A few good reasons to wear your baby

Along for the Ride is holding a contest to give away “the Essential Babywearing Stash” (a pouch, a ring sling, an Asian carrier, a wrap carrier, and a soft structured carrier that can be used to carry older babies and toddlers on your front, back or hip). Click the link to enter the contest and see photos of the carriers they are giving away. Hurry, because the deadline for entering is midnight on July 31.

I haven’t used any of the brands they are featuring, but I have extensively used a pouch, a ring sling, a wrap and a soft structured carrier with my two kids. My husband is an expert at carrying babies in a sling and toddlers or preschoolers in a backpack. Many of my friends swear by Asian carriers as well–I haven’t tried then, because my wrap and soft carrier serve the same purpose.

If you’ve met me at a political event in the last five years, you’ve probably seen me using one of my carriers. I am a huge advocate of “babywearing.” In fact, my husband and I never bothered to acquire a stroller.

When you’re out and about, babies tend to stay happier (and quieter) when they are in a carrier. They’re up higher off the ground, with a better view of the world and more opportunities to see other people’s faces–a lot more interesting than looking at a bunch of strangers’ knees.

When being “worn” in a sling or other carrier, babies can smell mom or dad and feel a heartbeat, warmth and nurturing touch that is reassuring. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re at the mall or some public place, count the number of people pushing an empty stroller with one hand while balancing a baby on their shoulder with the other arm. Babies like to be up high, close to a caregiver’s body.

A good baby carrier allows you to meet a baby’s need to be held without killing your arms or throwing out your back. The best ones are designed to distribute the baby’s weight without putting strain on your neck and shoulders. At a family wedding a few years ago, my four-month-old spent most of the weekend snuggled in a wrap carrier. I remember joking with parents of a newborn at the wedding reception, “See, my arms are free!” The dad, who’d been walking and holding his baby for ages, said, “I can no longer feel my arms.”

What about toddlers and preschoolers? In our family, once a kid can walk, we let him walk. When he gets tired, we put him in a comfortable baby carrier. It’s a lot easier than lugging a big stroller with you all day long.

I’ve used a ring sling to carry a baby over 20 pounds on my hip. I’ve used a wrap carrier or my Ergo to carry small babies as well as toddlers weighing up to at least 35 pounds. My family went to the Omaha Zoo in May, and when my two-and-a-half-year-old got tired after a few hours, I put him in my soft back carrier for an hour or so. He’s too heavy for me to carry in my arms for more than a few minutes, but a good back carrier puts the weight on your hips, like the quality packs hikers use.

The Attachment Parenting International website has lots of articles about babywearing and its benefits.

I recommend the Tummy2Tummy instructional DVD (which shows how  to use slings, pouches, Asian carriers and wraps), but there are excellent babywearing resources available for free. TheBabyWearer.com has tons of reviews of different carriers, as well as links to peer-reviewed academic articles and more informal essays on “Great Things About Babywearing.”

Videos and detailed explanations about how to use different kinds of carriers can be found at Mamatoto.org.

Motheringdotcommune has a forum on babywearing (scroll down–it’s in the Natural Family Living section).

If you go to Askdrsears.com and search for “babywearing” you will find links to good advice, including general benefits of babywearing and special advantages for parents of “fussy babies.”

I’ve written a document about types of carriers I particularly like and what kind of carriers are most useful for newborns, larger babies or toddlers. Anyone who wants a copy can e-mail me at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com. I prefer not to recommend specific brands on this blog.

That said, I can tell you that I do not recommend front carriers that have baby facing out, dangling from the crotch. Brands such as Baby Bjorn and Snugli are very popular, but unfortunately, carrying a baby in this position puts too much pressure on developing spines. I don’t deny that many babies love to be carried in these, but I think those babies would equally enjoy other carriers that would be better for their developing spines. Also, the Baby Bjorn and Snugli put too much weight on the parent’s neck and shoulders.

You want a carrier that holds the baby in a more comfortable, seated position. Would you rather be carried around in a chair, or dangling from a parachute harness?

If your baby is becoming aware of the world and no longer likes to be against your chest facing in, use a sling, pouch or other carrier that allows you to comfortably hold your child on your hip. They get a great view of things that way. People who met me at political events in 2003 or 2004 often joked later that they didn’t recognize me without a baby on my hip.

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