Wearing your baby has benefits too many to list. But I’ll try. There are five major areas of your baby’s well-being that can be improved by choosing to carry him at least some of the time, from birth through age two.
Most significantly, research shows measurable benefits for baby and parents if babywearing is part of the family’s routine in the first six months. Here are the top five reasons why wearing your baby in a carrier or sling is beneficial:
For both full term and premature infants, the benefits of wearing your baby are multiple. First, baby is made relaxed and at ease, being close to a parent. Baby’s awareness of the parent heartbeat actually helps her to regulate her own heartbeat. The same goes for respiration.
The upright holds that can be used in wearing your baby will lessen colic, because gravity will keep nourishment in the baby’s tummy, reducing acid reflux.
Finally, baby learns to regulate body temperature and avoids getting overheated or chilled when carried close to the mother’s breast. Scientists found that the breast can rise two degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of several minutes when the mother’s body senses her baby is cold.
Even in the womb, a baby is regularly exposed to a dynamic environment of changing sounds, lights, shadows, voices, and movement. Imagine entering the world only to find it a lot more boring than the womb. Such is the experience of babies swaddled and placed in cribs, pack-n-plays, bassinets, strollers, and swings for extended periods of time.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you never put your baby down. However, regular carrying around the house, on walks, and on errands provides crucial cognitive stimulation. Baby’s sight is developing, including depth perception and color differentiation. Providing stimulus for this visual development can only help.
Finally, consider all of the brightly colored toys marketed to parents. These toys are meant to attach to car seats, strollers, crib railings, or bassinets. But what babies really want is a first class one-on-one tour of the world with you, their favorite tour guide. The world, with all its moving and noisy parts, is baby’s ideal toy. Being carried on your chest or back is baby’s best vantage point to see, touch, and interact with this toy.
To this day, my sixteen month-old daughter loves to be front carried on walks so that she can touch leaves, branches, bark, and the occasional flower. Of course, she also loves to break into a toddler-tumble-run and touch all these things on her own.
By wearing your baby every day, the two of you will learn a great deal more about each other at an amazing rate. You will feel more and more like a parent as you learn the various sways and bounces that soothe your baby when she’s distressed or tired. This is especially confidence-building for first time parents during baby’s first eight weeks.
When an infant is born, doctors recommend almost immediate skin to skin contact to provide a sense of security, after being removed from the most secure place she’s ever known. The first three months, sometimes called the fourth trimester, show baby’s continuing need for the love, closeness, and security of a parent.
Especially in colicky or premature infants, Kangaroo care – the practice of carrying at-risk infants almost all day, every day – has been clinically shown to speed up weight gain, reduce dependence on respiratory support, and decrease rate of infection among these infants.
While not as dramatic for healthy full term infants, babywearing provides developmental benefits for them too. Babywearing enhances your awareness of baby’s hunger cues, prompting more timely and sometimes more frequent feeding.
I can’t remember how many times I looked into the co-sleeper when my daughter, now nearly four, slept in it in the first few weeks after her birth. Every parent is sensitive to that desire to know what baby’s very sound, cry, and squirm might mean. My wife and I used to wonder whether we’d ever know what our daughter’s cries meant.
The more we wore her around the house to do simple tasks, or around the neighborhood to get some exercise, the faster we learned. The learning curve for parents of newborns is steep enough. Babywearing helped us to climb the curve with less effort.
Being hands-free was also a plus not to be overlooked. While I couldn’t cook an omlette, I got very good, and very grateful, that I was able to wear my baby while taking regular walks, going through the mail, cleaning the house, talking on the phone or reading a book.
We live in a country where the dominant culture prizes independence and that go-it-alone attitude, which is passed along to our infants early on, with books that promise to train a baby to sleep on her own at eight weeks, to self-soothe, or to cry it out.
Yet, research proves that going it alone does not provide the substantial benefits to baby’s well-being that are experienced by babies who are regularly close to parents in a sling or carrier. Developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and parental benefits show what a difference babywearing inarguably makes.