Babywearing—the practice of “wearing” children in wraps, slings, pouches, or other soft carriers—keeps babies close and allows caregivers to stay attuned to their needs. Babywearing provides an emotionally satisfying closeness and offers health and breastfeeding benefits as well.
Emotional benefits of babywearing
Babywearing parents have reported feeling more confident and better able to respond to their babies’ cues, expressions, and movements. Babies worn in carriers may be calmer because their primal needs (seeing, hearing, feeling, and even smelling their caregivers) are being met.
A randomized study published in Child Development showed that babywearing can lead to a stronger bond between parent and child. Mothers who wore their babies in soft baby carriers were more responsive to their babies’ vocalizations than mothers who carried their babies in infant seats. At 13 months of age, children who had been worn in soft carriers demonstrated more secure attachment to their mothers.
Physical benefits of babywearing
Infants who spend too much time in car seats, infant carriers, bouncy seats, and infant swings are prone to plagiocephaly, the misshaping of the head due to repeated pressure on the same spot. Babywearers are able to carry their babies in varied positions as they go about their daily routines and activities.
In a study published in Pediatrics, researchers found that babies carried for at least 3 hours per day, in either parents’ arms or an infant carrier, cried less than babies in a control group. The reduction in crying could result in better feeding, researchers hypothesized, and more carrying could also reduce colic.
Breastfeeding benefits of babywearing
The oxytocin produced when moms hold babies not only promotes bonding but also helps with breastfeeding since oxytocin triggers milk release (let-down).
Wearing babies makes breastfeeding convenient when mothers are out and about, especially if they prefer to stay covered up. Many carriers, such as slings and wraps, have excess fabric that can be draped around mother or baby.
Some tips on babywearing and breastfeeding:
- Hold your child as you would if you were breastfeeding without the carrier. Newborns will be cradled against you, tummy-to-tummy; older children may prefer to breastfeed while sitting upright.
- For some wraps, you’ll want to partially put the wrap on, position your baby, and wait for him to latch on before you finish the wrap and knot.
- When using ring slings, put on the sling, place the baby upright against your chest, adjust the sling, and then ease your child into a cradling position.
- When using soft structured carriers in a front-carry position, simply lift up your shirt—your baby, when facing you, is ready to go.
Safety guidelines for babywearing
To use a baby carrier safely, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, including for whether your baby can be carried front-facing and when it is okay to do so (e.g., to avoid overstimulation or hip dysplasia). Here are some general safety guidelines:
- Make sure that your baby is breathing easily, with her head positioned at or above the rim of the carrier. Never have your baby curled into a chin-to-chest position since this can cause suffocation. Keep her face free from fabric, away from your body, and visible at all times.
- Get the right fit. Make sure your child is within the age and weight limitations of the carrier. He should fit snugly to your body and not be able to slip out of the carrier. Some carriers are made for children who can sit up unassisted.
- Know when to wear your baby. Avoid running, jogging, or other physical activities that would shake, bounce, or jar your baby. Never wear your baby while driving or riding in a car.
- Be aware of hazards. Wearing your baby puts her at stovetop height, so be careful to avoid accidental burns.
Finding a carrier that works for you and your baby is a matter of trial and error. Try on a lot of carriers, preferably with the guidance of an experienced babywearer. The numerous benefits of babywearing are worth the initial learning curve.