Is there anything sweeter than having your little one nuzzled into your chest, soundly sleeping? They are so warm, they make the cutest little sounds, and are so totally dependent on you for comfort and a good nap! Holding my sleeping baby was so relaxing for me, I could sit in our own little chair for hours upon hours.
And then I never felt like I could get anything done. And dinner was takeout more than I really wanted it to be. And I didn’t have clean nursing bras for my doctor appointment, and the baby needed diapers…and my to-do list grew and grew. But this little man NEEDED me. He wouldn’t sleep in his crib. He only slept on me, and I felt a deep connection to him and didn’t want to put him down.
A friend told me about babywearing. I had seen dads out in the world, rocking a front baby carrier, little one dangling from his mid-section. I read the articles at the pediatrician’s office that talked about hip safety and quickly put babywearing out of my mind. But my friend was persistent when she saw that the chair was quickly becoming a part of my body and she sent me MORE articles on babywearing and other ways to carry a baby on your body. My life changed that day.
I went straight to my closet and pulled out a fitted sheet and started looking for ways to wear my baby. I looked at the historical photos of women in parts of Africa and Asia who wear babies on their back- their little ones look secure and content! I spent that night with my son worn close to my chest in a twin sheet fashioned as a sling. I cleaned my house, washed our clothes, and walked on my treadmill. I never felt so productive!
The next morning, I went to a small baby boutique in town. They had every kind of baby carrier I had read about, and I was able to try them all on. What I learned is that every baby is different, and what works for me, may not work for the next mama. And most importantly, there IS a right and safe way to babywear.
So, what do we worry about when babywearing?
Baby’s hips. You want the baby’s hips to be supported and protected. This means a carrier with a wide base of support that extends the length of the baby’s thighs and supports their weight all the way to the beginning of their knee joint. That dad’s in the movies wearing a baby, supported only by the V-shaped fabric between the baby’s legs? Not safe for baby’s hip development.
Baby’s head and neck. You want a carrier that can support your little one’s developing spine. Depending on the baby’s age, they may not be holding up their own head yet, and when they do, even asleep they will need good head and neck support. Make sure your carrier is sized properly so that you can either bring the fabric up around the back of the baby’s head or use an infant insert with your carrier until your little one has mastered controlling their neck and head.
Give that sweet baby head some kisses! You want to wear your little one up high on your body. So high, in fact, that you can easily plant sweet kisses all over that little noggin without lifting them up. They should be at a head-kissing height. I dare you NOT to kiss that sweet little head all the time.
Baby’s Airway. No matter the type of carrier, you want to ensure the baby’s airway stays open by keeping their chin OFF of their chest. Make sure you allow fresh air to circulate around the baby. If it is cold, you can tuck a blanket snugly around the carrier, but do not put it near their face or head. Use a hat instead.
Comfort. This should feel good to both you and baby! There are SO many types of baby carriers out there, from ring slings, to snuggly, stretchy cocoon wraps that can be tied in tons of different ways, to ready-to-wear wraps that are structured with long tying straps to customize your support levels.
Try before you buy!
Talk to friends and ask to borrow their carrier to try it out, or contact your local chapter of “Baby Wearing International” Many branches of BWI have a “lending library” and a knowledgeable volunteer that can help you find out what works best for you and baby. (COVID restrictions may have changed their lending program, contact your local branch to find out what support they are currently offering.). Trying on different carriers will ensure a good fit for your baby’s hip support.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute says that periodic, short-term use of a baby carrier, when used properly, is unlikely to have any effect on hip development in infants under the age of 6 months. Babies over the age of 6 months have usually doubled their size, and their hip joints are more developed, so there is less risk of hip dysplasia, but good hip support should still be maintained. Having the baby’s belly to chest, with their hips spread wide may seem strange at first, but for the baby’s comfort and hip development, this is the best position. Any carrier that doesn’t allow for this supported, seated position should be avoided.
When you are just starting to babywear, take a few days at home to practice. Have someone hold the baby while you get your carrier on and set up, and then have them, hand baby, to you. As you progress, you will feel more comfortable picking the baby up and placing them in the carrier alone, but until then, a spotter is always a good idea and will help you feel more secure. Wear baby around the house while you vacuum, or do dishes. Never cook with a baby in a carrier. Once you get the feel for this new center of gravity, go for a walk with the baby in the carrier. As time goes on, you will develop confidence and the baby will feel secure. Moms who babywear share comments with me such as “I can grocery shop and baby sleeps on my chest!” And “babywearing has helped protect my baby from unwanted contact from strangers touching them”. Or my own perspective- I was finally able to tackle my to-do list while keeping my little one close and comforted. I felt like a new woman. I made an actual salad for myself for lunch instead of whatever dry snack I could rummage from the pantry. I made my bed and folded my laundry and tidied up my house. These things were really important to me at that stage of my life, and babywearing helped me to feel close to my baby and productive at the same time.
Babywearing can be a game-changer for new parents, but it may not be right for you. I encourage you to talk to your pediatrician about your baby’s hip health before beginning to babywear and use resources such as https://hipdysplasia.org/ to ensure you are wearing your baby safely!