by Sally Michener
This article covers topics such as, how baby wearing promotes cognitive development, baby wearing enhances parent-infant bonding, baby wearing helps mothers and babies get the right start, baby wearing stimulates attachment parenting, the next step: harmony and competence, baby wearing overcomes obstacles to bonding, postpartum depression, baby wearing makes life easier for busy parents and baby wearing may change your life-style for the better.
How Baby Wearing Promotes Cognitive Development
To help the brain grow and develop, environmental experiences stimulate nerves to branch out and connect with other nerves. Baby wearing helps the infant’s developing brain make the right connections. Because baby is intimately involved in the mother’s and father’s world, she is exposed to and participates in the environmental stimuli that mother selects and is protected from those stimuli that bombard or overload her developing nervous system. She so intimately participates in what mother is doing that her developing brain stores a myriad of experiences, called patterns of behavior. These may be thought of as thousands of tiny short-run movies that are filed in the infant’s neurological library to be rerun when baby is exposed to a similar situation that reminds her of the making of the original “movie.” For example, mothers of say, “As soon as I pick up the sling and put it on, my baby lights up and raises his arms as if in anticipation that he will soon be in my arms and in my world.”
It has been noticed that carried babies seem more attentive, clicking in to the conversation as if they were part of it. Baby wearing enhances speech development. Because baby is up at voice and eye level, he is more involved in conversations. He learns a valuable speech lesson — the ability to listen.
Normal ambient sounds, such as the noises of daily activities, may either have learning value for the infant or disturb him. If baby is alone, sounds may frighten him. If baby is worn, these sounds have learning value. The mother filters out what she perceives as unsuitable for the baby and gives the infant an “It’s OK” feeling when he is exposed to unfamiliar sounds and experiences.
Parents sometimes sorry that their baby won’t learn to crawl very well if they carry him a lot. Even carried babies can get down and enjoy floor freedom and crawling. Actually, attachment-parented babies show enhanced motor development, perhaps for two reasons: the effect of attachment on nervous-system development and the extra energy they have that might have been wasted on fussing.
Baby Wearing Enhances Parent-Infant Bonding
The term “bonding” receives a lot of press, but is probably the least understood concept of parenting. Bonding is not instant intimacy. Bonding is a gradual process. Some parent-infant pairs achieve bonding more quickly and strongly than others. Baby wearing accelerates the formation of this bond.
Baby wearing Helps Mothers and Babies Get the Right Start
The way a mother and baby get started with each other often sets the tone for how successful the bonding relationship is going to be. Early in the newborn period focus on what the mother does for the baby, as if baby minding were all a case of mother gives and baby takes. As a pediatrician and parent, I have grown to realize that the idea of this early give-a-thon is only partially true. Not only do the parents develop the baby, but the baby develops the parents. The ideal infant-care system — when it operates at its best — is a mutual giving, whereby all parties follow their mutual instincts to bring out the best in each other. Here’s how the system works.
The mother (and to a lesser extent the father) has a biological instinct drawing her toward her infant; an innate desire to pick up, carry, nurse, and simply be with her baby. This is called mother-infant attachment. In some mothers this attachment comes naturally — mother’s intuition. Other mothers feel a bit shaky in this intuition. Here’s where the baby does his or her part.
Just as mothers have attachment-giving qualities, babies come wired with attachment-promoting qualities that stimulate in the mother the desire, and perhaps the need, to be near her baby. Cooing, sucking, smiling, and the beautiful round and alluring features of the baby all do something good to the mother. Within the mother are the so-called mothering hormones, specifically prolactin and Oxytocin. The attachment-promoting behaviors of the baby stimulate these hormones to flows in the mother. Thus baby actually gives to mother a biological booster shot that in turn helps her give the baby the quality and quantity of mothering the baby needs — a mutual giving between two needy members of the biological pair. If we make an assumption that the higher and more consistent these hormones are, the easier mothering will be, it follows that a mother is well advised to adopt a style of mothering that keeps her hormones high. This is exactly what baby wearing does. The continued presence of the baby is what keeps these biological systems active. Intermittent contact does not. Let’s analyze this further.
Hormones have a biological measure of activity called a half-life — mean the time required for on-half of the substance to be used up in the bloodstream. Some substances have a long half-life; others, a short one. Mothering hormones have a very short half-life — approximately twenty minutes. This means that in order for a mother to maintain a consistently high level, these hormones need to be stimulated around every twenty minutes. Baby wearing causes this to happen. The continued presence, the frequency of feeding and touching, keeps mother’s hormones high.
