Monday, November 10, 2008

Myths About Babywearing

International Babywearing week is coming up, and I thought I'd take a few minutes this morning to write about some prevalent misconceptions concerning babywearing...
(little Bear, age 14months, tucked in and toasty, and ready for the morning walk with the dog)

The baby will be delayed in walking if you never put them down or Baby's spine development will be damaged by being 'unsupported' in a soft carrier or Baby will get bowlegs from having them spread out in a back-carry
Your baby will still learn to walk just fine, no he will not be delayed in doing so (I wore Bear almost constantly, and he walked at 11months). In addition, being against the caregivers body and feeling their motions as they walk and move often seems to help little ones learn that motion for themselves.
Some firm carriers (such as snuglis) have been reported to damage spinal development because they hold the baby up and do not allow him to learn to support himself, however softer carriers do not have this problem!
The bowleggedness seen in some traditional cultures is the product of nutritional deficiencies, not of being worn. Remember that babies and small children have much softer tissues than adults do, and are much more flexible.

The baby isn't comfortable "all squished up like that" or "with his legs sticking out that way"
Soft tissues = flexible = baby is comfortable almost any way so long as they are supported! It's pretty rare to meet a baby who doesn't love being snuggled and, yes, even squished a bit. The soft nature of fabric carriers means that the baby is more likely to be comfortable this way than in a carseat, crib, playpen, or roomier firm carrier.

The baby will be spoiled /never let you put him down /never learn to go to sleep on his own
I think these myths are based in the false premise that babies are meant to be independent creatures. They are not. As I discussed here, from an evolutionary standpoint humans are born only about halfway through the average mammals gestational development. In other words, until they are around 9months old, they are not even able to do what a 9 minute old baby of other species can do. A continued 'external gestation' is entirely healthy and appropriate.
In terms of the baby developing 'bad' habits, well, obviously I feel that it's acceptable and appropriate for a baby to want to be held all the time, and to go to sleep with a caregiver rather than alone. In terms of shyness, and the baby becoming a "mama's boy," studies indicate that children who are worn may take a little longer to strike out on their own, but when they do so they are more confident than babies who were forced into independence at earlier ages.

Babywearing is dangerous
There are several versions of this this myth--the baby is unsupported and will slip out the bottom of the carrier, the baby will flip out the top of the carrier, or that the baby will suffocate being all smooshed in there. The truth is that these are valid concerns, and all of them can happen if you are not paying attention. Just because you are wearing your baby doesn't mean you can ignore them--you do need to still pay attention, make sure baby's face is clear so they can breathe, and be sure you wear the carrier properly so that the child is secure. Here is a site full of help for how to properly and safely wear your child.

You can only wear them when they are little/lightweight or You can't wear a baby if you have a bad back
There are a few people in the world who have exceptionally bad backs, and yes, it's true that they cannot wear a baby, or at least not a older toddler. However, with the variety of carriers and carrying methods, most people (even those with somewhat-bad backs) are able to wear both babies and toddlers in comfort.
Back carries with wraps, structured-carriers, or ABCs (such as Mei Teis) are usually preferable for larger children or weak-backed parents because they offer more support and spread the weight around better.

You can't babywear if you're short/disabled/plus-sized/pregnant
Nonsense! Some carriers and carrying positions may work better for you than others, but you can certainly still wear your baby! Check out these two articles on plus-sized babywearing, this one on pregnant babywearing, and this one on babywearing for those with disabilities.

Babywearing is new or a fad
Babywearing has been around for about as long as babies have been around...indigenous peoples around the world have been wearing their babies for centuries, and using a variety of carriers and carrying positions to do so. The 'modern world' is the culture that is behind the times!

Babywearing is expensive
$140 for a wrap?! Yes, it can be expensive if you buy the name brand carriers, or have a dozen different ones (and yes, a lot of us do have several carriers of different types)...but it doesn't have to be. I got a good quality wrap for only $35, and many people find that they can make their own carriers for $5-20 (depending on the style and what fabric they choose). Here is a site with a list of different types of carriers, the pros/cons of each, and where to find them.

