As much as you’d love to spend all day, every day snuggling with your little love, the unfortunate reality is that there are meals to cook, bills to pay, a hamper in desperate need of some relief—and maybe even a toddler testing his mom’s patience (along with his ambidexterity on the walls). The good news is you can keep your baby close and cross off items on your to-do list with just a bit of fabric and practice. However, babywearing (a term coined and trademarked by William Sears, MD, a breastfeeding and attachment parenting advocate) is more than a practical solution to get stuff done. It’s an age-old tradition for good reason—actually, for lots of good reasons. Read on to find out how carrying your bundle benefits you both.
There’s a biological rationale behind your instinct to keep your newborn close. During the 40 weeks you spent toting your tot on the inside, her permanent playlist was the steady drum of your heart and the melody of her mama’s voice. She was comfortable in her cozy nook. It was all she knew. But in an instant everything changed, and she found herself in a whole new world.
In her book BabyCalm: A Guide for Parents on Sleep Techniques, Feeding Schedules and Bonding with Your New Baby, author Sarah Ockwell-Smith explains that in utero your baby is in contact with you 100 percent of the time. But from the moment she’s born, it’s estimated that percentage drops to 40.
By holding your newborn to your chest through babywearing, you’re reminding her of her first home sweet home. That familiar heartbeat, though not as loud, is comforting—as is feeling your chest rise and fall and gently bouncing to the rhythm of your steady gait. Like a song she’s heard before, it brings her back to that place where she felt safe.
“I could come up with a million reasons why you should consider babywearing,” says Tayler Gunn, owner of Wildbird and mom of two in Carlsbad, California. “But I’ll keep it to one that is really important to me: Babywearing creates a womb-type feeling—making the womb-to-world transfer easier for babies and thus creating happier babies and happier mamas.”
Your babe’s tiny body is still adjusting to life on the outside, and your steady breathing and heart rate can stimulate and regulate her systems, too. As she continues to grow and develop, her body can, in a way, sync up with yours.
Newborns thrive through touch, and babywearing is a way to meet this need. Studies show that when mothers practice babywearing regularly, their children gain weight faster. Many experts believe this is because your wee one is close enough for you to recognize signs of hunger (like rooting) right away. Plus, if you plan on nursing, using a carrier can keep your tiny diner supported and covered for easy eating wherever you might be.
Moreover, being touched and held frequently bolsters other areas of physical development, such as eyesight and language. “[Babywearing] increases the time a baby spends in a state of ‘quiet alertness’—a time of contentment when she will learn the most,” writes Ockwell-Smith. When your mini sticks by your side, she gets to see what you see, hear what you say and be a more active participant in everyday life.
It’s not just your bub’s growing body that reaps the benefits of babywearing. Using a carrier also promotes emotional development, which translates to feeling happier and safer.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics compared two groups of mothers: Half were asked to wear their babies for a minimum of three hours a day and the other half weren’t given any instructions about babywearing. The researchers found that infants who were part of the first group cried 43 percent less!
Some parents worry that constantly holding an infant will encourage her to demand attention and consequently become fussier, but studies reveal the opposite is actually true. You aren’t spoiling your tot by carrying her. Rather, you’re teaching her to trust you to keep her safe and snug in this unfamiliar world.
“With so many benefits to babywearing, I honestly just love being close to my baby … having [him] cuddle up and sleep on me while I go about my day,” Gunn says. “It’s become a special time that he and I have. Now that he’s a little older, he knows and gets excited when I’m about to wear him, and [there’s] nothing better than that.”
Because of all the time you two will spend together, you’ll continue to respond to each other and strengthen your bond in small ways. When she is distressed—even if it’s just a whimper, you’re there to reassure her. When she coos, you won’t miss it, and you can coo right back. Moments like these teach you how to read your babe’s cues, so you know when she needs something before she has to wail.
Understanding your newborn’s gestures and facial expressions allows you to communicate without words (or tears!), which builds your confidence as a mother and reduces stress hormones at a time when feelings of postpartum depression can creep in.
“I always know that [my son] wants and needs me, but it’s times when he’s cuddled close in the sling that I know he loves me,” says Gunn. “[It’s] a wonderful way to get to know the new little babe in your life and for your babe to get to know you. Keep them close, and I assure you they’ll love you the way you always knew they would.”