This article was first published in the May/June 2015 edition of the BCT’s Small Talk magazine.
By Cindy Huisman
Over the last few years, babywearing has become increasingly popular, and as it becomes so, more questions are being asked. What are the benefits? Is it safe? What is the best carrier or sling?
My own babywearing journey started when my son, now four years old, was born. He was what they call a ‘fussy’ baby. He was born early, and weighed 2,500 grams by the time he came home from the hospital. And he cried. He cried a lot. He had reflux, and we soon discovered that holding him upright was the only way he would be comfortable. So I walked around with him in my arms. And even though he was tiny and lightweight, my arms, shoulders and back started hurting. Plus, I never really got the hang of buttering my bread with one hand.
Mind you, I already HAD a sling. A friend gave it to me when I was pregnant but I decided that that piece of fabric, more than five metres long, was not for me. What if I would drop my son? I did not know how to use it and the friend was too far away to show me. I checked YouTube for instructions, found hundreds of them, but still did not dare to try that with my own flesh and blood.
Luckily, I called a midwife about some breastfeeding issues. She came to my house, looked at me, looked at my baby, told me he was feeding just fine. And then asked me if I didn’t want to try a sling? She showed me how to use it and I was, still am, and forever will be, eternally grateful for it.
First of all, because my baby was happy in the sling. I could feel him relax, I could keep him close, and I could make myself a proper lunch again! I am not going to lie here, the sling did not give me instant happiness, nor did it magically solve the reflux, but it did make my life easier.
Maybe you recognise parts of my story, or think “thank goodness my baby is happy lying down sleeping in her cot”, but whatever your story is, why would you try it? What’s so nice about that amazingly long piece of fabric? (By the way, there are shorter pieces too!).
What are the benefits for baby?
Babies who are carried cry less than non-carried babies. The body-to-body contact causes releases a hormone called oxytocin which relaxes them. Actually, it also works for the person carrying the baby. And then there’s the physical stimulation. While you carry your baby, they learn how to regulate their temperature (by following your lead). Their vestibular system is also being stimulated. Their what? Their vestibular system, the part of the brain that registers movement and makes sure you keep your balance. By moving in the sling with you, your baby’s brain is being stimulated and they develop balance and motor skills. Other benefits, among many, include improved language skills and reduced risk of plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome.
Having said all of that, most parents carry their babies and children for one reason only: it is practical.
They carry because of the Belgian sidewalks or the trams in Brussels. Because they have a big dog that needs walking or they have another toddler to run after. Because their baby has reflux or colic. Because they like hiking or walking on narrow, muddy paths. Because they are travelling or because of the myriad of other practical reasons.
And benefits for mothers?
There are physical advantages for you as well. Carrying your baby in your arms or on your hip puts a strain on your back, shoulders or arms. Using a sling, the weight is evenly distributed over your torso and, as a bonus, you have your hands free for other things. Like holding that slice of bread you were trying to butter singlehandedly before.
Are there no disadvantages?
Well of course there are. Milk burps and leaky diapers are no fun at all when you have just wrapped your little one. Also, you cannot really go shopping for clothes with a baby attached to you. And then there is the odd baby who just hates it. The baby who will cry, scream, fuss and try to break free. By all means, put that baby back in the stroller. Or try another carrier – there are so many different types that I’m sure one is bound to suit you and your baby.
How do you know what will work for you?
The simple answer to that you don’t know what will work until you try. So get all your friends together and tell them to bring their carriers. Ask on Facebook if someone will let you try a particular carrier. Make an appointment with a babywearing consultant. Or just buy something you like and take it from there.
Whatever carrier you choose, make sure it allows you to carry your baby in the upright position, knees above the bottom in an M-shape. This way you ensure you respect the natural curve of the back, keep the hips placed in an optimal position and also have a visual at all times.
Don’t forget one last thing: it should be comfortable. If you are not comfortable, not enjoying it, or even hurting, then stop, because above all, it should be a pleasurable experience for both you and your baby!
Safety first! Remember the TICKS on how to carry them safely.
Tight: Whatever carrier you choose, make sure your baby is tight enough.
In sight: Keep a visual on your baby at all times.
Close enough to kiss: when wearing in front, keep your baby close enough to kiss them on the head.
Keep chin off chest: Whatever your preferred carry or carrier, make sure your baby’s chin is off their chest at all times. You should be able to easily put two fingers in in the space between their chin and their chest.
Supported back: Your baby’s back should be supported well, allowing a nice curved spine.
(The TICKS guidelines were created by the UK Consortium of Sling Manufacturers and Retailers)
Evelin Kirkilionis: A baby wants to be carried. Pinter & Martin Ltd, 2014
Babywearing consultants in Belgium
The Flemish babywearing consultants have an association www.draagconsulenten.be (website in Dutch only). Most will speak English. To find your nearest one go to http://draagconsulenten.be/vind-een-consulente-in-je-buurt/
In Brussels, you can go to Zwanger in Brussel for their workshops http://www.zwangerinbrussel.be/index.php?id=203&L=2
Haricot Magique (Café Pousette) also does ‘Ateliers de Portage’ in Brussels, as do Doekjes & Broekjes in Leuven http://www.doekjesenbroekjes.be
In French, in Brussels: La tete dans les nouages http://latetedanslesnouages.be/site
For a workout with your baby in a carrier (with instructions on how to use it as well): https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kangatraining-Brussels/475888975861530