This post marks the beginning of a three part series on Baby Wearing. We will dive into why and how to carry baby, along with Dr. Leake’s recommendations on which carrier to buy in order to best fit your family's needs. Today’s post: The all-important WHY to carry baby in the first place.
Baby wearing has become more and more popular these days, and with good reason! The benefits for both parents and baby are tremendous, and there is very little downside or inconvenience involved (aside from initial investment in a carrier).
Wearing babies, even for just a few hours a day, significantly diminishes infant crying even after carrying is done (1). Ever wonder how early man or indigenous tribes were able to exist without baby’s cries calling the attention of every predator in earshot? Most likely: keeping infant close and comforted with baby wearing (2). Crying for babies is their only real means of letting their parents know that a need is not being met. Especially in the earliest stages of life, you cannot spoil your baby by meeting these needs as quickly as possible. And holding them close lets you respond and learn more about your baby’s needs and behaviors.
Human babies are born, relatively, very immature. The time immediately out of the womb is now widely considered the “external/fourth trimester”: a period of intense vulnerability and rapid development for the infant. This is when contact plays an essential role. Holding baby close makes baby feel more secure, allowing baby to sense mom/dad’s breathing rhythm and heartbeat, hear their voice and feel their movement. The fragile and developing nervous system of an infant responds well to this stimuli, allowing for better early weight gain, emotional stability, and improved neurologic development for overall healthier babies. This contact is especially important for babies born premature (3)(4)(5). Children thrive with this stimuli, and so do their caregivers.
In terms of physical development, carrying helps to counteract the enormous amount of time that babies spend in the supine (on the back) position: From the “Back to Sleep” campaign to diminish SIDS risk, to car seats and stroller use. As a result, flattening of the posterior cranium (positional plagiocephaly) is becoming increasingly prevalent. Baby wearing generally reverses that position and frees up the back of the cranium for proper skeletal and neurological development to occur.
Bonding and Contact Time
This contact time is obviously very important for baby, but is also important for parents building a relationship and bonding with their new addition. Close contact helps establish this security and trust in their caregiver, and in turn helps the caregiver to pick up on baby’s individual cues and non-verbal communication (7). Baby’s movements, gestures and facial expressions become more familiar, parents can respond before baby needs to cry, and baby continues to learn to communicate more effectively. Trust is built in the relationship, mutual attachment is reinforced, and our confidence as parents improves. This can be especially helpful in preventing postpartum depression (6)(7)(8) as well. Bottom line: Use this opportunity to build a solid bond, for your sake and your baby’s.
Comfort and Convenience for Parents
If the above is not enough to convince you to try baby wearing, the comfort and convenience factor alone should sway you. Carriers free up both hands to perform other tasks or care for other siblings. Carriers are generally much less cumbersome than toting around a bulky stroller. In situations where stroller use is limited or not possible, due to physical obstacles or impassable roads, carriers can be a great help: They can be used to walk longer distances than a toddler would be able to handle on his own, and allows parents to carry children with less physical stress on their own bodies. The postural stress of carrying a child, even a small newborn, is significantly diminished when a carrier can be properly and safely used. Weight is more evenly distributed, and the parent is much more comfortable. The number of parents I see in my office with pain related to improper child carrying is far too high, and in many cases we implement baby wearing as part of the treatment plan.
Because after all, we still have to carry our kids sometimes…might as well do it right!
If you haven’t already, give baby wearing a try. Its fun, convenient and comfortable, and the physical and mental health rewards are well worth the investment.
>> Check in next week for more on baby wearing, including the different types of carriers and Dr. Leake's personal brand and model recommendations. <<
Hunziker UA, Garr RG. (1986) Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A random-ized controlled trial. Pediatrics 77:641-648
Liedloff, J. “The Importance of the In-Arms Phase.” Mothering Magazine, Winter 1989. Web continuum-concept.org accessed 14 February 2018.
“Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for pre-term infants”. J Perinatol. 1991 Sep;11(3):216-26.
Pelaez-Nogueras M, Field TM, Hossain Z, Pickens J. (1996). Depressed mothers’ touching increases infants’ positive affect and attention in still-face interactions. Child Development, 67, 1780-92.
Seaver, S. “Cradles of Life.” Pathways to Family Wellness, Issue #17: March 2008. ICPA4kids.org Web. 14 February 2018 accessed.
Tessier R, M Cristo, S Velez, M Giron, JG Ruiz-Palaez, Y Charpak and N Charpak. (1998) Kangaroo mother care and the bonding hypothesis. Pediatrics 102:e17.
Anisfeld, E., Casper, V., Nozyce, M. & Cunningham, N. (1990). Does infant carrying promote attachment? An experimental study of the effects of increased physical contact on the development of attachment. Child Development 66(5). 1617-1627.
Brett, K., Barfield, W. & Williams, C. (2008). Prevalence of Self-Reported Postpartum Depressive Symptoms. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 57(4), 361-366.