When Lisa Baldwin s oldest child was born 12 years ago, she was bombarded with warnings against holding her baby too much and too often.
You ll spoil him! well-meaning friends cautioned.
But through the La Leche League, Mrs. Baldwin was introduced to the idea of carrying her son in an over-the-shoulder holder that allowed her to nurse him. For me at the time, it was a lifesaver, she said. And her son loved it.
As her family grew, she discovered other ways to carry her babies, mainly by wrapping them against her body in a large swath of fabric. Now, eight children later, the 32-year-old wife and mother is an ardent advocate and teacher of the practice known as baby-wearing.
Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician and creator of the Ask Dr. Sears Web site, calls baby-wearing a parenting style that brings out the best in both baby and mother. His wife, Martha, a registered nurse, also has worn the couple s babies, and Dr. Sears has encouraged hundreds of parents to do the same.
Baby-wearing, he says on his Web site, means changing your mindset of what babies are really like. New parents often envision babies as lying quietly in a crib, gazing passively at dangling mobiles, and picked up and carried only to be fed and played with and then put down ... Baby-wearing reverses this view. Parents who wear their babies carry them in a sling or wrap for most of the day, putting the child down only for sleep times or so the carrier can attend to personal needs.
Mrs. Baldwin, who wears her babies whether she is shopping, going to church, washing dishes, or doing laundry, said she finds she is more in tune with her infants needs because she keeps them close to her early in their lives.
You pick up on their cues quicker. You get to know their rhythms. This was especially evident, she said, with her second-youngest, Molly, who had respiratory problems and sleep apnea as an infant. There s no way I would have put her in a cradle in another room and gone about my business, because when she was on me, she was always in tune to my breathing. It was enough to keep her stimulated and awake and remembering to breathe.
Lisa Marie Benko, a mother of two and co-leader of the Toledo Area Babywearers group, said baby-wearing is catching on because it s easy and calming for babies. She currently is wearing her 1-year-old son and said, People are so surprised that he doesn t fuss very much. It frees my hands up and I can get work done and the baby s happier.
Fitting into the flow
Dr. Jonna McRury, a pediatrician who teaches at the University of Toledo College of Medicine, said that in general, research shows the more mothers hold their infants the less they cry. She cited a 1986 study of 99 mother-infant pairs conducted at McGill University in Quebec, and published in Pediatrics Journal in which babies held by their mothers in the first three months of life cried and fussed less overall.
No one knows exactly why babies who are held more cry less, Dr. McRury said, although the theory is that it reproduces the conditions in the womb, allowing the baby to hear and smell the mother. In her practice at the Neighborhood Health Association, Dr. McRury said she encourages mothers to hold their babies for the first three to six months.
It s the norm. For centuries, that s what you did with your baby. It s only in the industrialized western countries where we didn t carry our babies. If you look at the history of mankind, the vast majority of babies that have ever lived have been carried a lot.
Mrs. Baldwin said despite concerns that babies who are worn get overstimulated, her experience has been the opposite. They can stay to themselves, snuggle into Mom s chest or back. They re no longer forced to be exposed to the stimulation all around them. This way, they re stimulated enough that they fit into the flow of the family. At night, she said, they tend to sleep better.
Linda Johnson, a midwife from the Mother s Own Birth and Women s Center in Temperance, where Mrs. Baldwin has taught classes on baby-wearing, said she wishes more mothers would take up the practice. I look at these poor babies in their little carriers and the way the mothers struggle with them at the grocery store . . . and I think how much nicer it would be for the child to be warm and safe next to Mom than to be in the cart, pulling things off the shelves.
She said another advantage to wearing a baby is that it brings the child to a height where he or she can see what is going on. And the moms get more comments from people about how cute the kids are!
Baby-wearing is perfectly safe, according to Dr. Sears, provided moms follow a few rules, such as avoiding cooking or working with sharp or hot objects while carrying their babies. He also advises women who wear their babies to bend at the knees, not the waist, and to exercise caution when going through doorways and around corners.
In addition, babies never should be worn in a car. Mrs. Baldwin always uses an infant carrier that is strapped into her vehicle.