Babywearing is complicated
It is true that some styles of carriers (most notably wraps) look difficult to tie on. However there are a lot of great online demos (both pictures and videos) that can help you learn to do it correctly and safely.
If you are considering babywearing, or want to do it but don't know where to go next, I recommend looking for a local babywearing group such as NINO. (If you can't find one, look for a local chapter of LaLecheLeague, as a lot of breastfeeding moms also wear their babies, and you can probably find support or advice for babywearing there too!)

You can't wear twins
Wanna bet? Look here! And here!

For additional resources, I highly recommend visiting The Baby Wearer. It's a massive archive of helpful articles and tutorials on topics from choosing a carrier and reviews of specific brands, to how to correctly (safely) wear your baby in the various carriers, or how to make your own. They also have forums where you can chat with other babywearers and get encouragement and help.


TopHat said...

I'd like to secod the fact that babywearing is easy on the pocketbook. I have 2 wraps, 2 ring slings, a pouch sling, and a piece of fabric that I've used as a sling by tying a knot. Total cost? $40. We don't own a stroller (where would we store it? we have a studio apartment). $40 for babywearing items versus a $100-200 stroller? WAY BETTER! Plus it's easier to store slings and wraps- just fold up and put in a drawer.

Mae said...

I'd have to second the fact that babies like to be "squooshed" up to their mamas. My nephew bellowed for the first 12 months of his life unless he was wrapped up tight in a blanket. And how best to keep him wrapped tight AND still carry out your normal, necessary mommy routine than carrying him in a wrap?!

This worked for me, too, apparently, when I had colic as an infant.

Jilly said...

I totally agree. The think I always find funny is that people will complain that a sling is so expensive, and then buy a bouncy seat, a jolly jumper and an excersaucer, each of which are useful for about 3 months. Whereas a sling might cost $40 and you will use it for 15 months straight! And if you breastfeed and use cloth diapers, you might have an extra $40 hanging around that you didn't have to spend on formula and paper diapers. . . . Um, am I ranting? Sorry. Getting off my soap box now.

I am also amazed at women who try it once and then say "Oh, it didn't really work for us". Like everything else worth doing, it takes some practice.

Hi. Thanks for visiting my blog, BTW.

The Thalman's said...

Oh, I could just hug you right now! I LOVE baby wearing. It is one of my all time favorite things about being a "crunchy" mom! I didn't know Baby Wearing week was coming soon (didn't even know there was one!) I was planning on doing my own BW post soon though. Another website that I really like for BW is It is full of great stuff! Oh, and SUPER CUTE picture of Bear in a wrap! MMMMmmmm...wraps are my favorite!

FrogleyMom said...

I would also like to second that you can wear a baby while pregnant. This is actually the reason I started babywearing. I was already 6 months pregnant by the time my oldest was 9 months and could no longer carry her in a snugli/bjorn and there was no way she would allow me to put her down, and I couldn't hold her the whole time because my belly kept getting in the way. The sling turned out to be our best friend. :) And once I figured out back carries in mei tais, DD#2 rode on my back for most of pregnancy #3. :)

natalie said...

Great post!

Babywearing definitely doesn't have to be expensive, I made my mai tei (and love it!)- the learning curve wasn't too hard either, although it would've been much easier had I had someone show me in person instead of puzzling over online directions.

And yes, you CAN definitely babywear pregnant, I'm nearly halfway through my second pregnancy and still wear my 7 month old in a sling as well as the mai tei. The only obstacle we've found so far is that it is slightly more tiring for mama. But the sling is still the best option for nursing in public and naps when out and about, so we'll be using that for a while yet.

Becky said...

My husband and I bought a $10 baby bjorn at a thrift shop and he absolutely loves the thing! Even more than I do. Of course it may have something to do with the fact that if he's wearing the girl, I'm in charging of chasing down the energetic boy. :)

Teresa said...

typing one-handed or i'd say more...totally agree with you. wanted to add, does a baby carrier or THIS look more comfy? be sure to scroll down to see more photos of this amazing creation (*rolls eyes*).

Olivia said...

OMG, Teresa. That contraption looks so uncomfortable. And I bet the baby would not like being jostled around in that thing.

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