] is not to spoil babies. We value independence and think that, by not carrying our babies, we will teach it to them,” says Linnea Catalan, executive director of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance, in an interview with TreeHugger. But the evidence shows that that’s not the case.
“Babies are born needing to be carried; it’s a biological imperative.”
Constant touch is necessary for the well-being of human babies. We know, both scientifically and anecdotally, that the more babies are handled, held close, and cuddled, the better they do and the faster their neurological pathways develop after birth. Babywearing is a win-win situation because the bond is formed, babies thrive, and parents are able to accomplish other tasks.
Catalan also works as a private babywearing educator, running workshops on how to wear your baby, why it’s so important, and what kinds of carriers are on the market. She likes to “meet parents where they’re at,” either teaching them how to use a carrier they already own, or showing people what they can use if they’re new to the whole concept.
Ours is not historically a babywearing culture, which sometimes makes it difficult for many new parents to adopt it. Just like breastfeeding, when you don’t see it being done, it doesn’t become as normalized as it should be. But Catalan is hopeful that babywearing’s popularity, which has grown exponentially over the past five years, is a sign that parents are becoming wise to its many benefits.
“You can tell a lot about a culture’s values based on what’s put into carriers,” Catalan explains. Cultures with the most ornate carriers, particularly Asian, African, and Central/South American, tend to show greater respect for childbearing women, infants, and children. Often the carrier was seen as sacred to the child; its straps were cut off once it was outgrown and the panel remained with the child for life.
Babywearing is wonderfully flexible and can work for children with special needs or health issues, as well as preemies (also known as ‘kangaroo care’). Even for parents such as myself, who don't subscribe to the attachment parenting philosophy, a carrier makes life much easier; I use mine multiple times a day. The average carrier can hold children weighing up to 35 pounds, and many can switch between front and back, depending on your preference and baby’s age. (Back carriers aren’t recommended before 4 months.) Once you become used to a carrier, you’ll realize what a crucial piece of baby gear it is, as important as a car seat and crib, perhaps even more so.
Tomorrow’s post will be a slideshow of popular baby carriers, so stay tuned.