Baby Wearing Stimulates Attachment Parenting
When a mother wears her baby many hours a day, she gets used to being with her baby, and baby gets used to being with her. In a nutshell, bonding means they feel right when together and unright when apart. This mother is more likely to give an immediate nurturant response to a baby’s cry, to continue to breastfeed more frequently and longer, and to sleep with the baby at night — a sort of nighttime baby wearing. One baby wearer proudly exclaimed, “I feel absolutely addicted to my baby.” This consistent hormonal stimulation is probably the biological basis for this mother’s feeling. This mother says, “I miss my baby if she’s been asleep too long in some place other than the sling.”
Baby wearing is even more important for the mother-baby relationship that is slow to start, either because of medical condition causing temporary separation between mother and baby or a mother whose biological attachment system takes a while to click in. The extra closeness with your baby may be just what you need to get started.
The Next Step: Harmony and Competence
After mother and baby feel connected and complete, what’s next? The net effect of baby wearing may be summed up in one word — harmony. This beautiful term in what baby wearing and bonding are all about. There are various dictionary definitions of “harmony,” but the simplest, and one liked best, is “getting along well together.” Other definitions include: “an orderly and pleasing arrangement” and “an agreement o feelings or actions.”
During the first month much of the mother-baby interaction is a learned response. Baby gives a cue, and mother learns what the best response is. After the pair has rehearsed this cue-response interaction hundreds of times, what initially was a learned response becomes an intuitive response. Mother naturally and intuitively gives a nurturant response, and the whole relationship operates in harmony.
The way bonding through baby wearing helps mothers know and feel their babies’ needs is best illustrated by how mothers in some cultures toilet their infants without the use of a diapers. The mothers who constantly wear their babies learn to read them so intimately that the mother anticipates when the infant is about to urinate or defecate, picks the baby up out of the sling, holds the baby away from her, and baby does his or her thing and then is repositioned back in the sling.
Along with promoting harmony, baby wearing promotes a sense of competence in baby and mother. Because a mother can read her baby’s cues, she learns to respond effectively and meet her baby’s needs; she feels fulfilled and somewhat amazed at her own increasing powers of observation. Mother and baby are so close that mother doesn’t miss a cue. The cue-response network, although at first learned, eventually becomes intuitive. The mother feels very competent. The infant also develops a sense of competence because his cues are interpreted correctly He learns to cue better because of the consistent and appropriate responses his cues elicit in the mother. This mutual awareness, sensitivity, and competence are all enhanced by baby wearing.
Carrying your baby a lot also helps you witness and enjoy your baby’s quickly changing developmental skills — also important in developing the bond. The way your baby moves, the way he looks at you, the way he reaches and touches you, the way he reaches toward other persons and things all give you an enhanced appreciation for the daily changes that occur in the developing baby. In essence, mother and baby develop together. The understanding and appreciation for your baby’s developmental skills are just one more aspect of cementing the bond.
Baby Wearing Overcomes Obstacles to Bonding
Not only does baby wearing enhance bonding by promoting stimulation of mothering hormones, a mutual reading of each other’s cues, and competence, it also helps mothers overcome many of the obstacles to bonding.
Postpartum depression. One of the main obstacles is postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is much less common in baby wearing mothers than among other mothers. Perhaps this is due to several factors, including mother’s hormonal stimulation and baby’s reduced crying. Frequent hormonal stimulation, as previously discussed, causes mothers to have a consistently high level of maternal hormones instead of fluctuating ups and downs, as happens with infant care at a distance. From a biological standpoint, these mothering hormones have been shown to have a tranquilizing effect on mother, which may help ward off depression. Women often report that after using attachment activities such as wearing their babies they feel relaxed, as if they have learned to take advantage of the natural biological tranquilizing effect of the maternal hormones. Baby wearing also prevents depression because a baby who is worn fusses less, so the mother feels more confident, less strained, and therefore less depressed.
Bu mothers take note: The goodness of a baby is not a measure of your effectiveness as a mother. Some babies cry a lot regardless of your style of mothering, so do not feel that you are not a good mother if your baby cries a lot. This is a reflection of the temperament of your bay and not your style of mothering. But a baby wearing mother develops competence more quickly, which overrides the usual feeling of inadequacy that most new mothers initially experience.
Baby wearing helps mothers be more discerning when they read books and magazines that promote mother-infant detachment, or parent-centered magazines. Over the last several years it’s been noticed that mothers who wear their babies a lot feel so competent that they are not bothered by well-meaning friends and relatives preaching, “You hold that baby too much; you’re going to spoil her.” They are resistant to parent-centered books and magazines that promote high-tech baby care, giving new parents the message that the outcome of their infant is directly proportional to the things they purchase for t h baby — a so-called enriched environment. (Think about it. What environment could be richer for a baby than his parents’ arms?) The parent-centered school of thought, which promotes a more restrained response to an infant’s needs, becomes foreign to the internal programming of a baby wearing mother. This advice does not feel right to her, or if she temporarily succumbs to this advice, her system rebels and she does not feel right afterward. Baby wearing mothers intuitively feel that the best enriched environment to give their baby is the closeness of baby wearing. They are able to resist high-tech advertising and settle comfortably into their high-touch style. Family-centered mothers of the baby wearing set are more likely to develop the slogan “The us generation.”
