Babywearing has been in the news this week thanks to a certain British daily 'newspaper' and some creatively biased daytime TV! If you've managed to avoid it, trust me, you haven't missed anything (except maybe slightly raised blood pressure!) and I'm not going to perpetuate the media circus by linking to them. There have been many well thought out, factual responses from the babywearing community, which I don't seek to duplicate. However, I thought it a good time to do a bit of general babywearing myth-busting. Who knows, if no publicity is bad publicity, maybe some sensible free-thinking new parents will have heard about babywearing for the first time!
Myth #1 - Babywearing Delays Walking
So, this is the big one! We babywearers apparently prevent our children from walking by carrying them everywhere instead. This delays their very ability to walk and can result in children having legs made from spaghetti... ok, I made that last bit up, but you get the idea!
Above is evidence that my little boy does in fact walk like any other child. This particular photo was taken on the same day as the photos in my review of Baie Slings' 'Oak & Holly King' wrap, when he had a good run around before the photos of him being carried were taken. Like most babywearing bloggers, ambassadors or companies, I don't post many photos of my son running, walking, climbing trees and jumping in puddles because, well, I'm a babywearing, rather than a general parenting, blogger. This doesn't mean that he doesn't do those things just as much as any other child. Rest assured, babywearing isn't a substitute for walking.
Many of the reasons for babywearing are the same as those for using a buggy; little legs get tired after a while, or the world gets a bit daunting & your little one decides that a 'ride' is called for. Sometimes it's not practical for a toddler to walk along a busy high street, or when you're shopping.
So how is babywearing different to using a pushchair? Well, in terms of inhibiting your child's ability to walk, not much! I say not much, rather than none, because in fact there is evidence to show that babywearing helps to develop and strengthen children's core muscles, which could in fact help them to walk earlier*. Other differences include the fact that babywearing enables my son to run around at the top of hills and other places that would be inaccessible to buggies and too much of a challenge for tiny legs alone. I'm also able to throw a wrap into my bag in case it's needed, whereas only Mary Poppins can do this with a pushchair!
Myth #2 - Babywearing Creates Clingy Children
Another accusation frequently banded around is that babywearing will cause your children to be clingy, dependent and still breastfeeding when they go to university (I have actually heard that last bit said, albeit [hopefully] in jest!). Firstly, I'd question why, as a society, we seem averse to children needing us for emotional support. Why would you not give your child a cuddle or reassurance when they need it? This is another huge benefit of babywearing and I love the reassurance that being wrapped can give my little boy when the world gets a bit much for him.
Studies have shown that positive physical contact like cuddles and babywearing helps to create secure attachments (bonds) with caregivers. Contrary to the 'clingy children' myth, children who enjoy such attachments and use their caregiver as a “safe base” from which to explore their environment will not only learn how to trust another person, but will generate the confidence to make decisions for themselves**.
Myth #3 - Babywearing is Dangerous
We've all read about the tragic deaths of babies in particular styles of baby carrier (some of which were subsequently rightly withdrawn). Any parent would be concerned, but babywearing is not dangerous as long as you follow the T.I.C.K.S. babywearing guidelines and use a safe wrap, sling or carrier (I.e. not a 'bag style' carrier or other non-certified and tested product). My son suffered apnea episodes when he was tiny and it was hugely reassuring to have him close enough (wrapped on my front) to be able to feel him breathing and know he was ok. It's always a good idea to pop along to your local sling library / consultantancy to develop your technique, but there is a wealth of information available online to ensure that new babywearers can carry their children safely.
Myth #4 - Babywearing is Expensive
Ok, I won't lie, babywearing can get expensive, but it really doesn't need to be. You can pick up a stretchy wrap for around £20, and the used market for all kinds of babywearing wraps, carriers and slings is thriving. You can hire from your local sling library, or pick up any style of carrier for far less that you might expect to pay for a pushchair. Babywearing really is accessible to everyone, even if your budget is tight. Of course, if you develop an addiction to handwoven cashmere wraps with added unicorn hair and diamond dust then your bank balance may start to suffer! As with most things, you can set your budget and work within it.
Myth #5 - Babywearers Conform to Stereotypes
I have been surprised by the assumptions made about people who 'wear' or carry their babies, and the people that voice them (including one or two friends and family members I'd credited with more of an aptitude for unbiased reason!). I guess this is why this week's "Pack Horse Parents" hyperbole got so much attention. Apparently all babywearers are "crusty hippies". We're also all middle-class "Stay at Home Mums who shop in Waitrose". I've been asked if I babywear because I can't afford a buggy, and been asked how I can afford to babywear when it's so expensive. You only have to dip your toes into the plethora of babywearing groups on Facebook to see that babywearers come from all walks of life and span pretty much every demographic you can imagine. Babywearing parents simply share a desire, like any other good parent, to care for their children in the best way they can and respond to their needs.
The Final Word
Of course, I'm a huge advocate of babywearing. It's helped me in so many ways, and has become a treasured part of my relationship with my son. Like everything, it's not going to be for everyone, but what is?! It's tempting to judge others simply for doing things a little differently to yourself, especially if it's something we're not wholly familiar with. The most important piece of advice I'd give any new parent is to follow your instincts. If they tell you to hold your baby, toddler or older child close, pick them up when they cry, reassure them when they're scared and be responsive to their needs, then don't let anyone convince you to do otherwise. If you find that babywearing helps you do these things, then crack on. If not, well that's awesome too.
* Brentnall-Compton, 2011
**Evolutionary theory of attachment (e.g. Bowlby, Harlow, Lorenz)