I was recently astounded to hear a respected colleague say that she didn’t recommend babywearing to families as she didn’t want to appear to condone a certain style of parenting. Mouth agape, I set to investigating what that certain style of parenting might be. Wading through pages and pages from the internet, it became apparent that babywearing was depicted as synonymous with attachment or natural parenting styles. The brighter the colours and rainbow patterns the better. What was not so clear is the other kinds of parenting styles and why babywearing would not suit those families too. Surely all families would want to be aware of a tool that might help them connect, calm, and explore together?
This gave me cause to reflect on the babywearing families surrounding me. Those who openly demonstrate an attachment parenting style were absolutely part of the mix, however there were plenty of other families who didn’t fit that generalisation. At the risk of creating more boxes or showing my ignorance of family psychology, here are some of my observations of the other styles of families for whom babywearing is an important part of parenting.
This is the family just getting it done. These no-frills families have busy and productive lives, and their children are part of the hustle and bustle in quick-to-put-on carriers. Their carriers may be plain and utilitarian, with ribbons safely cinching the base of the older child’s carrier for the newborn. No time or necessity to purchase the branded accessory – and the post is incredibly slow now anyway, so by the time it arrived the child wouldn’t need it anymore. This family may have several second-hand carriers, including a forward-facing option for the cherished end-of-day garden watering session with beer-in-hand and baby-on-board.
Many families love babywearing for the ability to keep moving. These families prize time together in pursuit of activity and the baby comes along for the ride. Exercise is a non-negotiable and where a pram won’t go, a carrier can - bushwalking, hiking, evening walks in the park, classes like Kangatraining. Some of these families never look at their carrier outside of these activities.
Other families are active in their community in other ways. Festivals, trips into the city, crowded markets, theatre performances, church gatherings, rounding up cattle in the paddocks, school assemblies, you name it. Prams are not always convenient in these situations and keeping a child close can mean a greater chance of a successful outing with reduced child wrangling.
Environmentally aware family
Families increasingly consider the impact of their purchasing decisions on the environment. Babywearing can be viewed as being less resource intensive, as carriers require less materials to make than prams or alternatives. Buckles and other parts can be easily replaced, and some carriers can be repurposed or crafted when families (or carriers) come to the end of their babywearing journey. I’ve seen hammocks from long woven wraps suspended under tables, kangaroo joeys in ring slings, and gorgeous keepsakes such as clothing and art including carrier fabrics.
Some families fold up cherished woven wraps or favourite carriers as family heirlooms for future generations. Gifting a well-loved carrier to another family is one of the most wonderful presents possible. Alternatively, there is also a strong second-hand market for carriers in good condition, meaning families have access to many affordable options.
Solo parent family
Many family situations see a solo parent at home with children, either raising children without a partner or while their partner is away for work or travelling. Long commutes, long days, shift work, and FIFO swings away might see one parent doing the bulk of family life solo. Whether one child or several, parents using a baby carrier will have two hands free to tackle anything life can throw at them. Some of these families embrace the ease of a buckle carrier, while others seize the time available to explore woven wraps and ring slings. Either way, walking the dog, hanging out the washing, taking an older sibling to an activity, going for a cuppa with a friend, anything is possible as a babywearing solo parent. And when a parent returns, what better way to reconnect with their child than to hold them close to their heart in a carrier and step easily back into parenting.
The village family
For those of us blessed to have our village around us (and able to have them to visit), babywearing can enhance the child’s connection with others. Older siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, godparents, cousins, and those special neighbours who join the extended family, our village is essential to our family’s health and wellbeing. Friends of mine keep a half buckle carrier on their couch so anyone visiting can easily pick up and carry their baby without needing lots of experience. Other friends fondly recall being carried by older siblings and how those memories facilitate warmth and relationships even decades later.
Locked down family
How can we spend so much time together and still need extra connection? Competing priorities such as work, home schooling, food preparation, cleaning, umpiring disputes between family members, communicating with friends via social media, keeping up with the latest news on our devices all serve to disconnect us from our children. A friend of mine expressed her surprise recently when her toddler started to bring her the carrier when he wanted to be close. He hadn’t been carried for some months and he took it upon himself to ensure that he had the closeness and connection he needed with his parents, even when they were in the house together full time in lockdown.
The travelling family
Most of us are wannabe travelling families now, with lockdowns widespread at the time of writing. Memories and dreams of travel sustain us while we wait for borders to open. Navigating check-ins, walking the aisles and baggage collection, suitcases, hand luggage, car seats and children. These kinds of adventures can be easier to manage with a carrier packed for the journey as well. Ring slings are a favourite as they can wrap around you in transit or tuck easily into a handbag. Buckle carriers can also be lifesavers and free your hands to cart all the kit you need for your adventures on the move.
I started life as a parent in this family. And regularly find myself back here. When in doubt – try babywearing! You never know, popping your baby into the carrier and going outside for some fresh air and a new perspective may help you both. Or it might not. Either way, it is an option to try.
Families regularly experience short-term challenges with an injury or illness and babywearing can be a huge help. Babywearing can help premature or unwell children by connecting them with their parents, reduce stress, manage temperature, steady heart, and respiration rates. Recently my nearly four-year-old was injured and sick, and every afternoon for a week all he wanted was to be in the carrier for cuddles and walks. Thank goodness for the preschool sizing!
Many families face life with a child who has a long-term illness, health condition or disability and babywearing may also be useful for these families. For example, for a child with hip dysplasia, as the carrier replicates the positioning of the hip harness; for a child with muscle tightness, such as with cerebral palsy or tight neck, as the positioning can help stretch the muscles. Children with disabilities benefit from being in a different position, exploring the world and being able to go where their mobility may not take them.
We all face our own health and wellbeing concerns and still have to parent. The inevitable cold or tummy upset (usually after the kids have recovered!); an injury on the sports field; health conditions that occur as we age. Carers may have pre-existing conditions such as back pain, reduced function in hands or reduced shoulder range. Carers with reduced mobility, using walking aids or wheelchairs, can enjoy the benefits of using a carrier with their baby. Post-pregnancy discomfort is common during recovery from childbirth, with musculoskeletal conditions affecting the wrists, back, neck, shoulders, and hips, amongst others.
Fit and adjustability of different carriers and methods can be chosen according to the needs of the carer. Babywearing can unload the upper limbs and evenly spread the weight of the child across the body to help manage discomfort. Plus, two hands free makes it easier for the carer to go about their daily activities.
Carers may also experience mental health conditions, both pre-existing or developing during the pre and postnatal period. Babywearing can help lessen stress and anxiety by keeping babies close and minimising separation. Supporting connection through babywearing may also assist with managing symptoms of depression.
Some days, weeks or months just seem tougher than others and it seems miraculous when we make it to the end of the day and yet again drag ourselves out of bed the next day. The baby might only stop crying when in your arms, your toddler just wants up all the time, and there are endless jobs to get done. Yet even on the hardest days, the heart-warming effect of a little person snuggled up on your chest is hard to beat. That feel-good hormone oxytocin courses through your body and the world suddenly seems brighter.
Babywearing is for every family
We likely all have a turn in each of these families. And many of these situations would benefit from babywearing as a possibility rather than ascribing it to any philosophy or parenting style. I have surely missed many other situations where babywearing might just be the thing families were looking to add to their parenting toolkit. Spread the love and knowledge of babywearing far and wide – babywearing is for every family!