By Philippa de la Haye As published in Issue 2 of The Green Parent
These days, most parents own some sort of baby carrier as part of their repertoire of baby equipment, but why is it such a useful thing to have? There are obviously times when a baby carrier can be more convenient than a pushchair but there is also evidence that using a sling has great impact on your baby’s well-being.
Babies who are carried cry less
Most babies love to be carried, and babies who spend a lot of time in a sling or carrier tend to cry less than those who don’t. Many new parents can find it overwhelming when their baby demands constant contact and people often worry that they are ‘spoiling them’ or ‘making a rod for their own back’. But a newborn baby is incapable of being manipulative. When they cry at being separated from you they are simply acting in accordance with their instincts for survival.
All newborn animals exhibit a protest-despair response when separated from their primary caregivers. First they cry – to bring their mother back to them. Then if their cries are not heeded they stop crying, in order to conserve the energy needed for their survival. This whole process releases huge amounts of stress hormones into the baby’s body. If you use a sling around the house this can help you to be mobile and get things done while still meeting your baby’s instinctive need for your touch. This is obviously a good thing for your baby, but is also great for you. A crying baby who can’t settle is extremely stressful for the whole family. As for spoiling them and building bad habits – as your baby grows and develops they will naturally want to separate and explore their environment. There is plenty of time for them to do this in confidence and security once the bond of trust has been established between you. I don’t know many babies of 9 months who want to be carried all day when they can be crawling!
It’s good for your baby’s development
Research shows that baby-wearing has many benefits for your baby’s health and development. Keeping your baby close to you provides your baby with physical contact, security, stimulation and movement. All of these things provide your baby with the ideal conditions for development. Babies in a sling spend more time in the state known as ‘quiet alertness’ so they are awake but contented. This is the optimal state for learning for a newborn. As your baby gets older being carried in a sling keeps them closely involved in your life. They are close to your face so can observe your expressions, hear your voice clearly. They are also given more opportunities to interact with other people as they are up high and on the same level as other adults. Whenever I’m carrying my daughter in the sling I always notice how much more other people chat to her and she loves it!
It’s good for your baby’s health
Newborn or premature babies who are carried in a sling against their mother’s body adapt to the environment outside the womb more quickly. The close contact helps to regulate their body temperature, heartbeat and respiration. Being held in an upright or semi-upright position can help some babies with wind or colic. If you carry your baby in a sling for a while after feeding it can help them to get any wind up and prevent any pain caused by it passing through their system.
Baby-wearing promotes bonding
Carrying your baby close to you helps them to recognize your unique smell and the sound of your voice. The close contact enables you to learn to recognize your baby’s signals more quickly which helps you to be more responsive to their needs. Baby-wearing can also be a special way for fathers to bond with their newborn babies. As your baby cuddles up to his Dad in a sling he learns the different sound of his voice and the feel of his body. Your baby is only going to need you in this way for such a short time. The changes in your child from birth to a year are quite remarkable. Carry your baby close while you can and make the early months calmer and more enjoyable for all of you!