Babywearing: It’s not just for hippies anymore, my friends.
Case in point:
My parents were in town last weekend for my son’s first birthday and I took them over to Findlay Market to buy some last-minute items for the party. Because the market is only three blocks away, I asked my parents if they’d be willing to walk, rather than drive. “I do it all the time,” I assured them. (Walking to the market may seem like second-nature to me, but this was a stretch for my parents.) They agreed and then my mom asked, “So, do you usually just bring Izzy in the stroller?”
I “wear” him.
The act of carrying a baby in a sling is probably as old as the human race, and is seen in cultures worldwide. In recent decades, the Western world has re-adopted babywearing as one natural extension of a more hands-on, intuitive parenting than was popularized in the first half of the 20th Century. It’s also one expression of a mother’s decision to maintain close contact with her infant and breastfeed on-demand. This is perhaps why the word “babywearing” usually conjures images of Whole Foods Market and PETA rallies and why I seldom use the term. I am, after all, only about 30% crunchy and only prescribe to some of the attachment parenting philosophy, so I’m not the prime candidate for the label “babywearer.”
For me, wearing my child is less an issue of parenting philosophy and more an issue of practicality. A trip to Findlay Market is a great example of a time when babywearing comes in handy and makes more sense then contemporary methods of child transport (strollers, carrying, etc.). At a busy, open-air market, the aisles are small and crowded, you must be able to move quickly, it’s helpful to have two hands free, and (especially when you live within walking distance) it makes more sense to just walk the few blocks and not fuss with car seats, parking spaces, and strollers.
Another case in point:
Nine days after my son was born, I had been holed-up in my apartment for almost an entire week and was desperate to get outside. It had been very cold the past few weeks, but this particular day was sunny and warm and perfect for a brisk walk. I had not yet purchased a stroller and I was not interested in loading and unloading my son into the car. So, I took the opportunity to test out my new Hotslings baby carrier and carried my baby down to the library, out for a cup of coffee, and then back home. My newborn baby stayed nice and cozy next to my body and slept the entire time, waking up only for a quick breastfeeding break at the library.
After the initial newborn stage, my son and I had a difficult time figuring out how to use the sling as he grew too large to lay horizontal, but wasn’t yet strong enough to sit upright. A few months later, though, we were right back on the babywearing wagon and have been since.
I simply believe that, apart from any physiological or psychological benefits (for which there are many valid arguments), babywearing is simply an easy and practical way to transport a small child when traveling on foot, either for a short time (while shopping, waiting for a bus, waiting in line, etc.) or a long time (running errands on foot, hiking, cleaning house, etc.). In some instances, it is actually much easier than a standard stroller, is much cheaper, and much more portable.
In my opinion, smart mothers practice the art of babywearing from birth with their newborns so that the skill is always available when needed as their children grow older. It’s up to their discretion how often and for how long they use this time-old “trick” for carrying and comforting a child, but it’s a skill that is perfectly practical for any mother who does anything other than sit on the couch all day.
So, if you want to do your friend a favor as she’s expecting a baby, you can help her purchase that super hip stroller she’s been eyeing, but you should also help her pick out a baby carrier. It will help her feel close to her baby, make sure she gets out of the house and stays active, and make her competent to take care of both her baby and herself.
If you’re new to babywearing, there’s an entire culture to help get you acclimated. And there are tons of products, for those who are interested, that run the gamut from standard, to boutique, and then just plain ridiculous. (And that’s only the begining.) You can also find books about the subject, help guides for each different carrier, and join local groups for parents who practice babywearing.
I choose to keep it simple but, heck, you can get in as deep as you’d like!