By Lisa Wheeler
These days, places to put your baby abound. Beyond the old standbys of cribs and high chairs, parents can now purchase a bouncer seat, infant swing, playpen, activity mat, Exercauser, jumper, Bumbo sitter, and a stroller system with the removable infant car seat.
So do you truly need a baby carrier? Or is it just one more thing to buy, right up there with the wipes warmer? After all, in your grandmother’s day, experts warned against holding a baby between feedings.
Today, though, medical professionals agree that infants thrive through touch. Holding your baby is an obvious way to meet this need. While the resurgence in baby carrying is a fairly recent development in Europe and North America, baby carrying is an everyday practice among most of the world’s population. You could even say that the carrier is the world’s first baby gear: mothers have been using them for thousands of years, carrying their children in animal skins before cloth was available.
Here’s a closer look at the benefits:
Advantages to the Baby
· At six weeks, the peak of infant fussiness, babies who are frequently carried cry 43% less than babies of the same age who are carried less often.1 Furthermore, babies who cry less in the first year of life also cry less in the second.
· Holding a baby reduces the stress hormones and adrenaline in his blood stream. In fact, carriers are sometimes included in the treatment for infants who were exposed to drugs in utero, to reduce irritability.
· Babies carried throughout the day have optimal opportunity to develop social skills. They encounter adults and observe facial expressions at eye level. They witness interactions without the stress of being at the center of attention themselves.
· Carrying a baby develops a baby’s balance through stimulation of the vestibular system. After years observing a “babywearing” tribe in South America, anthropologist Jean Liedloff argues that frequently-held babies grow into more agile adults who experience less vertigo.2
· Regularly-carried babies develop trunk control at a faster rate for sitting, standing, and walking.
· Frequently-held babies eat better and grow at a faster rate.3 Studies of full-term infants in orphanages and pre-term babies in hospitals have shown a positive correlation between how often (or rarely) a baby is touched and how quickly (or slowly) a baby grows.
· Pre-term babies who are frequently held have fewer breathing problems.4
· Low-birthweight babies who are held often leave the hospital sooner and have fewer infections on average than other low-birthweight babies.5
· Carrying a baby helps meet her need for motion. The studies of Drs. William Mason and Gershon Berkson revealed that monkeys given a “swinging” cloth mother surrogate had fewer social abnormalities than those monkeys given a stationary cloth mother surrogate.
· Keeping an infant physically close promotes attachment between baby and caregiver. Though it was once believed that too frequent contact between an infant and his mother would “spoil the child,” the studies of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth showed that an infant who is “securely attached” to his primary caregiver is more likely to have healthy relationships with others as an older child and adult. The studies of Harry Harlow showed that social mammals bond through touch even more than through feeding.6
· Regularly-held babies spit up less frequently.
· Holding a baby in the upright position eases reflux. It limits the amount of acid able to travel up the esophagus and cause pain.
· Carrying your child gives her a better view of the world. Rather than facing the ceiling, the same walls, or even the hood of their stroller, the baby sees what you see. Imagine the difference this makes for a trip to the zoo!
· Being held helps a baby to sleep more easily and for longer durations. It’s also a gentle way to help newborns organize sleep patterns, learning to distinguish day sleep (sounds, light, and motion) from night sleep (quiet, dark, and still).
Advantages to Caregivers
· Held babies are content. With the help of a good carrier, you can take care of older children and do chores without frequent interruptions from an anxious or distressed infant.
· Mothers whose babies cry less have been shown to develop more confidence in their parenting skills.7
· When a baby cries less often, this means less stress for the mother, who experiences a physiological response (including a surge in heart rate and increased blood flow to her breasts) at the sound of her baby’s cry.
· Well-designed carriers distribute weight so that heavy babies are easier to hold.
· Physical closeness assists the bonding process.
· Carrying your child might allow you to be on the go during sleep times, since most babies sleep well when held.
· Carriers provide an alternative to taking that heavy infant seat out the car.
· Keeping baby close in a carrier deters strangers from touching your baby.
· Holding your baby allows for a less cumbersome stroll. Curbs pose no obstacle, and you can easily traverse terrain like stairs or trails that would be difficult to impossible with a stroller.
· Using a baby carrier makes errands easier. You don’t have to juggle the baby or a stroller at places like the bank or drug store. You can even use a carrier when grocery shopping to give you more space in the cart and protect your child from germs. The best perk? Preventing public meltdowns! Held children are happy children.
1 Urs Hunzkiker, MD, and Ronald Barr, MD, “Increased Carrying Reduces Infant Crying: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Pediatrics: Vol. 77 No.5, pp. 641-648, May 1986.
2Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept. Perseus Books, 1977.
3 Marie Blois, MD, Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of this Ancient Tradition. Pharmasoft Publishing, March 2005.
4 Diane Ackerman, Ph.D, A Natural History of the Senses. Random House, Inc., 1990.
5 Nathalie Charpak, Juan G. Ruiz-Peláez, Zita Figueroa de C, MD, and Yves Charpak, “Kangaroo Mother Versus Traditional Care for Newborn Infants <2000 Grams: A Randomized, Controlled Trial.” Pediatrics: Vol. 100 No. 4 , pp. 682-688, October 4, 1997.
6 For a physiological perspective of this issue, see Allan N. Schore, Ph.D, “Effects of a Secure Attachment on Right Brain Development.” Infant Mental Health Journal: Vol. 22, Issue 1-2, pp. 7-66, January 25, 2001.
7 Lewis A Leavett, “Mother’s Sensitivity to Infant Signals.” Pediatrics: Vol. 102 No. 5 Supplement, pp. 1247-1249, November 1998.
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