In South America, they call it an aguayo. In Korea, a podaegi. In China, a mei tai. While the slings, wraps and carriers we have in Canada are far from a new phenomenon, “babywearing” is undoubtedly gaining popularity in North America. There’s a reason for that. Supporters believe there are a number of benefits to wearing your baby.
What’s so great about babywearing?
Famed American paediatrician, and father of eight, Dr. William Sears coined the term “babywearing,” and has been studying its effects since 1985.
On his website, he lists a number of reasons to wear your little one in a sling or wrap. Sears mentions his own anecdotal experience to back up his claim that babies who are worn cry less, but also cites a six-week study that showed infants who were carried in a sling or carrier for at least three hours a day cried and fussed 43 percent less than babies in the study who were not carried.
He also believes babywearing reduces the risk of SIDS, in part because of the way a baby’s breath will sync up to the breath of the person carrying him.
Amy Ma is the group leader of Mamasupial Montreal, an organization that educates families on the “how-tos” and “why-tos” of babywearing. She says she began wearing her children out of convenience.
“Even if you’re not sold on attachment parenting, with babywearing you always have your hands free to do whatever needs to be done around the house,” says Ma.
“And in the winter, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get a stroller down the slushy sidewalks. I just put my little one in a carrier or wrap and he is snug next to my body under my coat. We don’t have to worry about boots and stuffing him into a snowsuit.”
Ma, a mother of three, also mentions that women who wear their babies tend to get back to their pre-baby size sooner. She explains that weight-bearing exercise burns calories very efficiently. “You might be doing something as simple as taking stroll to get milk. Carrying the baby will burn more calories than pushing a stroller.”
She adds that the muscles that need to be engaged when wearing your baby will also help strengthen the pelvic floor, and help get all your body parts back to their pre-baby condition sooner.
There have been product recalls in the past that have perhaps made some parents nervous about carrying their babies in a sling. But babywearing is safe, as long as you follow some simple rules.
Check your carrier, wrap or sling over
First off, Ma says, make sure the carrier is in good working order—that no seams are frayed and no clips are broken.
How to wear your baby
“Wear your baby up high enough on your body that you can kiss the top of her head,” she says. “And always make sure her airway is open by ensuring her chin isn’t resting on her chest. Keep the fabric off baby’s face.”
She suggest babies be kept in an upright position while being carried. “Tummy to tummy is a great position,” says Ma. “Not all babies like the cradle position, but few babies would complain about the full-body warmth they get when they’re carried tummy to tummy. It can also be safer because there is less of a chance of asphyxiation when the baby’s face is kept away from folds of fabric.”
Wearing your baby in winter
For parents who “wear” their little ones during the winter, Ma says “If babe is snuggled in the parent’s jacket, make sure there is plenty of air circulation. It’s better to put a hat on the baby and have your coat come up no higher than the shoulder blades.”
Choose the right carrier
Ma recommends parents look for a versatile carrier — one that can be used to carry your baby on your back, front or side so that the same muscles aren’t being used — it’s much easier on the wearer’s body if you can switch up the carrying position.
She also advises looking for a carrier, wrap or sling that will support the baby’s thighs rather than allowing them to dangle from the crotch.
Ma says it’s a good idea to find a carrier with adequate padding on the straps to make sure it’s comfortable for parents. She also recommends trying the carrier to ensure the straps, when fitted properly, are not going to dig into the wearer’s neck.
What kind is right for you?
Wraps come in different lengths and materials. A stretchy wrap like the MamaKangarou is soft and ideal for newborns, while a woven wrap like the Chimparoo, is very strong and versatile can be used from birth to more than 35 lbs.
A strong ring sling, like the MayaWrap can last forever. It is easy to use in a variety of positions and is a good option for parents with walkers who can be carried on the wearer’s hip if they get tired.
A soft structured carrier like the ERGObaby Sport is good for up to 40 lbs and offers support for the baby’s thighs and hugs his spine in a natural way, and can be used on the wearer’s front, back or hip.
Some Made-in-Canada babywearing options
The Blue Celery sling is a favourite of Fleur Bickford, an Ottawa IBCLC and RN. “It’s simple to use so great for those just learning babywearing,” she says. “It can be used for many different ages/positions.”
The Réserve Privée Kangaroo T-Shirt allows for essential skin-to-skin contact and also doubles as a discreet breastfeeding shirt that can be worn as long as baby is breastfeeding.