By Gretchen Pimentel, 2007
The first time I read a book on natural parenting, Dr. Sears' The Baby Book, I was overjoyed with finding a name for the type of parenting my instincts had been telling me to do. My heart was questioning some of the advice I got from others, even well meaning mothers with much experience. "Crying it out" did not seem natural to me. I longed to comfort. Bottle feeding went against my inclinations, as did putting baby to bed in another room. I was so happy to have found supportive, researched and thoughtful arguments in favor of this type of parenting.
The three things in natural mothering that have profoundly impacted my ability to be a better parent are breastfeeding, co sleeping and babywearing. The focus of this article is babywearing.
"Babywearing," unlike the other two matters, did not necessarily occur naturally to me. As I look back on it, it probably should not have surprised me that it was odd to me, as I have never seen it done in practice. I was quite literally all "geared up" to mother in the westernized American way...doing the "baby dance" by carrying my baby around from object to object. Car seat, baby swing, stroller, bouncer, crib, baby floor mat with toys, and then starting over. Isn't that how it was done? I experimented with that type of parenting briefly, and found it to be exhausting.
I am now on my third gorgeous (and soon to be fourth!) baby and much of the "stuff' that I had assumed was so necessary has long since been given away or consigned after having collected much dust. My baby carriers, however, are well worn, loved and remain an integral part of my parenting. Despite having read this in Dr. Sears' books, by now I actually KNOW in my heart that all my baby really needs is LOTS of me. He needs easy access to nurse, a safe, warm place to sleep, and loving interaction with his caretaker which can all be provided in the right baby carrier.
Experts also tout the benefits of the baby being in close contact with the mother's chest to regulate temperature, heart beat and any other number of factors. "Kangaroo care" like this is especially recommended in premature babies or babies with special needs or medical issues. (Read more about the medical benefits of babywearing from a doctor's perspective in Dr. Sears' fine books on baby care and also the new, annotated "Babywearing -The Benefits and Beauty of this Ancient Tradition" by Martha Blois, M.D.)
Further, neglecting babies by using some of our westernized parenting tools instead of holding them often could account for any number of detachment disorders. My work as a lawyer involved witnessing the pain of adult people with detachment disorders trying to function in our society. This made me especially eager to form a very early and important bond with my own children.
It's an amazing secret that most of the rest of the world is already aware of. Babywearing integrates your child into your life with an ease and grace that allows you to constantly bond with your child in the center of activity without the risk of the baby always becoming the center of that activity in a "child centered" way. Your baby experiences your daily activities along with you from your vantage point (which is infinitely fascinating to him or her!) without forcing you to conform to a schedule that exclusively surrounds his or her needs alone. Rather, your family's needs can always be accommodated. More individual benefits to follow:
It helps me to bond with my baby and keep him safe.
My babies spend most of their early days in a carrier of some sort. If not for that, they would NOT have had much human contact since I am busy with managing a household and other young children who have a lot of needs as well. The youngest baby would likely languish in a crib, playpen, or other object because it would be unsafe to put the baby down where other toddlers might hurt the baby. I believe my baby is safest on my person where I can hear and see his breathing and movement....like they have been on mamas for thousands of years
It helps me breastfeed.
I have learned to breastfeed in a carrier so that no one is the wiser. It is literally so modest and discreet in my simple, two shouldered, German style wrap carriers that I can go on with my daily routine flawlessly. I believe this may contribute to my ability and willingness to breastfeed longer, which benefits my baby.
It helps me with NFP.
Babywearing naturally holds my fertility at bay, just as it does in more naturally minded cultures around the globe. I no longer ever have to rush my baby off of the breast with the help of a carrier. Breastfeeding in my favorite style of carrier is so discreet that an onlooker cannot possibly be aware of when my baby is breastfeeding.
When it became impossible for me to nap daily as recommended in Kippley's Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding because of other young toddlers in my household I have found that, for me, having the baby nap ON me in a carrier (latching on and off as he pleases for those long, lazy pre- and post-nap nursings) completely kept my fertility from returning, unlike with a previous child, whom I did not carry as often. My fertility, in fact, returned the very week that my most recent youngest baby outgrew the need to be carried as often and insisted on coming down from his perch to play and interact with his brothers more.
It helps me on my faith journey as a Catholic.
Babywearing facilitates the sacraments in my home. Confession is much easier when I can bring my little nursling in the confessional with me tucked safely in his carrier. I do not need a babysitter, which can be an impediment to going at all when I cannot be away from the baby long during the very frequent feeding stages. Mass is amazingly easier with baby peacefully in a carrier. Mine have all fussed much less in a carrier, thus we are less of a disturbance to our fellow parishioners. I can attend more regularly without assistance, have free hands to manage toddlers, and can pay more attention to the mass when the baby is content in a carrier. The discreet breastfeeding helps me not to disturb others by exiting the pew often if I have to nurse.
It reduces sibling rivalry.
My two toddlers are not jealous of the little "lump" in the baby carrier, as he becomes sort of inconspicuous and mommy's arms are free to hug and kiss them as they please.
It strengthens and tones my muscles and helps me lose postpartum weight .
Wearing my babies helps me keep moving which, in addition to naturally lulling the baby to sleep for naps when needed, allows me to stay active enough to lose the postpartum pounds. It also mimics the weight bearing exercises I was required to do in college as a varsity athlete. I can actually feel superior tone in my back and leg muscles due to correct posture in babywearing. (To reap the rewards of this important benefit, I would stress that you must bear the weight near your center of gravity, use correct posture, and hold the baby snug enough that your legs bear the load.)
It makes me a more calm and better parent.
I no longer am stuck in one place to nurse while I get nervous about things on my "to do" list. I can do things while I nurse. However, if I want to sit and nurse to give my self a much needed break, I can do that also in a carrier with the added benefit that I can even get up to answer the phone if I so desire. In short, it gives me flexibility. I can do any manner of errands easily with a nursling which causes me less stress than if I were "tied down" to my house with errands left undone. I can also nonchalantly play "hooky" and go sip a decaf latte from a fancy coffee shop while window shopping because of discreet public breastfeeding and the ability to have my baby nap well "on the road."
And last but not least, it gets my house clean!
I can do all manner of cleaning in my carriers, as I do not use cleaning products with harmful chemicals in them. I also can vacuum quite well, with an added bonus that the sound of the vacuum and movement of my body has never failed to soothe a fussy baby to sleep in my home! This is a special trick I use for a sick child, as well.
For more information on this subject, you may want to check out these helpful sites:
www.thebabywearer.com, www.mamatoto.org (aka www.wearyourbaby.com), and www.nineinnineout.org.