Baby Wearing Makes Life Easier for Busy Parents
In social situations baby wearing allows uninterrupted socializing with guests; instead of your having to excuse yourself continually to go to another room and breastfeed or attend to baby, bay joins the group. What a beautiful sight to see a group of parents sitting around enjoying one another yet wearing their babies. When infants are old enough to be in the hip carry (usually four to six months), babies can make eye contact and engage in some form of baby communication while the parents talk.
Baby Wearing May Change Your Life-style For The Better
Even a busy baby wearing mother does not regard her baby as interfering with her life-style but rather enhancing it. Because she has become competent in the art of baby wearing she finds ways to incorporate her baby into her daily tasks and desires, and an exciting cycle occurs: Baby wearing enhances bonding, which stimulates the mother to want to be with her baby more. Because she wants to be with her baby, yet wants to or needs to have other pursuits, she finds creative ways to carry her baby with her while she does other things. This further enhances the bonding, as mother finds baby not at all inconvenient or disruptive, but enjoyable and completing.
A mother had planned to return to her career outside the home once her baby was six months old. She had been a perfectionist in her career and was used to doing everything right. She carried this professional attitude over into her mothering and wanted to do everything right for her baby. As part of the attachment style of parenting, she wore her baby several hours a day during the first six months. Essentially the baby went with her in every activity she did. After six months mother and baby were so bonded that the mother said, “I cannot return to my former job and leave my baby.” She went on to state that there was something in her internal makeup that prevented her from separating from her baby. Acting on her conviction, this mother sought out and obtained employment that allowed her to “work and wear” her baby. (Mothers who cannot wear their babies to work can strengthen the bond by wearing their babies when away from work.) Baby wearing provides the circumstance that strengthens the bond, and because the bond is strengthened the mother seeks out a life-style that allows the baby wearing bond to continue — another example of how baby wearing does something good for the mother, for the baby, and for society.
As a parenting style of the new millennium, baby wearing makes life easier for parents — and does good things for babies.
Benefits of Baby Wearing
Because baby wearing is an exercise in baby reading, it is a valuable attachment tool. Not only does baby wearing benefit parents, it benefits babies.
Sling babies cry less. Both research and parents’ observations show that carried babies cry less, perhaps because the sling provides a familiar motion hat baby enjoyed while in the womb. Baby wearing is particularly helpful to calm those “p.m. fussers,” babies who seem to save up all their energy for along blasted cry in the evening. Plan ahead for this “happy hour” by putting baby in the sling and taking a long walk. The fresh air, the motion, and the visual attractions, such as moving cars, birds, trees, and kids playing in the part, all worked together to help baby forget to fuss.
Sling babies grow better. As explained previously, baby wearing is particularly beneficial for babies who are premature or slow to gain weight. Motion and the proximity to a familiar caregiver helps babies thrive. (Thriving does not only mean getting heavier and taller, it also means growing optimally: physically, intellectually, and emotionally.)
Sling babies learn more. Babies learn a lot in the arms of a busy caregiver for two reasons. Contented, carried babies spend more time in a state of quiet alertness, the behavioral state in which babies are best able to interact and learn from people and activities in their environment. Also, when worn in a carrier, baby is intimately involved in the world of the caregiver. She goes where you go and sees what you see. A sling baby sees the world from your viewpoint. Certainly, a sling baby learns more than one who is lying flat in a pram and looking up at the sky.
Sling babies talk better. Because a sling baby is up at voice and eye level, she learns the subtleties of body language and human expression. Baby is more involved in the conversation because she watches her caregivers talk. A speech pathologist and veteran baby wearer shared her observations: “My husband and I used the sling from about one month to one year with both of our children. When they were able to sit upright in the sling, they began watching speakers use turn-taking and eye contact to communicate. By viewing the speaker’s mouth up close, children learn to imitate correct speech movements for accurate articulation patterns. Sling babies start practicing words and sounds and store these memories at an earlier age. Therefore it is felt that wearing your baby will greatly contribute to your child’s abilities to communicate.
Enjoy the baby wearing stage while it lasts. The time in your arms is a relatively short time in the total life of your child, but the memories of your touch and availability will last a lifetime.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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