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Everything you need to know about babywearing


Just like eating and sleeping, babies need to be held. Babywearing is a wonderful way of “holding” your baby using a carrier such as a soft wrap, or a more structured carrier, like a mei tai.

Endless benefits

The benefits to babywearing are endless, being both practical and hidden. Wearing your baby or toddler allows you to communicate closeness and love. You are able to pick up on your little one’s cues much quicker and therefore able to respond faster. This helps your baby feel secure and strengthens the trust in your relationship.

Another welcome bonus is that you are able to be close and carry your little one around while having your hands free leaving you able to continue with everyday tasks.

Other wonderful benefits include:

  • Attachment: Babies are more securely attached to their caregivers due to a sense of security and trust and become independent earlier
  • Comfort: Babies cry less, especially in the evening hours
  • Sleep: Baby wearing helps to organise their sleep/wake cycle. The carrier helps to block out unwanted stimuli, e.g. bright lights
  • Sooth: Carriers can calm an overstimulated baby quickly, effectively and without your arms getting tired
  • Transitioning: Babies adapt more rapidly to changes in their environment, especially premature babies
  • Survival: Baby’s heart rate, breathing and temperature stabilise and remain within normal limits faster and for longer periods
  • Development: Babies spend more time in a “quiet, alert” state, which is most supportive of learning
  • Stimulation: Babies get fantastic vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (body position) stimulation, which is helpful for calming, the development of balance and a sense of their bodies
  • Exercise: Caregivers can go for a walk while baby sleeps (no bulky prams)
  • Breastfeed: You can feed your baby discreetly and block out distractions
  • Chores: Catch up with sweeping, vacuuming, dusting with two hands
  • Play: Allows you to spend time playing with an older sibling, with both hands
  • Assistance: Helps to lessen the burden of caregiver depression by increasing bonding
  • Transferable: Mom, Dad, Granny, Babysitter, Nanny can all wear your baby

Match the right carrier to you and your baby

Occupational Therapist for Nubabi, Carly Tzanos, advises that you select the carrier wisely as the type of baby carrier will affect both you, the wearer and your baby or toddler, the occupant.

“Consider the age, weight and developmental stage of your baby as this will affect the optimum position your baby should be supported in by the carrier,” says Tzanos.

Carrying position for babies under 3-5 months

Younger babies need good head, neck and hip support and should be carried facing you in a “froggie” position. This position also allows you to interact easily while still sheltering your baby from too much environmental stimulation.

A soft wrap style of carrier is ideal for very young babies, and even premature babies can be carried using a wrap if tied correctly. In this position, your baby will be able to hear your heartbeat, be warmed by your body, feel the vibrations when you talk and be rocked as you walk. These are all very soothing sensory experiences for your baby.

Carrying position for babies over 5 months

As your baby gets older and the neck muscles develop, he will be able to hold his head up on his own and will want to look around more. His little hips will also be able to be carried in a more open position, and it is at this stage that you can consider using a more structured carrier that allows your baby’s weight to be carried as he sits on his bottom in the carrier. This will be at around 5 - 7 months, but not before 3 months of age.

In order for your baby’s legs and hips to be in the most comfortable position, his knees should be slightly higher than his bottom while carrying him. Whichever carrier you pick, look for one that supports your baby in one of these positions and not one in which his weight will be carried between his legs as they “dangle” freely from the carrier. This “dangled leg” position is not good for the baby’s spine as his little body grows and develops.

Your older baby or toddler can also be carried on your back, which will allow him to see more and be a part of what is happening around him.

How to carry your baby

Correct carrier position

Be aware that the type of carrier you use will also impact on your spine and it’s supporting muscles, especially as your baby or toddler gets heavier.

Make sure that your chosen carrier distributes your baby’s weight between your shoulders, your back as well as across your hips. This generally means that it should have a strap over each shoulder, it should cross over your mid-back (or have a clip fastening between your shoulder blades) and secure around your waist as well.

A good rule of thumb to know whether your baby has been positioned at the correct height in the carrier is if you can kiss the top of his head. In this position, your baby is neither too low nor too high on your body.

How long should your baby stay in a carrier?

Most young babies are content to stay in a carrier for extended periods during the day, and you may be wondering if there should be a limit to how much time is spent there.

