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Why wear your baby?

One Mother's Story

When my first baby was born I quickly found that he was only happy in my arms. While he was being cuddled, all was well, but as soon as I put him down he’d start screaming. His “touch-sensor” was so sensitive that even if he was fast asleep he would immediately wake if I tried to leave him. I’d bought a sling while I was still pregnant and it was pressed into immediate service – it worked like a magic charm. The only way I could get anything done was to have my baby almost constantly strapped to my chest.

Anthropological studies have long told us that babies rarely cry in cultures where they are carried in slings or held by adults for much of the time . Like many other western mothers I was discovering that “wearing” my baby made my life easier and meant I could enjoy him more. Research shows that babies cry less when they’re carried more. In one study , six week old babies who were carried for at least three hours a day cried 43% less overall, and 51% less during the evening when “colic” crying tends to be at its worst.

Without a sling, my life in those early months would have ground to a complete halt. Using a sling I discovered that I didn’t have to do everything one-handed – instead I could cuddle my baby and keep him happy and at the same time get on with the rest of my life. Even once he was more settled, I still used the sling daily. I watched my friends from antenatal classes struggle with huge pushchairs and travel systems and revelled in the way I could go anywhere I liked. Central London on the tube? no problem! Long country walks? a doddle!

Slings make every-day tasks like cooking and washing so much easier and less stressful. There’s no struggling trying to get a stroller up the stairs, you don’t risk putting your back out by lugging a heavy carseat around, and with many types of sling, you have the added benefit of hands-free breastfeeding.

My high-maintenance baby grew into a high-maintenance toddler and when I was pregnant with my second child I started to wonder how I was going to manage with a newborn as well. But once again, the sling came to my rescue. I could carry on doing all the activities my eldest was used to – just with a baby strapped to my front.

As well as making life easier for parents, being carried is good for babies too. In the womb, babies are in perpetual gentle motion, so being able to feel the movement of their parents’ bodies helps them feel secure . Research shows that this makes it easier for newborn babies to adapt to life on the outside . Babies who spend much of their day in a carseat, cot or pushchair get used to being the centre of attention for short spans of time interspersed with long periods of being on their own. But babies who are carried for much of the time are constantly part of the action. Safely nestled against their parents’ chest, they see and learn more about the world around them. It’s also a great way for them to bond with fathers, grandparents and carers.

Top of most parents’ list of “must-haves” for their new baby is a state of the art pushchair – preferably with as many features as possible. Many families would find the idea of life without a pushchair simply inconceivable - yet prams are a relatively modern invention, not becoming popular until Queen Victoria used them for her own children in the nineteenth century. Fashionable society followed suit and the cult of the pushchair was born. But for most of human history, slings were the only type of baby equipment around, and in many parts of the world today babies are still carried, not pushed.

More and more parents in developed countries are discovering what mothers and fathers have known for thousands of years – that babywearing works. Having your baby close to you in a sling also makes breastfeeding easier, and many families find that sharing a bed with their baby means that everyone gets a better night’s sleep. Babywearing, breastfeeding and co-sleeping are all part of a more instinctive style of parenting which makes parents more “tuned-in” to their babies’ needs – it makes babies happier, and that makes their parents happier too.

Sophie Dekker, August 2005

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