Babywearing Basics

mother wearing baby in a carrier on her back

Babywearing, or carrying your baby in some type of baby sling or some other type of baby carrier, is not a new practice. Moms around the world have carried their babies, often tied to their backs with a cloth wrap, throughout the day as they work or do other day to day activities. Nevertheless, babywearing may seem like a foreign concept for women in more industrialized countries, as the concept of holding your baby throughout the day is not always seen as an acceptable way to parent a new baby. Moms are sometimes afraid to hold their babies for too long for fear of spoiling them. Also, our modern society often prefers convenience. Popping baby in a baby swing certainly seems easier than carrying your baby around in a baby sling to calm her or get her to sleep. Even though cloth slings and wraps are commonplace in many countries, you don’t see as many moms wearing their baby on their backs in the United States as they go shopping or do their daily tasks.

Benefits of Babywearing

Babywearing is good for mom and good for baby. Babies that are carried in a sling feel more secure and may bond with their moms better. When a baby is held close to her mom, she can hear her mom's heart beating and this may remind her of the womb, making her feel more comfortable. Babywearing is great for babies that are colicky or fussy. Fussy babies usually settle down once they are next to mom and can feel her touch. Babies that are worn may sleep better. Anyone that has had a baby has dealt with the baby that goes to sleep in mom’s arms, but wakes the second mom tries to put her to sleep in the crib. Allowing baby to sleep in the sling may help baby to sleep better and stay asleep longer.

Baby sleeping

Keeping your baby in a sling is also a great way to prevent an infant problem called plagiocephaly, the technical name for the flat spots that some babies get on the back or sides of their heads. Plagiocephaly occurs when a baby’s head stays in one position for too long. Babies who sit in a bouncer or swing for long periods of time may develop a flat spot. By wearing your baby, you can keep his head from sitting in one position for too long and help keep him from developing a flat spot.

It is a lot easier to conduct your day-to-day routine if you can have your hands free while you carry your baby around. With a good sling, you can carry your baby and still be able to do all the things you need to do. A baby sling is portable and convenient. If you take your baby sling wherever you go, you never have to worry about lugging out the heavy stroller or fuss with taking your baby’s car seat in and out of the car. Another great thing about babywearing is that you can control who is touching and handling your baby without a big deal. When you go to the store and keep your baby facing your body inside the sling, it is a lot easier to keep strangers from trying to touch or handle your little one without first asking your permission.

Babywearing is also beneficial to premature babies and may lower their mortality rate. In fact, many hospitals encourage a practice known as "kangaroo care," which is basically babywearing with skin to skin contact between mom and baby. Babywearing helps preemies to bond with their moms, gain weight faster, makes breastfeeding easier, and improves their overall health.

Types of Slings

There are so many slings on the market. It is a good idea to shop around and see which kind you like best. Some slings work well for infants, and others are better for older babies and toddlers. If you can, try more than one sling and see which one is the most comfortable for you to wear. You should make sure that there is plenty of support for your back. If your back is hurting while wearing your baby, you may need to try a different type of sling or try wearing the sling in a different position.

  • Pouches – Pouches are just a piece of material with a curved seam in the middle. They are a pretty simple design. They are not adjustable so you need to pick the appropriate size in order to make sure it fits you properly. With a pouch, your baby can be worn lying down inside the pouch, sitting upright, or on your hip.

  • Ring slings- Ring slings are similar to pouches, but instead of the material being sewn together with a seam, the tail end of the sling slides through a set of rings. You can adjust the sling to fit your baby. A ring sling is pretty versatile. With it, you can wear your baby lying down, sitting upright, on your hip, or even on your back. Putting your baby on your back may take some practice and is not suitable for small infants.

  • Wraps- Wraps are very practical, easy, and, like the ring sling, versatile. A wrap is just a long piece of material that you wrap and tie around your body to keep your baby in place. There is more than one way to tie a wrap. Your wrap may come with instructions or even a video on different techniques for tying the wrap. Follow the instructions that come with your wrap to learn how to tie it so that your baby can sit on your hip, lay nestled in front, or ride on your back.

  • Mei tais- Mei tais are slings that are a little different than wraps, ring slings, and pouches, but they are also really easy to use. They are designed with a square shaped piece of material for the body and then straps on the top and the bottom. The top straps are long and you can tie them around your shoulders and the bottom straps are shorter and tie around the waste. With a mei tai, you can carry your baby in the front or on your back. They are great for older babies.

  • Soft structured carriers- These type of carriers are a little more mainstream than the pouches, slings, wraps, and mei tais. You may have an easier time finding this type of carrier at an ordinary department store. They look similar to a mei tai but they have some structure to them. They wear like a backpack with straps that you snap together at your waist, or you can turn it around and strap baby on your back.

Babywearing Safety

Baby in sling

Babywearing is great for moms who want to spend more time holding their babies but need to have their hands free so they can get things done. Even though you can do a lot while you are wearing your baby, there are certain things you should not do while you are wearing your baby. You should never cook or carry hot drinks around while you are wearing your baby, for obvious safety reasons. You should also make sure that you check your baby’s position to be sure that she has a good air supply. If she is tucked in your sling in a way that compromises her air supply, she might suffocate inside the sling. Make sure that she can breathe well when you wear her in the sling. You may want to get some exercise while you wear your baby, but you should not do high impact things like jumping or running. You should also make sure that you are using a sling that is intended for your baby’s weight and age.