For those who worry that the baby will fall out of the wrapping or sling, Mrs. Baldwin said the idea is to wrap the baby securely. They re tied to you, then you bring the fabric around and cross it between their legs. When a baby is carried on the back, Mrs. Baldwin recommends that initially the mother get someone to help her until she becomes more familiar with the technique. Even now, she said, I still walk by a mirror to make sure everything is tucked where it s supposed to be.
Mrs. Baldwin finds it relatively easy to keep her babies on her most of the day for about the first year of their lives. She wraps newborn Mark onto her first thing in the morning and keeps him there until she showers. Other than that, she said, The only time he really comes down is to eat and get his diaper changed, and to sleep at night. During the day, she is cooking and home-schooling five of her other children. Recently, she cleaned the garden beds with Mark on her back.
When it comes to wrapping her babies, Mrs. Baldwin prefers a wrap made of a single piece of fabric to the conventional carriers available in baby stores, not only because it is more comfortable for the baby, but because it is less like a device and more an extension of how she goes about her day.
She began doing this somewhat by accident the day one of her toddlers was being discharged from the hospital and she had a nursing baby with her. I had to figure out how to get the baby, the toddler, and all the paraphernalia out to where my husband was waiting in the van. I didn t have a sling with me or a carrier. She grabbed a sheet, wrapped it around her, knotted it at her hip, slipped her baby onto her back inside the sheet, and walked out of the hospital carrying her toddler in one arm and a bag in the other. People were looking at me funny, she said. Some stopped and offered to help.
When she got home, she thought, There s got to be a way to do this. I very much wanted the babies to be on me, to be part of the flow of our day.
She went on the Internet and learned that in some cultures, women worked together and made their own carriers. Soon, she was making them herself and other women were asking her how to wrap and wear their babies.
By the time she had her sixth child, Mrs. Baldwin was proficient enough in the method that she was able to put the baby on her back when he was 7 days old and carry him there for his entire first year. Her daughter Molly went up when she was just 4 days old.
It s about comfort
Mrs. Baldwin has about 15 wraps, some homemade and others purchased. Among them is what is known as a ring sling, a piece of fabric sewn onto a pair of large rings that are used to fasten the wrap like a belt. The tail that hangs down from the rings allows her to cover the baby and herself while nursing.
Color-coordinating her wraps to what she is wearing is important to Mrs. Baldwin. I don t want to look frumpy, she said, and indeed, anyone who has seen her with a baby wrap would agree that she looks quite fashionable.
She has several wraps for casual wear. A neutral-colored one, for example, is for everyday, and another she uses for hiking is in a bright color so that her older children can see her easily. I also have a water wrap. It s made of the same material as my swimsuit Solarveil, a sun-reflective material that protects from UV rays.
Making a wrap requires about five yards of preferably washable material about 27 inches but no more than 32 inches wide, Mrs. Baldwin said. For newborns, she recommends using a stretchy fabric. Then, as the child gets older, a gauze-type fabric works best. Her first choice for most wraps is cotton, though she has a friend who likes silk and wool.
The cost of those she has purchased varies, but she has one made of hemp that retailed at $50 and another of certified organic cotton that would have been more than $100 had she bought it new. She has seen others for up to $200, but some of her own only cost her $5 for the fabric.
To moms who worry that carrying their children will make them too clingy, Mrs. Baldwin can say with assurance that babies eventually want to leave the comfort of the baby wrap to investigate the world around them. Usually, she said, by the time they re 2, they re done with baby-wearing.
For example, Molly, her 16-month-old, started to show less interest in being on her mother when she started crawling at between 8 and 10 months. Now that Molly has a younger sibling, her father, Tony, does the baby-wearing honors when she wants to be carried, although Mrs. Baldwin also has been known to wear two children at once one in front and one on her back.
She said her children start to show more independence when they are between 3 and 4. Before that, they exhibit such attachment behavior as touching, holding onto her leg, sitting on her lap, or rubbing her arm. When they do strike out on their own, she said, they still seem aware of where their security is. It s as if, she said, they know they can go out and play with a neighbor child or visit Grandma s house for the day and that their mother will still be there to take them back into her arms when they get home.
My kids are not clingy, she said. They re attached, and that s the goal.
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