This month for our Ask the Experts series, we’re gathering info on babywearing. Today’s topic is the general health benefits for an infant gleaned from being worn, shared by Dr. Matthew Baral. Dr. Baral is a Naturopathic Physician who is a leading expert and pioneer in the field of natural medicine for children. He is Chair of the Department of Pediatric Medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. Dr. Baral is also the Founding and Current President of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Babywearing is a very important part of the child-rearing process. Some parents may be concerned that it won’t allow the child the opportunity to develop normally since they are being carried all the time, but actually, just the opposite is true. Babywearing is a key component of attachment parenting, a parenting technique named by pediatrician Dr. William Sears, and comes from the Attachment Theory, developed by psychologist John Bolby in the 1950a4 ;s. The Attachment Theory is based on the principle that children are better adjusted and develop quicker if they experience close, frequent physical and emotional contact with their parents.
Babies who are “worn” receive several benefits. They are in constant contact with the wearer, and in touch with their parent’s natural breathing patterns. This can be soothing to the baby and provides a security that a baby seat can never offer. It is a known fact that infants who are more secure in their relationship with their parents end up being more secure in life in general and actually do better when separated temporarily from their mothers. This strong security may encourage children to venture outside of their comfort zone, such as trying to take those first steps, which can be challenging and scary. Babies who are carried around also show a faster development of motor skills possibly because of the gravitational challenges that they are faced with when in a sling or worn in a baby carrier. They get exposed to all sorts of sensations that help them get used to the movement as an independent person who moves in different directions. The nervous system is very receptive to challenges and adapts accordingly. Think about it: we know that intellectual exercises and games help the brain work in different ways, and actually improves intelligence. This is also a way to keep older people and the elderly sharp and aware, fending off dementia and memory loss. The same goes for physical activity.
Concerns about spinal alignment have been brought up in debates about babywearing, but there is no evidence that it can harm the child or that children who were “worn” have any increased risk for scoliosis, or abnormally curved spine. In fact, those who are worn actually sit up and walk earlier.
Other benefits are clear. Even babies who are born prematurely or are underweight gain weight faster and thrive better when carried. It may be because these kids will feed more often due to the close proximity to their main food source. And when they do get food, they digest it better. That close contact promotes something called “digestive organization” which is a term used for improved movement of food through the intestines as the gentle motion and closeness to mom enhances intestinal function. This will also decrease the baby’s risk for reflux, an extremely annoying but all too common issue among infants. Food leaves the stomach earlier and doesn’t get a chance to be burped up and irritate the child. Plus, babies reflux more when crying, and they are less likely to cry when being held.
So feel good about wearing your baby … it will improve your relationship with them, and they will be better off for it!