Deb is a good friend of Glasgow Sling Library, and recently wrote a blog which we have shared here for you all:
I’m a Mum to a twenty month old toddler called Corin. I’ve immersed myself in the word of baby wearing and I wanted to write openly about my baby wearing journey and how I use it as a parenting tool in every day life.
I’ve worked in childcare for many years now and I remember seeing mother’s carrying their babies in beautifully printed wraps and tied in so many intricate ways from just one long piece of fabric. It fascinated me that you could carry a baby so securely and safely with absolutely no buckles, fasteners or belts. I just loved the aesthetic of it too. I saw it as a fashion statement. A lot of women, including myself, seem to worry about suffering a loss of identity once they have had a child. I saw baby wearing as way for my pre-child self and post-child self to coexist as it gives me a sense of style and is also hands free. At this point i didn’t even know health benefits and developmental benefits to baby wearing.
I had previously watched a 4 part documentary series in the mid-noughties called Bringing up Baby. It explored the most influential childcare practices from certain decades and followed contemporary new families as they tried them. One of the practices was the continuum concept. One of the key pillars of the continuum concept is constant skin to skin contact, by virtue of being carried, by any and all available caregivers until the child leaves of their own volition; this is known as the in arms phase. This method was popularised in The West in the 1970s after it was observed by anthropologist Jean Liedloff after she observed the Yequana tribe of the Venezuelan section of the Amazon for 2 years, embedded in their camp. The general aim is to optimize mental physical and emotional well being. In Bring up Baby, the Continuum Concept mentor Claire Scott argues that: “Recreating tribal life in the Western Word is the formula for producing secure, emotionally balanced children”. She believes that “we’ve got innate knowledge and innate wisdom that we’re born with and as soon as we are born, we expect certain things”. Jean Liedloff witnessed children raised in the Continuum Concept to be much more self confident when they were reaching the stage of becoming mobile. She also witnessed babies crying less in this environment. A large part of the continuum concept’s success is “active living” which is something which is important to my partner and I. We’ve always wanted our children to be “outdoorsy”. Jean Liedloff said that the their way of life “seemed free of the depression, anxiety and neurosis of modern life”.
The method involves baby wearing in addition to co-sleeping and breastfeeding on demand. It includes immediate placement after birth in the mother’s arms, otherwise there could be hormonal disruptions which could contribute to post-natal depression. It involves parents going about their day to day business while wearing their baby. The idea is that the closeness allows you to meet their needs quicker and allows the baby to learn about the world around them at a faster rate as they are observing the world from close to your eye level.
Contrary to what some might think, having your baby strapped to you can give you a lot more freedom. Claire Scott, the continuum method coach in Bringing Up Baby says that “the Baby should be a satellite to mother, not the mother to baby”. I perceive this to preserve the mother’s identity and freedom. The best thing that I think I took away from the documentary was the idea that baby wearing allows a child to feel worthy and loved, yet without making them the constant centre of attention. This documentary is still available to watch on YouTube and I highly recommend watching it!
The benefits of baby wearing that I have learned from social media, sling libraries and sling consultants are that it gives you “hands free parenting”, more skin to skin time, and can boost your milk supply which is useful if you are breastfeeding. It simulates life in the womb by allowing your baby to still hear your heart beating, being able to hear your voice, feel your breathing and provide a warm cosy environment that is often moving, just like womb living. Baby wearing also releases Oxytocin which lowers the risk of developing postnatal depression.
You can baby carry and feed your baby simultaneously, whether tube feeding, breastfeeding, formula feeding or combination feeding. Even without nursing in a sling, a 2012 study found that the acts of carrying babies in carriers increased the amount of breastfeeding in older babies. I thought that this was amazing how our bodies respond to our babies being close to us. I have also found that it is easy to nurse discreetly if the baby is in a sling as the fabric can shield you and your baby from public view. This could be useful as I know a lot of mothers get self conscious about breastfeeding in public. It’s also great for your baby’s muscle development, developing their head and neck control which is very important in the early months. It is often recommended if your baby has reflux to keep them in an upright position, especially after feeding. Baby wearing helps facilitate upward carrying in a practical way.
Benefits that I have discovered myself, through baby wearing, are as follows:
The accessibility factor: There’s lots of places that prams simply cannot traverse. You can go on beach walks in different types of sand quite comfortably, hill walking through uneven terrain up and through wooded areas. We managed to carry him around Kos town a lot in the baby sling at a few months old. A lot of the pavements were too narrow and bumpy in the old town for us to comfortably navigate with the pram.
Bonding: Although I can’t be sure as I don’t have a comparison to measure against, I feel as though I bond very well with my baby as he is regularly at my eye level.
Although the Continuum Concept sits well with us and makes sense, we didn’t find that it was a practical thing to commit to fully. We took the parts of it that we loved and took out the parts that we found too radical. I believe that you don’t have to be too radical or too orthodox. That you can take parts from different theories and customize your childcare philosophy to what works for your family at the time.
I recently did a live stream for a sling company for which I am an ambassador, Joy and Joe Baby. I chose to talk about my own personal experience of breastfeeding and baby wearing. One thing that I really felt passionate to say was that I don’t want anyone to feel that the world of breastfeeding and baby wearing is an exclusive group. I know people that breastfeed and don’t use dummies, people that breastfeed and do use dummies, people that baby wear and have never owned a pram vs people that baby wear but also use prams regularly (we own a stroller and a bigger pram in addition to baby wearing, both with wraps and a Baby Bjorn which is buckle and strap based). There are also couples I know that occasionally co-sleep vs couples that co-sleep continuously and have never owned a cot. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can’t take one action or behaviour that someone does and feel that you fully understand that person and how they parent as a whole. If anyone would like to watch the stream, you can find it on the Joy and Joe Baby Facebook page.
Another thing I raised as a question for discussion was that if baby wearing is proven to increase milk supply and increase breastfeeding rates, then why are antenatal classes not promoting baby wearing? I understand that they won’t be able to promote specific brands but the ideas and principles of baby wearing should be encouraged. Other than NHS Scotland having a wrap in the Baby Box, I don’t see baby wearing being promoted at all by any level of government. When I gave birth, I felt that hospital staff seemed to want to separate mother and baby by disallowing co-sleeping. While in hospital, if you left to go the day room, you had to put them in a sleeping trolley as opposed to carrying or baby wearing. When you leave the hospital, you have to have them in a car seat. There may be specific reasons for these that I am not aware of but I would love to know the reasons behind such policies and whether or not they could be changed over time.
When I was studying early education and childcare, we studied the attachment theory by psychologist John Bowlby. Attachment is an emotional connection with another person, or caregiver with respect to infancy. He saw it as a way to improve the infants survival chances and a product of evolution. He believes that the desire of a baby to want attachment with caregivers is not learnt, but innate. All this information made me want to do what I could to enhance bonding for me and my children for the sake of both mine and their mental well being. Of course, there will be many different ways to bond and meet the needs of your children effectively that don’t include anything within this blog but I feel as though it worked very well for me.
I also love the challenge of wrapping. If you use a woven wrap or a stretchy wrap, you have to master the skill of wrapping your baby securely and safely. Glasgow Sling Library were really useful to me, they sent me really helpful YouTube tutorials on how to do several carries. I’d pause and rewind at my own leisure, and learn visually, and it certainly took time! My biggest challenge was learning how to back carry with a woven wrap. It’s one thing to learn but another thing to master. I’m somewhere in-between! I’ll keep calm and carry on.