As with most aspects of parenting, it is very much dependant on your baby as well as you, as the parent. This may be influenced by:

  • different personalities and sensory temperaments
  • the weather (on a really cold day, snuggling together in a carrier can be wonderful, on a sweltering day, both of you may get a little sweaty!)
  • who is wearing baby (baby’s biological mom will automatically adjust her body temperature to cool down or heat up her baby, but this does not happen with Dad, Granny or if the baby is adopted)
  • babywearing can help to improve milk supply, so that may be an added incentive for some moms
  • some carriers (e.g. wraps) can be used at night if needed, as long as mom/dad are in a semi-reclined position and not lying down flat
  • babies with reflux generally do really well spending some time in a carrier after a feed if they are in the “ froggie” or upright sitting position as they prefer to be upright while digesting a feed
  • if a baby is sick or fighting a bug, they prefer to be held more (and mom will respond to their more subtle cues faster during this time)
  • if baby has gone for vaccinations it can be very calming for them during this time

“In the first 3 months babies can’t be “spoilt” so holding and wearing them as much as they like during this time is wonderful,” says Carly. You may also find that when you do put them down, they stay content for longer stretches of time.

As babies get older, they will spend more time in the calm-alert state. As a result, they will usually prefer to spend this time out of the carrier as it is an optimal state for learning. Wearing your baby can help them get into a calm-alert state so read your baby’s cues and watch out for those moments!

Time out of the carrier

Babies do need to spend time out of a carrier, and this increases as they develop.

They should also be spending time on their tummies, backs, sides, sitting, crawling, standing and walking so that they can mature all the muscles and perceptual skills needed for development.

Your baby will be working on some muscles in carrying to improve his head and neck control, as well as many helpful perceptual skills, but they do need to experience their world from many different positions.

Most families find the balance that works for them if they are purposeful about looking for and responding to their baby’s cues.

Carrying your baby on your back

As your baby gets older, he will want to see more around him as he is carried, and at this stage, carrying him on your back is a great way to help him to do this, rather than forward facing on your front.

Carly advises parents and carers however not to put very young babies on their backs because they require more support than is usually offered with back carrying. In addition, the adult cannot read their baby’s cues as easily, and their little hips are not yet developmentally ready to be carried in the “open” position (until after they are 3 months old).

It’s best to wait until after 3 - 5 months and then to ensure that you are not over or under supporting your baby.

Tips for carrying your baby on your back

  • Start wearing baby on your back when his head and neck control is better (usually around the 6-7 month mark)
  • The carrier needs to support your baby at the stage they are in, so if he is not yet sitting comfortably without falling over, then he will require more support around his trunk. When he is a toddler he will need less trunk support and the carrier then doesn’t need to come all the way up to his neck.
  • Your baby’s weight should be carried on his bottom. This means that his knees should be slightly higher than his hips.

10 Tips to consider when selecting the best carrier for you and your baby

Trying to navigate through the many different styles of baby carriers can seem overwhelming. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Test out the carrier with YOUR baby before buying it (babies have unique preferences to the position they like to be carried in)
  2. Try out a new carrier when you and your baby are calm, happy and alert
  3. Get someone to show you how to use the carrier properly
  4. Decide what you want to use it for (home, hiking, breastfeeding, shopping)
  5. Who will use it (does it need to be adjustable for mom, dad, granny, nanny)
  6. What age is your child (some carriers are made for older babies only)
  7. What support do you want for your baby (neck, back, bottom)
  8. What support do you need the carrier to give you (one shoulder, both shoulders, hips, back)
  9. What fabric is the carrier made of (is it durable, washable, breathable)
  10. What colour (consider who will be wearing it, will it absorb heat, will it show spills, dirt, stains)

What to watch out for

Wearing your baby is a wonderful way to spend time with them, meeting their needs and also making sure you can get some items ticked off your to-do list. There are however a few precautions to watch out for:

  • When babywearing, you need to adjust your own sense of space, depth and distance to accommodate the added dimension of your baby (to avoid bumping them on tables, doorways etc.)
  • Do not wear your baby while cooking, making tea or holding hot cups/bowls.
  • Do not drive with your baby in a carrier – their car seat is the safest place for them.
  • Do not use chemicals while babywearing (e.g. paint, ammonia, bleach etc.)

Once you have found the right carrier for you and your baby you won’t look back - babies are happier being carried than being pushed around!

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