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Origins and Benefits of Babywearing


Origins and Benefits of Babywearing - an article written by Emma Ringer, founder of the Isle of Wight Sling Library

Babywearing is nothing new. People all over the world have been carrying their babies in one way or another for centuries. Prior to the early 1900's carrying your baby in an improvised 'sling' was normal, it was the only way to cope in the busy and often hardworking life of many mothers. Since then there has been a decline in Babywearing across the western world for many reasons: Prams and strollers became a status symbol for many parents, a 'must have' baby accessory. By the middle of the last century there was a rise in so called 'baby trainers,' who started to tell parents that their children were being spoilt by being carried and needed to become more independent from an early age. (Learning to sleep alone and not rely on their parent/s to meet their every need instantly.) Also around this time the process of childbirth became more medical and the natural instinct of mothering was gradually taken away from modern mothers.

Since the late 1970's and early 1980's these views have started to be challenged. Here in Europe companies like Didymos have been making woven wrap style baby carriers since 1972 and across the continent it has been common to see a baby in a sling for some time now. In 1981, in Hawaii, a man named Rayner Garner developed a two ring sling with padded edges for his wife to carry their child in. This design proved very popular and modern Babywearing was born, in 1985 Dr William Sears bought the rights to this sling, coined the term 'Babywearing,' and continued to promote slings across America. Dr Sears is a renowned paediatrician and he, his wife and their 8 children advocate what he calls 'Attachment Parenting.' This is basically a style of parenting where the needs of the child are attended to as soon as possible, creating a bond of trust between parent and child. Why let your baby 'cry it out' when you can soothe them and learn to recognise their cues so they have no need to cry? In the UK we are starting to catch on to the idea of modern slings and the benefits of using them.

So what are the benefits?

Dr Sears' observation of babies who are carried is that they cry less. This was enough for me - I rushed out and bought a sling while still pregnant with my first baby, and it was true! As long as 'S' was in a sling she was happy. Since then I have discovered the many other benefits of wearing my children.

Convenience: There are so many places that a pram/stroller won't go. We lived in a first floor flat when 'S' was born, so lugging shopping up the stairs meant either leaving her in the pram at the bottom or in the crib at the top - or snuggled up in a sling with mummy while we chatted about what we had bought. Whilst walking my parents' dog with my Mum in the woods 'S' would ride along up nice and high with me pointing out all the birds and flowers to her - and no muddy pram wheels in the car after. Slings also give you back your hands - you can get on with daily tasks such as shopping, cooking, housework without having to leave your baby alone. Both of mine would drop off to sleep in the sling while I pushed the vacuum cleaner round or peeled vegetables.

Development: If your baby is happier and crying less then they have a chance to learn more. And if they are up at eye level you can communicate more effectively with them. Babies who are carried tend to have earlier language development - both of mine talked in sentences from around 15 months! The sling also acts as a transitional womb for your newborn baby. They feel the movement of your body and hear the steady beat of your heart snuggled up on your chest - this helps them make sense of the world and organises their own body systems. It regulates their breathing and exercises their vestibular system, which controls balance. Recent studies have shown that the natural sway of your body will one day help your child to sit still and listen at school and the sound of your voice and heartbeat will help your child to pick up reading, writing and spelling much easier.

Exercise: As a new parent, who has time to exercise! If you carry on your regular daily tasks while carrying baby you are exercising without even knowing it.

Bonding: Mums' have nine months to bond with their baby in the womb; it is a natural transition to continue to hold your little one when they are born. And now other family members can start to build a bond just like mum by carrying the infant. My husband loved having 'S' in the sling when he came in from work. He would head off to the kitchen with her and I would listen to him telling her all about his day. At the weekends my Mum, (Nana,) would pop 'S' into a sling and head off for a walk with her - she tells me that having her granddaughter in kissing distance was a great relaxation for her and they have an extra special bond now.

Breastfeeding: We all know that 'breast is best' but many mums find it hard work establishing breastfeeding and then continuing to make it work for them. By carrying your little one your bodies are more in tune with each other. Skin to skin contact helps establish a good milk supply, and baby doesn't have to work too hard to let you know they are hungry. With a little practice you can even feed on the move. 'S' quite often decided that Tesco was the place to be hungry and on many occasions I wandered round feeding her without anyone even noticing I had a baby with me. 'A' my second child would happily feed wherever we were but was VERY nosy, having him in a sling meant the distractions of the outside world were minimised and he could concentrate on his feed. (Slings worked so well for us that 'A' continues to breastfeed at 19 ½ months despite having had a tongue tie and other medical complications.)

Toddlers: When your little one moves into their toddler years the world becomes a very busy, confusing place to be. Most people associate slings with babies but many of them will accommodate a child up to 35/40lbs. Toddlers are prone to becoming over-stimulated, and a ride in the sling helps to soothe and comfort them before, (or after,) a melt-down occurs. The world is often a scary place for toddlers, so they feel more confident when they can retreat to the security of the sling when they need to. It is also very practical in places like the zoo or aquarium, where a small child in a pushchair would not be able to see very much. Not to mention a useful safety tool, 'A' and 'S' both know that busy or potentially dangerous places like car parks, festivals or car ferries mean a ride in the sling to keep them out of harms way. We all know that a tired toddler is a cranky toddler. When those little legs start to hurt you can pop your little one on your back and they can snuggle down for a nice cuddle and a rest.

Cost: Modern travel systems, prams, buggies etc can be hugely expensive. Especially considering most parents will buy more than one for each child, often getting rid of the heavy, complex travel system for something lightweight when their little one is around 8-10 months old. If you have more than one child and look into double or tandem options the cost gets even higher. Why not pop one, or both, children in a sling? Slings can be purchased brand new for as little as £30 and 'pre-loved' for even less. One of my favourites only cost me £4.99 from an auction website. There are even sling lending libraries available so you can try before you buy.

It would seem that by going backwards through history and learning from our ancestors we can help ourselves move forward to the future with happier, healthier, smarter, safer, better adjusted children to take over the world from us. We can listen to our children, meet their needs and get to know them as the little people they are. We can get on with our busy lives and teach our children at the same time. We can take every opportunity to cuddle our children and reassure them they are the most important people in our lives. (Who can resist all those extra kisses!?)

I personally would not give up my slings for anything. (Yes I have more than one!) They have made my life as a parent easier and more fulfilling. I have a great bond with both of my children which I thank Babywearing for.

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