This month for our Ask the Experts series, we’re gathering info on babywearing. Today’s topic is how wearing your baby can benefit both mom and child. Long-time pediatrician, author of over 30 books on childcare and coiner of the phrase “attachment parenting,”Dr. William Sears (“Dr. Bill” to his little patients) shares his personal and professional experience on babywearing.
My interest in babywearing began in the early eighties when I was a speaker at international parenting conferences. I noticed that mothers from many nationalities would carry their babies in slings that were made from material, or even an extension of their dress. They felt that keeping their babies with them reminded them of their important role.
Millions of moms and their babies enjoy the benefits of babywearing, and I have always been a fan of the top parenting styles that have stood the test of time. I have had the opportunity to study this wonderful style of attachment parenting through my pediatric practice, and here are the benefits that I and other researchers continue to notice:
Carried babies cry less.
“The more I wear him, the less he cries,” report many parents in our medical practice. Parents of fussy babies relate that once they start wearing their infants more, their babies seemed to forget to fuss, and because their babies fussed less they were more fun to be with. Another reason carried babies are so content is mother’s rhythmic walk reminds baby of the womb experience. As baby places her ear against mothers’ chest, mother’s heartbeat reminds baby of the wonderful sounds of the womb.
Carried babies grow better.
Because carried babies cry less, they divert the energy they would have wasted on fussing into growing. When parents would consult me because their baby did not seem to be growing (pediatricians call this “failure to thrive”), I would “prescribe” wearing their baby at least three hours a day. Thriving means growing to your fullest potential—physically, intellectually, and emotionally.
Carried babies feel closer to their caregivers.
Sometimes a mother will say to me, “I hear so much about baby bonding, but honestly I don’t feel as close to my baby as I think I should.” Again, I prescribe: “Wear your baby at least three hours a day.” Babywearing is important to promote the mother-baby bond and is especially important to father-infant bonding. As a father and certified babywearer, I feel that babywearing is a great way for babies to get used to father’s body motions, too.
Carried babies learn more.
Babies learn a lot in the arms of a busy caregiver. I have noticed that “sling babies” (what I dub these carried babies) spend more time in the state called quiet alertness, the behavioral state in which babies are the most content and best able to interact and engage with their environment. Babies who are worn are intimately involved in the world of the wearer. What the mother says, baby hears. What mother sees and facial expressions she makes, baby sees. Where mother goes, baby goes.
Babywearing is particularly special for special-needs babies. I remember noticing how attentive Stephen, our child with Downs Syndrome, was when I would wear him supermarket shopping. As we strolled down the aisle of the supermarket, his eyes were always at shelf level, going from produce, to canned goods, etc.
Carried babies feel safer.
There isn’t a safer place in the world for baby to be than being carried literally right under the nose and eyes of a caregiver. If you are wondering whether you should wear or wheel your baby (most parents use both a baby sling and a stroller), put yourself behind the eyes of your baby and ask yourself, “If I were my baby, what would I want my mother and father to choose?” Imagine if you were a baby, would you like to be wheeled in a stroller, detached from human touch and experiences, or worn in the arms of your favorite people in the whole wide world, hearing their voice, studying their face, and enjoying the natural human rhythm of their walk? If babies could vote, they would rather be worn than wheeled.