By Liz Wagenknecht, The Babywearing Practice
For many parents babywearing is a part of their day to day routine, an essential tool that helps us master the challenges that we face while raising our children. It enables us to have our hands free for important tasks, travel with ease or take us places where no prams can go. Most importantly (in my opinion) it gives us time to nourish ourselves while still providing our babies the security and closeness they crave.
Babywearing is an ancient tradition. Almost any cultural group has its own traditional carriers, and parents have used a device to carry their infants close to their bodies around the world for centuries. Our babies, whatever their cultural background, expect to be carried from birth onwards.
This stems from our evolutionary history. The only thing that differs in various cultures is the way the babies are carried and the traditional tools used within these cultures. A few examples help to illustrate this:
- In Mexico people use a rebozo, a square of woven cloth tied over the parent’s shoulder
- In Alaska people use an amauti, a very thick arctic jacket with a baby pocket
- In Wales people used to wear their babies in shawls, called Siol Fagu
- Native Americans used cradle boards; and
- In Asia a variety of carriers (the traditional ancestors of Mei Tais) have been in use for centuries.
According to a study done by Timothy Taylor of Bradford University in 2010 the human brain size grew exponentially when mothers discovered and utilised babywearing. Our babywearing ancestors were more likely to defend their offspring with their hands free and they were able to preform other more economically productive tasks. In addition to the convenience for the mother, the gestational period of the baby was artificially prolonged through babywearing.
Babies have adapted to being carried. Some characteristics of the anatomy of newborn babies plus reflexes, physical and mental development and behaviour point into the direction that they are designed to be carried in an upright position on the carer’s body, in a seated squat position.
In the 1970s a German biologist established a new term to characterise a new class of mamal infants “the active parent clinger” to whom our species belongs. All active parent clingers are born with reflexes that allow the infant to actively contribute to being carried. Humans are born with the Palmer Grasp Reflex and the Moro Reflex (a involuntary response to a sudden loss of support, raising arms and opening hands at the same time as if trying to attach onto something, and then closing the arms around whatever is in reach and an onset of cry straight after) allowing the infant to cling to the caregiver that is carrying the baby.
We have been carrying our babies in our arms and on our bodies for so long, that babies could actually be said to be born to be carried. Putting them down in cots, prams and bouncers is not in line with their nature and evolutionary history as we have only had these tools for the past 200 years. The minds and the bodies of our babies are made to be carried and that is exactly what they expect us to do.
When we carry our babies they are close to our chest. The chest is the natural habitat of our infants. Infants are very calm when held close to the mother’s chest, because the baby instinctively knows that it is safe from harm and food is accessible.
A lot of studies have been done about Kangaroo Care and the benefits for preterm babies, but healthy newborns and infants also highly benefit from being held close to their mother’s chest. Breastfeeding and bonding benefits greatly from holding your baby on your chest, even more so if all clothing is removed so the baby gets ‘skin to skin’ time with you.
When a baby is worn in an upright position “heart to heart” with the wearer, the whole digestive tract of the baby is supported and gently massaged and kept warm through the movement and body heat of the wearer. This helps the baby to digest food and to pass wind. Reflux can be soothed by the upright position and by the effortless digestion of the food, so babywearing greatly aids digestion and helps to sooth discomfort caused by reflux and wind.
During the long process of evolution, our babies developed life saving reflexes and instincts that allowed them to stay attached to their caregiver. These reflexes can still be observed today in newborns all over the globe. I think all mothers know their baby falls asleep easily when they are held in arms, but as soon as you want to put your baby down into the cot or crib they wake up. This is one of those life saving instincts that has survived from ancient times into modern days, babies sense the movement of their body even during sleep and wake up and alert the care giver if they are put down in a potentially life threatening environment. In ancient times their life was threatened as soon as they lost contact with their caregiver, they could potentially be eaten by a wild animal, left behind to starve or die from exposure.
Many of us may think babywearing is closely related to attachment parenting and was “invented” in recent years through the teachings of Sears and the like. To the contrary, carrying our babies on our bodies dates back more then 6 million years. Babywearing truly has been an essential parenting tool since the dawn of time.
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